A Multinational Family

The story of AHA, Associação dos Historiadores do Algarve
In common with many other expatriates living in the Algarve, we found when we arrived here that our knowledge of Portuguese history and culture was at best rudimentary.  In an effort to extend the hand of courtesy to our new host country, it seemed worth while to find out about the history of Portugal and the Algarve, and to examine more closely those cultural matters which are valued by Portuguese people.

As we began to plan the Algarve History Association programme for 2015, we realised that next year would see the 10th anniversary of our talks and events to promote Portuguese history and culture. Peter began his affair with history when still at school and at university in Cambridge he realised that so much Portuguese history is simply unknown to foreigners.  His first talk in June 2005 was on the subject of the French Invasions.  This was a precursor to the bicentenary celebration of the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 2005) and since then he has covered the bicentenaries of most of the engagements of the Peninsular War.  

These celebrations have been the root of the connexion which has grown between Algarve History Association and the Friends of the British Cemetery at Elvas.  Every year in May there is a memorial ceremony at this small cemetery dating from just after the Battle of Albuera (16 May, 1811). As well as promoting these days of remembrance, the Friends of the British Cemetery have financed the recuperation of the Chapel of São João de Corujeiro at the cemetery gates. Peter spoke at their recent symposium at Hedingham Castle in Essex.

Soon after we began our involvement with Portuguese history, we became aware of the British Historical Society in Lisbon, founded some forty years ago.  Peter has spoken at their meetings in Lisbon and Porto, and in January will address BHS members in Porto, Caldas da Rainha and Lisbon on the subject of the ancient British relationship with Portugal.

AHA encourages guest speakers, and there is a growing number of historians who welcome the chance to air their favourite topics to a willing audience.  Rachel Barnard has spoken about the Portuguese court in Brazil, David Johnson has covered Catherine of Braganza and the Ultimatum of 1890, Nick Lack spoke latterly about the Duke of Windsor in Lisbon, and the Portuguese Empire and Steve Preston spoke about the Redcoats in the Peninsula. While visiting St Paul´s Cathedral in London, we made friends with two of the St Paul´s guides, Chris Allen and David Hooper.  They agreed to come out to the Algarve to speak about St Paul´s and its lapidary monuments connected with the Peninsular War .

The most attractive historical topics are not difficult to identify – Henry the Navigator,  Salazar, Balsa all rate highly.  But of course the most appreciated is to do with death and disaster.  Easily the most popular presentation was the January 2013 presentation on the 1755 Earthquake in the Algarve.   So far, Peter has given AHA lectures on more than one hundred different historical topics.  

Peter has been invited on three occasions to speak to the Anglo-Portuguese Society in London.  He spoke about the Jews in Portugal´s history and about Salazar, was he a disaster for Portugal?  He will go again to London in March 2015 to address the Society on the Treaty of Windsor.

An unexpected coup occurred on 14 January, 2014, when the Portuguese national newspaper O Público published a double page article on the raid in 1596 by the Earl of Essex on Faro.  He stole books out of the bishop´s library, and some Portuguese want these books back.  The article referred heavily to Peter´s piece on this particular subject, which appears on the internet.

While history is fascinating, we realised that Portuguese culture was also of interest.  Our first speaker on the cultural ticket was António Brito, the then President of APOS in Olhão, who spoke about the problems and successes in preserving natural and built environments in the Algarve, with particular reference to Olhão.  He was followed by speakers on: contemporary Portuguese architecture; Arraiolos carpets; Portuguese azulejos; The Art of the Vatican; Brazilian art; The Birds of the Algarve; and the seasons of the wildlife and plants in the Algarve. Ludo Broothaers covered the geology of the Algarve and this year will lecture on the history of ideas about evolution.  

Portuguese composer Virgílio Melo of Aveiro gave us his insights into Portuguese music and Sandra Boto from the University of the Algarve delighted groups in Lagoa and Tavira with her fascinating and personal view of the wide span of Portuguese literature.  By popular demand, she will be back in January 2015 when she will talk about one of Portugal´s most iconic writers, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.  

Our work also includes organising guided walks: international standard classical music concerts and visits to historical sites.  Peter and I also write articles on Portuguese history and culture and about people making a difference in the Algarve.

We have recently been working closely with our Portuguese friends Paulo Viegas and Fátima Cardoso who this year will help to catalogue our personal library on Portuguese history and culture so that we can run a lending library; and to update the website together with Portuguese translations.

The AHA gives two lectures a month in each of the Tavira and Lagoa municipal libraries.  Everybody is welcome to join our Association and the best news is that no entry subscription is required. Information about our events is given in our monthly newsletter and in press releases and our language of communication is English.  

One of the most agreeable outcomes of our involvement in AHA has been the wide circle of members and friends whom we have come to know, including those societies devoted to Portuguese affairs as well as individuals from a kaleidoscope of mainly European nations from both ends of the Algarve.  Our lives have been enriched by knowing them.
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Written November 2014