Seminar | A Project on the History of Plastics in Portugal | November 8, 2017 | 12:15h




This talk aims to present an interdisciplinary project on aspects of the history of plastics in Portugal, by basing itself on technical-scientific, industrial, social-historical studies, as well as studies pertaining to the history of science and technology and material culture.


The project intends to perform a full history of plastics, in order to bring to light : the techno-scientific aspects of plastics (and its communication to the general public); the need to preserve plastic objects; the role of plastics in the development of the industrial design, not just as corporate strategy but also in everyday life; the relationship of the plastic industry with their bodies (local workers and elite) and other industries (electrical and glass); energy and environmental issues related to plastics. We plan to set up a museum, in Leiria, to carry out studies on conservation, historical, technological and scientific research of plastics.


One of the purposes of this project is to study the impact of plastics in the Portuguese society, since its arrival in the mid-1930’s, through Bakelite, the first true plastic, in an agricultural country, without chemical research and technology nor an industrial tradition, in contrast with the more advanced industrial nations, where plastic had already assumed its position as an emblem of modernity.

The plastics industry has come to occupy a prominent place in the economies of industrialized countries since the inter-war period until the present day. The talk will reflect on how this development should be put on display in museums with important collections of plastics objects. Starting with Baquelite Liz, a company located in Leiria- centre of Portugal- the birthplace of the plastics manufacturing industry, that has worked in plastics since 1940, our intent is to carry out tasks such as the surveying and cataloguing of its estate, respective manufacturing methods, in addition to its impact on the social and cultural life of the region, and expand this work to other similar businesses. On the other hand, special attention will be devoted to Portuguese collections of plastic materials.


Maria Elvira Callapez, associate Prof. at Lusófona University of Humanities and Technologies



Maria Elvira Callapez holds a B. Sc. in Applied Chemistry, Branch: Organic Chemistry (1993), and a M. Sc. in History and Philosophy of Science (1998), and PhD in History and Philosophy of Science (2002). Her PhD thesis was on Technology Transfer –  The Introduction in Portugal of PVC Industry by CIRES.  She has been Associate Prof. at Lusófona University of Humanities and Technologies since 2007. From 2004 to 2007 she was a Post Doc at University of California, Berkeley (UCB) in the Office for History of Science & Technology, on the analysis of the prohibition of substances used by the plastics industry, namely the use of phthalates in the production of toys made of PVC for babies and children under 5 years of age. Her research interests and publications focus on the history of chemical engineering teaching in Portugal, material culture studies, history of plastics in Portugal, technology transfer and environmental regulation. She has been working with elementary and high school teachers on science education projects.

She has been member of executive committee of International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC), since 2011. Currently she is a visiting scholar at UCB, and a research fellow at Centro Interuniversitário de História da Ciência e Tecnologia-Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa. She is PI of a awarded research project ( PTDC/IVC-HFC/174/2014, on Contributions for a History of Plastics in Portugal, funded by Foundation of Science and Technology.”