Because of its relatively small size and population (one to two million), early modern Portugal was largely able to maintain its independence and use its political and economic clout because of the opportunities and wealth generated from its global empire. As a result, much of the history of the period in both Portuguese and other languages tends to incorporate imperial aspects.
Portuguese overseas history rarely views the entire empire at once. Far more typical are regional studies that examine one relatively small part of the former Portuguese world. The recent 500th anniversaries of Vasco da Gama’s entrance into the Indian Ocean (1498–1998) and Pedro Alvares Cabral’s arrival on Brazil’s shores (1500–2000) passed virtually without notice in the United States, in sharp contrast to the 1992 Columbian debates. What these two anniversaries did provide was a global forum for early modern Portuguese historians and a renewed focus in Portugal and Brazil on this period. International conferences were held in Paris (proceedings published as Vasco da Gama e a India; Conferencia Internacional Paris, 11–13 Maio, 1998: Actas, 3 vols. [Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1999]) and in Charleston, South Carolina (proceedings published in Portuguese Studies Review 9, nos. 1-2 , and forthcoming in 13, no. 2 ) to celebrate these milestones of world history.