Thomas D. Rogers
The Portuguese took sugarcane from their Atlantic island holdings to Brazil in the first decades of the 16th century, using their model of extensive agriculture and coerced labor to turn their new colony into the world’s largest producer of sugar. From the middle of the 17th century through the 20th century, Brazil faced increasing competition from Caribbean producers. With access to abundant land and forest resources, Brazilian producers generally pursued an extensive production model that made sugarcane’s footprint a large one. Compared to competitors elsewhere, Brazilian farmers were often late in adopting innovations (such as manuring in the 18th century, steam power in the 19th, and synthetic fertilizers in the 20th). With coffee’s growth in the center-south of the country during the middle of the 19th century, sugarcane farming shifted gradually away from enslaved African labor. Labor and production methods shifted at the end of the century with slavery’s abolition and the rise of large new mills, called usinas. The model of steam-powered production, both for railroads carrying cane and for mills grinding it, and a work force largely resident on plantations persisted into the mid-20th century. Rural worker unions were legalized in the 1960s, at the same time that sugar production increased as a result of the Cuban Revolution. A large-scale sugarcane ethanol program in the 1970s also brought upheaval, and growth, to the industry.
Diogo de Carvalho Cabral
Although it has received less scholarly attention than firearms, microbes, domestic animals and plants, market economy, and statecraft, alphabetic reading and writing was crucial in the European conquest and colonization of the Americas from the late 15th century on. Unlike the agrarian empires the Spaniards encountered in the Andes and the Mexican highlands, the Portuguese frontier advanced upon tribal peoples who relied exclusively on oral language, such as the Tupi of Atlantic Brazil. These were semi-sedentary horticultural villagers whose entire socio-ecology (myths and knowledge, territoriality, subsistence strategies, etc.) was conditioned by the face-to-faceness and fugacity of spoken words. In turn, their Portuguese colonizers—for a while rivaled by the French, who enjoyed short periods of stable settlement through the early 17th century—were urban-based, oceangoing merchants, bureaucrats, soldiers, and religious missionaries whose organization strictly depended on the durability and transferability of written texts. Even if most of the Portuguese who came to Brazil in the 16th century were themselves illiterate, colonization as a social enterprise framed their actions according to prescribed roles set down in writing (both handwriting and printed script). Thus, the Portuguese colonization of Brazilian native lands and human populations can be interpreted from the point of view of the imposition of an alphabetically organized way of life. Two major dimensions of this “letterscaping” can be discerned as to its impact on Amerindian bodies (human and nonhuman) and modes of understanding. Although the 16th century was only the introductory act in that drama, its historical record shows the basic outlines of the alphabetic colonization that would play out through the early 19th century: native decimation and enslavement, territory usurpation by sesmaria grants, forest recovery in former native croplands (then resignified as “virgin forest”), loss of native ecological knowledge not recorded in writing, disempowerment of native cultural attunement to the wild soundscape, among other processes.
In 1863 and 1864, historical and political contradictions in the River Plate region led to civil war in Uruguay, creating tensions with neighboring nations in the region. The Brazilian government intervened both politically and militarily in Uruguay to address the interests of ranchers in its province of Rio Grande do Sul, to distract the attention of the Brazilian citizens from domestic problems, and to preserve the political influence of the Empire of Brazil on Uruguay. This action by the Empire clashed with the new Paraguayan policy of political interference in the River Plate region and resulted in the declaration of war against Brazil by Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López. This conflict broadened into the Paraguayan War.
João Paulo Pimenta
Stemming from an accelerated and tumultuous process unleashed by European wars in the first decade of the 19th century, Brazil and Portugal split politically in 1822. In a sense, Brazil’s independence reflects a number of peculiar characteristics within the context of the time due, in part, to three centuries of Portuguese colonization and to changes within the colonial system beginning in the second half of the 1700s. In other ways, however, Brazilian independence is linked to external events like the French Revolution, the independence of Haiti, and, above all, the wars of independence in Spanish America. The most profound and lasting consequences of the break with Portugal were the emergence of a Brazilian state and nation that until that point did not exist and that was consolidated over the course of the nineteenth century, as well as the nationalization of certain colonial institutions that were partially maintained. Historiography and national memory would later imbue independence with supreme importance as the foundational moment of the nation such that it has become a recurring theme in historical studies of Brazil.
Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.
The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state.
Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
Bernardo Buarque de Hollanda
Football appeared in Brazil in the end of the 19th century, among a favorable environment for the practice of English sports. These sports were initially practiced not professionally by English migrants and young students of Law, Engineering, and Medicine. Fluminense was the first club from Rio de Janeiro, at that time the capital of the country, to be dedicated exclusively to practice football. In the beginning, football represented nobility for the local elite. The social profile of people who attended matches at Fluminense’s field was very near to that of the players, be it for family reasons, friendship, or other motivations. Young women who went there desired to see their distinguished idols, and from this practice many relationships started. While this idyllic image of the past was produced, a historical point of view can notice a decisive enhancement in social segments interested in football. In the decade of 1910, a collective enthusiasm arose for football, mainly due to the fact that it was easy to practice and watch football in any kind of open space. This allowed it to spread out of clubs and the National Team. Far from the spatial and economic restriction of performance arts, football could be practiced and watched freely, in most diverse situations. The clubs’ lack of structure to allocate players and fans contributed in making football a popular game, since they needed to seek public spaces to practice. At this point, the club that opposed to Fluminense has been Flamengo, which until then was not more than a regatta club. When it opened a football department, it practiced in open fields near the beaches. Many passersby started to look out their training and matches, and some of them adopted Flamengo as their club even if not participating of its internal sphere. The players became idols, first in the neighborhood and then in the whole city. This encouraged the talk about football in bars and cafés, with reflections on the increasing number of people to attend matches. Historian Leonardo Pereira says that in a few years football has become a mania. The making of the first national team to dispute friendly matches against England and Argentina has also stimulated football’s repercussion. Noticing public interest over matches with teams from different cities or countries, sports press left its poor attitude about football and began to carefully pay attention to this kind of rivalry and the consequent emotions each fan is able to express for his team, especially the National Team.
Lilia Katri Moritz Schwarcz
This article provides a larger panorama of the cultural politics of the Brazilian Empire during the 19th century and following the long Second Reign of Pedro II. The central figure of the emperor—as a kind of animator of cultural, scientific, and artistic life—and the conservative profile of the national movement are key issues. The article analyzes the development of the main professional schools of the country, which taught medicine (in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador) and law (in São Paulo and Recife), and also tells the story of the Historical and Geographical Institute and the origins of the museums of art in Rio de Janeiro, the former capital of the court, and scientific museums in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belém.
Ana Maria Mauad
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
Since its creation in 1982, the Laboratory of Oral History and Image (LABHOI), a division of the History Department of Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Brazil, has been developing projects on the history of memory of different Brazilian communities, based on both oral and visual sources and the relationship between them.
The main purpose of LABHOI’s projects, despite its academic origin, is to engage communities in the production of their own history through visual and oral records. One of the results of this work is the organization of a digital database, accessible for a large public, that covers three fields of interest: Memory, Africa, and Slavery; Memory, Art, and Media; and Memory, City, and Communities.
LABHOI has become an important source for theoretical and methodological debates about the uses of visual representations of the past, and its members have published books and articles in this field. Recently LABHOI turned to the production of experimental videos based on the idea of the “videographic writing” of history, a modality of historical text that can perfectly mix sounds and images of recollections.
The video productions of LABHOI include the DVD box set Passados Presentes (Present Pasts) with four documentaries built upon our audiovisual archive Memórias da Escravidão (Memories of Slavery), launched in 2012. This audiovisual collection has been developed since 1994 and is composed of more than 300 hours of interviews with the descendants of slaves of the old plantation coffee areas of Rio de Janeiro.
Other projects developed during the last ten years include: Sons e Imagens da Rememoração: Narrativas e Registros das Identidades e Alteridades Afro-Brasileiras dos séculos XIX ao XXI (Sounds and Images of Recollections: Narratives and Records of Afro-Brazilian Identity and Otherness from the 19th to the 21st Centuries) (2010–2013), sponsored by the Brazilian Research Council (CNPq), in which an international network of researchers worked on issues concerning the memory of slavery. História e Memória da Prática Fotográfica no Brasil Contemporâneo (History and Memory of Photographic Practice in Contemporary Brazil), started in 2003, which is organizing a database of interviews with different professionals who have worked before, during, and after the Brazilian dictatorship in order to understand the political role played by photography in producing historical meaning about the present time and the organization of photojournalism as a field for public photography.
Since 2013 LABHOI officially included public history as one of its fields of debate and research with the approval of two new projects: História Pública, Memória a Escravidão Atlântica no Rio de Janeiro (Public History, Memory, and Atlantic Slavery in Rio de Janeiro), sponsored by the Carlos Chagas Foundation, Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), which is developing a new approach to the study of the Atlantic diaspora in Rio de Janeiro, a city that has one of the major populations of Afro-descendants in Brazil; and Expanding the Global Feminisms Archive: Brazil and the “BRICS” Five, which is being compiled together with a team of scholars from the University of Michigan.
Although the slave trade to Brazil did not end until 1850, and slavery itself lasted until 1888, the practice of freeing slaves had been common from the time of first colonization by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the children of freed women were born free. The result was that, by the time of a national census in 1872, there were 4.25 million free blacks and mulattos in the country, accounting for over three quarters of all those of African descent and two fifths of Brazil’s total population.
To understand the willingness of Brazilian slave owners to free so many one must first consider the general nature of Brazil’s social structure and the paradigms that ordered it. For most, society was not thought of as being made up of individuals equally protected in their rights and mobile in relationship to one another, but by castes, ranks, corporations, guilds, and brotherhoods, layered one atop another or arranged side by side. Almost everyone could feel superior to someone else, even if inferior to others. The nuanced distinctions of ranks somewhat restrained the threat to social order that free and freed blacks might otherwise have been thought to pose. “Free-and-equal” was not a phrase heard in Brazil.
There is overwhelming evidence that race was an important variable affecting one’s position, and discrimination against blacks was widespread and constant. The government reinforced the prejudices of white Brazilians, acquiesced in maintaining a hierarchy based on color, and presented obstacles to the ambitions of free African Brazilians. Civil service positions were usually denied to them, regardless of their qualifications. Recruitment for the army was focused on the poor, that is, on African Brazilians.
Yet, it is also true that many individuals found their way around those obstacles and rose to positions of some importance, for skin color was just one of the many characteristics to be considered. There are multiple examples of freeborn mulattos (and some freed and freeborn blacks) who succeeded in 19th-century Brazil. Some became doctors, pharmacists, journalists, and teachers. Others entered politics and rose to positions of real power. A few worked energetically to bring about the end of slavery.
Sueann Caulfield and Cristiana Schettini
Over the past forty years, increasing attention to gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography has given us a nuanced understanding of diverse ways in which women and men in Brazil’s past experienced patriarchy, racism, and other forms of oppression. As gender historians have shed light on how racialized and patriarchal gender and sexual roles have been reconstituted in different historical contexts, empirical studies in the field of social history have focused primarily on the historical agency of women, particularly non-elite women, who lived within or pushed against the confines of prescribed gender roles. Pioneering histories of sexual minorities have accompanied this trajectory since the 1980s, although this subfield has grown more slowly.
A few nodal themes help to explain transformations in gender relations during each of the major periods of Brazil’s social and political history. Under the empire (1822–1889), honor is the entryway for analysis of gender and sexuality. Gendered standards of honor were critical tools used to mark class and racial boundaries, and to traverse them. Historians of the imperial period also stress the centrality of gender to the social, cultural, and economic networks built by members of various occupational, familial, and kinship groups. During the First Republic (1889–1930), the focus shifts to state vigilance and social control, together with debates over modernization of sexual and gender norms, particularly regarding urban space and prostitution. In the Vargas era (1930–1945), patriarchy and racialized sexuality formed the core of intellectual constructions of the nation’s history and identity, at the same time that homosexuality and women’s and worker’s rights generated intense debate. A new emphasis on domesticity emerged in the context of developmentalism in the 1950s, helping to spur a reaction in the form of the counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The dictatorship (1964–1985) went to great lengths to suppress challenges to gender and sexual norms as part of its broader strategy to demobilize society and repress oppositional political movements. These challenges reemerged in the 1970s, when feminists and sexual minorities gained much greater visibility within a new wave of social movements.
The 1988 constitution articulated these movements’ aspirations for social justice and equality through its foundational principal of human dignity. Significant legal changes followed over subsequent decades, including recognition of equal labor rights for domestic and sex workers, affirmative-action policies, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2011. Despite notable setbacks, the momentum toward gender and sexual equality at the start of the 21st century was remarkable. This momentum was halted by the political coup that ousted the first woman president in 2016. The anti-feminist mood that accompanied the impeachment process underscored an overarching theme that runs through the historiography of gender and sexuality in Brazil: the centrality of gender to the major legal and political shifts that mark the nation’s history.