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date: 10 December 2022

An Environmental History of Brazil in the Nineteenth Centurylocked

An Environmental History of Brazil in the Nineteenth Centurylocked

  • José Augusto PáduaJosé Augusto PáduaInstitute of History, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Summary

Brazil’s political imagination under the monarchy sought to associate the grandeur of its territory with an idealized image of the national state under construction. Whether they praised or deplored Brazil’s natural setting, representations of the establishment of an enormous country in the tropics tended to be generic and superficial. Some men of science, however, followed a more pragmatic path, seeking to understand Brazil’s environmental diversity and criticizing the destructive use of its natural resources. A significant effort was made to distinguish among the various types of forests and savannas found within Brazil’s borders. As regions developed at different rates of economic and demographic density, this variety of natural formations influenced their growth in complex ways. The interaction was marked by four basic modes of socioeconomic activity: export agriculture; agriculture to supply local markets; ranching; and the extraction of flora, fauna, and minerals. Each of these modes entailed environmental problems. For the elites who controlled the pace and direction of regional occupation, however, the immensity of the territory produced a sense of unlimited frontier and abundance that made any concern for the conservation or cautious management of natural resources appear unnecessary. Meanwhile, the growth of cities, with their attendant problems of insalubrity and access to water, opened up a cosmopolitan space for intellectual and scientific debates. Several environmental themes such as climatic determinism and the relationship between slave-based agriculture and the destruction of soils and forests figured prominently in the cultural and political concerns of that age.

Subjects

  • History of Brazil
  • Environmental History

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