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Article

Nísia Trindade Lima and Tamara Rangel Vieira

In Brazilian social thought, the sertão is understood more in a symbolic than a geographic manner and thus does not have a precise spatial characterization. As a result, many places have been identified as such in the history of Brazil. Analyzing the vast repertoire of meanings given to the idea of sertão, the absence of the state can be seen as a characteristic that distinguishes it, irrespective of the period considered. In this sense, the relations between space and social thought or between space and interpretations of Brazil are emphasized, highlighting the sertão–coast dualism which emerged following the publication of Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões as one of the possible ways of understanding the historical formation of the country. This dualism can be observed in distinct periods ranging from the literature about the scientific missions in the early 1900s to the debates about the construction of Brasília in the middle of the same century. Representations of the sertão in medical writings, sociological thought, literature, and film evince the resilience of this category as an ongoing metaphor for understanding Brazil.

Article

Printed periodicals constitute sources increasingly used by researchers in the human sciences, as the catalogues of publishers, dossiers of academic journals, and research carried out in graduate programs show. The enormous variety of titles, many of which are easily available thanks to the digitalization programs of the institutions that hold them, seems capable of meeting a wide variety of interests. While heterogeneity is one of the attractions of this type of documentation, it also raises significant challenges for those who use this material as a source, since methodological procedures are subordinated to the specific nature of the selected printed material. Not by chance, wide-ranging works, which propose to cover the history of the press as a whole, have ceded space to monographic works dedicated to in-depth analysis of a single periodical or a restricted number of titles. Cultural and literary periodicals have attracted particular attention from specialists, since they included in their editorial teams combative intellectuals committed to disseminating aesthetic, social, and political postures, which makes these publications privileged vehicles to investigate sensibilities, tastes, themes, and ideas, in short shared readings that help us to understand the dynamics of cultural life at a given moment.

Article

While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.

Article

Carlos Brandão and Hipólita Siqueira

Brazil is a vast and highly complex country that is subordinated to its central hegemonic poles and that combines both backwardness, modernity, progress interrupted by unfinished cycles of growth, and extreme inequality. Paradoxically, it is on the one hand ranked among the nine most advanced capitalist countries in the world and, on the other, listed as one of the nine countries with the worst income distribution. Attempts to interpret these dilemmas, historical disjunctives, and impasses have produced a plethora of original intellectual work that deals with the specificities of this most dynamic and yet highly contradictory national space. A select few authors have produced extensive work on the subject and have legitimized themselves as the pinnacle of classical interpreters of Brazilian social and political thought. The originality, broad scope of analysis, and ingenuity of these great national thinkers have made them the authors of choice for those seeking to better understand Brazil as a nation. Their classics have formulated key and critical questions relating to the often-interrupted construction of this nation and the truncated, material, and spiritual or immaterial development of the Brazilian civilization as a whole, which began as a former Portuguese colony founded on slave labor. These are very comprehensive formulations, with a long-term historical perspective produced by those who have taken a very profound and highly structural look at Brazil, shedding light on aspects of its hitherto-obscure or unquestioned reality, enlightening and inviting to think more coherently, boldly, and consequently about its present and, indeed, future. Among the main contributors are the likes of Caio Prado Júnior, Celso Furtado, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Florestan Fernandes, who have developed approaches to help unveil the nature and characteristics of the processes of dependence and underdevelopment that are so specific to Brazil’s peripheral capitalism.

Article

Thiago Lima Nicodemo, Pedro Afonso Cristovão dos Santos, and Mateus Henrique de Faria Pereira

Brazilian historiography in the 19th century stands for a variety of practices and ways of doing history. In the beginning of the century, the writing of history assumed a specific color after the arrival of the Portuguese Court in 1808, who were escaping the invasion of Portugal by Napoleonic troops. After political independence from Portugal (1822), this writing had to deal with the questions that occupied the minds of its authors, people mostly close to or part of the political elite of the country. Forging a nationality through history, dealing with the tensions between local affiliations and the nation-state, placing indigenous and African peoples in the historical narrative, combining an exemplary history with future-oriented thinking, and using history for international relations issues (such as boundaries disputes) were among the motivations and preoccupations involved in that work. Underlying it all, the myriad ways of writing history in the 19th century had to do with the ways the authors circulated among a world of public archives in the making, personal archives available through certain connections, booksellers, publishers, oral informants, and a changing community of readers and critics that were conforming and disputing rules of acceptability as to what could be considered a work of history. Thinking about the Brazilian historiography of the 1800s as a way of combining practices of archiving, reading, copying, writing, and evaluating can help us understand the remarkable variety of histories and historiographical works written in the period.

Article

Housing has been a central feature of Latin America’s dramatic transformation into the most urbanized region of the world. Between 1940 and 1970, the portion of people who lived in urban areas rose from 33 percent to 64 percent; a seismic shift that caused severe housing deficits, overcrowding, and sprawl in Latin America’s major cities. After the Second World War, these urban slums became a symbol of underdevelopment and a target for state-led modernization projects. At a time when Cold War tensions were escalating throughout the world, the region’s housing problems also became more politicized through a network of foreign aid agencies. These overlapping factors illustrate how the history of local housing programs were bound up with broader hemispheric debates over economic development and the role of the nation-state in social affairs. The history of urban housing in 20th-century Latin America can be divided into three distinct periods. The first encompasses the beginning of the 20th century, when issues of housing in the central-city districts were primarily viewed through the lens of public health. Leading scientists, city planners, psychiatrists, and political figures drew strong connections between the sanitary conditions of private domiciles and the social behavior of their residents in public spaces. After the Second World War, urban housing became a proving ground for popular ideas in the social sciences that stressed industrialization and technological modernization as the way forward for the developing world. In this second period, mass housing was defined by a central tension: the promotion of modernist housing complexes versus self-help housing—a process in which residents build their own homes with limited assistance from the state. By the 1970s, the balance had shifted from modernist projects to self-help housing, a development powerfully demonstrated by the 1976 United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I). This seminal UN forum marked a transitional moment when the concepts of self-help community development were formally adopted by emergent, neo-liberal economists and international aid agencies.

Article

Severo Martínez Peláez is the most important figure in the founding of contemporary Guatemalan historiography. His work, in particular La patria del criollo (The Homeland of the Criollo), has been viewed by historians as a starting point for advancing the reconstruction of Central American history. Additionally, his work continues to have a broad readership, who consider it a factor in understanding the present. His contributions are essential to the understanding of the colonial period in Latin America, including debates that inspired his theses concerning the character of society in that period and his historical views on indigenous peoples. Like other thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s, his focus was primarily on economic and social history, in particular class struggles. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the intellectual, political, social, and even personal conditions relevant at the time he was writing in order to thoroughly understand and appreciate his work.

Article

Between 1934 and 1943, French cultural diplomacy in Brazil was the task of intellectuals, the so called “intellectual ambassadors.” Notwithstanding the differences in their individual profiles, political convictions, academic conceptions, and religious beliefs, they all carried out their common mission of creating a pro-French profile in the Brazilian academic realm. The article is an analysis of the strategies, means, actors, and results of French cultural diplomacy in Brazil between 1934 and 1943, whose success can be explained, fundamentally, by the symbiosis between the university field and the diplomatic field.

Article

Bernardo Ricupero

The history of Marxism in Brazil has been marked by discord. This tension makes sense considering that historical materialism developed in a European social environment, contrasted, to some extent, with the Asian context. The problem is, therefore, twofold. First, the theory proved incapable of reflecting the specificity of a particular social formation. The latter, differing significantly from the reality in which Marxism emerged, comes to be seen as “eccentric.” Moreover, Marxist theory seeks to transform reality, which contributes to a confusion between thought and politics. In the same sense, Marxism cannot be self-sufficient, because it must respond to the challenges of the environment in which it is inserted, contributing, in turn, to its contact with other intellectual and political traditions. Marxist thought in Brazil can be divided into three main historical moments: the first was marked by the preponderant influence of communism, from the 1920s to the 1964 coup; the second was characterized by the emergence in the mid-1950s of a New Left; and the third was the debate regarding democracy, which has gained momentum since the end of the country’s most recent authoritarian period in 1985. Throughout this extended historical period, Brazilian Marxists have been preoccupied with a recurring concern: How will the Bourgeois Revolution happen in Brazil? The periodization is not exact, with trends often overlapping and fostering an evolving political culture. In this way, through opportunities seized and missed, the Left—whose main theoretical reference today is still Marxism—penetrated Brazilian society and became an important part of national life.

Article

The epistemic assumptions, methods, and rhetoric employed by colonial indigenous intellectuals in Latin America were based on preconquest intellectual labor and literacy systems. These practices were deeply impacted by collaborative projects and historical scholarship undertaken in the 16th century, as indigenous elites embraced European literacy and scholarly models. This merging of diverse traditions led to a “golden age” of indigenous intellectual achievements in the 17th century, and to a diversity of genres cultivated by native scholars in late colonial times. Indigenous historical actors were intellectuals not only because they recorded and disseminated historical, religious, or political knowledge, but also because they were inserted in culturally hybrid social networks through which collective knowledge circulated. While the works of Chimalpahin, Guaman Poma, Garcilaso de la Vega, and don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl are relatively well known, this small sample of native and mestizo intellectuals must be expanded considerably to examine works produced through co-authorship arrangements with friars and priests, and to address clandestine works composed exclusively for native audiences by less known, or even anonymous, indigenous scholars.