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Article

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.

Article

Richard Parker

The response to the AIDS crisis in Brazil has been the focus of significant attention around the world—both as a model of social mobilization that other countries might follow and as an example of the difficulty of sustaining mobilization without necessary political support. It is possible to identify at least four reasonably distinct phases in the Brazilian response to HIV and AIDS, beginning in 1983 (when the first case of AIDS in Brazil was officially reported) and running through mid-2019. An initial phase, lasting roughly a decade, from 1983 to 1992, was marked by significant conflicts between activists from affected communities and government officials, but precisely because of the broader political context of re-democratization was also the period in which many of the key ethical and political principles were elaborated that would come to provide a foundation for the Brazilian response to the epidemic thereafter. A second phase ran from 1993 to roughly the beginning of the new millennium, when these ethical and political principles were put into practice in the construction of a full-blown and highly successful national program for the prevention and control of the epidemic. During the third phase, from 2001 to 2010, the response to the epidemic increasingly became part of Brazilian foreign policy in ways that had important impacts on the global response to the epidemic. Finally, a fourth phase, from 2011 to late 2019, has been marked by the gradual dismantling of the Brazilian response to the epidemic, at first through relatively unplanned omissions on the part of the federal government, and then through a very conscious set of policy decisions aimed at deprioritizing the strategic importance of HIV- and AIDS-related public health issues in Brazil.

Article

Aviation has played a unique role in the history of Brazil, beginning with the life of Alberto Santos-Dumont. Most Brazilians consider him to be the true inventor of the airplane over the North American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. Born in the province of Minas Gerais in 1873, he became a global celebrity in the early 1900s when he designed, built, and piloted several of his dirigibles and airplanes in Paris. He won major prizes for his aeronautical feats, such as the Deutsch de La Meurthe prize for an aerial circumnavigation of the Eiffel Tower. Santos-Dumont is a beloved national hero in Brazil. The potent symbolism of his life was often invoked in calls for the development of Brazilian aviation. Throughout the 20th century, aviation was hailed as a technological panacea for Brazil’s problems. Many Brazilians thought its development could boost homegrown industry and technology, and that aviation would in turn enable Brazil to conquer its frontiers by air. The potential to connect vast and often inaccessible territories by air was very attractive to a state with a weak grip on its frontiers. The dictatorial government of Getúlio Vargas, for instance, used propaganda and cultural programs to engender great excitement among Brazilians for the mass development of national aviation. This notion of frontier conquest by air played a major role in the development of aeronautical technology in Brazil, creating a unique history of frontier expansion and interaction with indigenous peoples. Starting in 1969, Brazil also became a major exporter of airplanes. Originally a state-owned company, the now privatized EMBRAER is one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, selling military, airline and private jet aircraft around the world.

Article

Ian Kisil Marino and Thiago Lima Nicodemo

Historians devoted to telling the story of the COVID-19 pandemic should question the archival conditions involved. In this article, we approach the archival landscape in Latin America in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, which particularly unfolded in the digital environment. First, we suggest a review of archival digitization in Latin America, providing context for the conditions observed during the pandemic. Second, we discuss the emergence of digital memory initiatives that focused on COVID-19, showing typological relations that may arise from transnational analyses. Accordingly, we dive into some Brazilian archival initiatives with major ethnographic rigor since, in addition to closely representing the reality of the region, they provide us with a more accurate immersion into the agents, platforms, and challenges of this pandemic digital undertaking. Lastly, we point out the complex situation of public archives amidst the mass of documents resulting from the pandemic. This way, we pose questions about the increasingly important interface between history, archives, and a policy for transparency of data.

Article

The semi-arid interior of Brazil’s northeast region, known as the sertão, has long been subject to droughts. These can devastate the agricultural and ranching economy and cause serious hardship for the area’s inhabitants, particularly those who labor on farms and ranches belonging to the landowning elite. A prolonged drought in the late 1870s led the Brazilian government to begin soliciting advice from engineers about how to redress the periodic crisis. In 1909 the federal government established a permanent federal agency, the Inspectorate for Works to Combat Drought, to undertake reservoir construction throughout the sertão along with other measures that would alleviate future droughts. In subsequent decades the activities of the drought agency expanded to include constructing irrigation networks around reservoirs and establishing agricultural experiment stations to teach sertanejo farmers improved methods of farming in semi-arid conditions. Although powerful landowners lobbied for federal aid to construct reservoirs, which helped to sustain their own cattle herds through drought years, they were often opposed to initiatives like the establishment of irrigated smallholder colonies around reservoirs, which threatened to alter the social order in the sertão. Support for the federal drought agency’s work waxed and waned during the 20th century under different presidential administrations. Often it would rise in response to a period of damaging drought, then diminish once the crisis abated. Droughts have affected the sertão at irregular intervals since at least the colonial era. They vary in temporal duration and geographic expanse. Their impact on human populations depends on how the area of reduced rainfall overlaps with human settlement patterns and land use. Over the 20th century the years in which drought most severely impacted human communities (including crops and livestock) in the sertão included 1915, 1919–1920, 1931–1932, 1942, 1951–1953, 1958, 1970, 1979–1983, and 1998–1999. These are the periods when local, state, and federal governments received the most persistent pleas for assistance from affected populations. The precise cause of droughts in the region is debated, but they are thought to be triggered by changes in major wind patterns, particularly the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), that prevent Atlantic Ocean precipitation from reaching the sertão.

Article

Brazil’s environmental history is often told as a tale of irresponsible exploitation and societal indifference. However, a broader perspective must consider the country’s diverging traditions of environmental thought and practice. During the 19th century, several naturalists wrote about the need for the rational use of natural resources, founding a conservationist cultural tradition. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of naturalists from the National Museum produced various initiatives related to biological research and conservationism. In the 1950s, another group of scientists, agronomists, and journalists founded the National Foundation for the Protection of Nature, active until the 1980s. Although none of these initiatives led to a continuous environmental mobilization, they shaped public policies and cultural sensibilities toward the environment. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of environmentalism emerged in several cities—with protests against pollution, nuclear energy, and deforestation—but also in rural areas and forests, with demands from traditional peoples. Over the years, several conservation units and federal institutions were founded to implement environmental policies. Finally, the 1992 Earth Summit gave a special boost to these movements in an era of growing NGO activism. All of these fueled the feeling that environmental activism in Brazil had entered a golden age of dialogue and negotiation. Contrary to this view, some activists claimed that major political advances were still needed. Through the lens of socio-environmentalism and environmental justice, they denounced the displacement of communities by mining companies and the construction of hydroelectric plants, as well as the unhealthy and violent conditions faced by inhabitants of urban peripheries and areas where agribusiness was expanding. Skepticism toward gradual advances was warranted following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration threatened environmental legislation and institutions and prior achievements. To confront these perils, environmental activism must become a political, scientific, and cultural movement.

Article

Since the early 20th century, Brazilian public health has focused on rural areas, the people living there, and the so-called endemic rural diseases that plague them. These diseases—particularly malaria, hookworm, and Chagas disease—were blamed for negatively affecting Brazilian identity (“a vast hospital”) and for impeding territorial integration and national progress. For reformist medical and intellectual elites, health and educational public policies could “save” the diseased, starving, and illiterate rural populations and also ensure Brazil’s entry into the “civilized world.” In the mid-20th century, public health once again secured a place on the Brazilian political agenda, which was associated with the intense debates about development in Brazil in conjunction with democratization following World War II (1945–1964). In particular, debate centered on the paths to be followed (state or market; nationalization or internationalization) and on the obstacles to overcoming underdevelopment. A basic consensus emerged that development was urgent and should be pursued through modernization and industrialization. In 1945, Brazil remained an agrarian country, with 70 percent of the rural population and a significant part of the economy still dependent on agricultural production. However, associated with urbanization, beginning in the 1930s, the Brazilian government implemented policies aimed at industrialization and the social protection of organized urban workers, with the latter entailing a stratified system of social security and health and social assistance. Public health policies and professionals continued to address the rural population, which had been excluded from social protection laws. The political and social exclusion of this population did not change significantly under the Oligarchic Republic (1889–1930) or during Getúlio Vargas’s first period in office (1930–1945). The overall challenge remained similar to the one confronting the government at the beginning of the century—but it now fell under the umbrella of developmentalism, both as an ideology and as a modernization program. Economic development was perceived, on the one hand, as driving improvements in living conditions and income in the rural areas. This entailed stopping migration to large urban centers, which was considered one of the great national problems in the 1950s. On the other hand, disease control and even campaigns to eradicate “endemic rural diseases” aimed to facilitate the incorporation of sanitized areas in agricultural modernization projects and to support the building of infrastructure for development. Development also aimed to transform the inhabitants of rural Brazil into agricultural workers or small farmers. During the Cold War and the anti-Communism campaign, the government sought to mitigate the revolutionary potential of the Brazilian countryside through social assistance and public health programs. Health constituted an important part of the development project and was integrated into Brazil’s international health and international relations policies. In the Juscelino Kubitschek administration (1956–1961) a national program to control endemic rural diseases was created as part of a broader development project, including national integration efforts and the construction of a new federal capital in central Brazil (Brasilia). The country waged its malaria control campaign in conjunction with the Global Malaria Eradication Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and, to receive financial resources, an agreement was signed with the International Cooperation Agency (ICA). In 1957 malaria eradication became part of US foreign policy aimed at containing Communism. The Malaria Eradication Campaign (CEM, 1958–1970) marked the largest endeavor undertaken by Brazilian public health in this period and can be considered a synthesis of this linkage between development and health. Given its centralized, vertical, and technobureaucratic model, this project failed to take into account structural obstacles to development, a fact denounced by progressive doctors and intellectuals. Despite national and international efforts and advances in terms of decreasing number of cases and a decline in morbidity and mortality since the 1990s, malaria remains a major public health problem in the Amazon region.

Article

In Brazil, the national public health apparatus became one of the most agile and expansive regulatory mechanisms of control and care during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Brazilian doctors and social thinkers made public health central to their ideas of modernizing the nation, they simultaneously sought to challenge the notion that Brazil’s sociocultural and racial-ethnic diversity was an insurmountable obstacle to modernization. They conceived of public health as something greater than the sum of its parts, seeing it is as the best prescription for national unity and fundamental to the project of nation-building, not only as a series of practices, outcomes, and beliefs. Proto-psychiatrists, recognizing the ideological momentum and bureaucratic strength of public health, seized upon it as a means and a rationale to ground their therapeutic ideas and treatments. Their characterization of the indigent mentally ill on city streets in Rio de Janeiro as a public health issue politicized both the mentally ill and mental illness as subjects of public intervention. Fashioning themselves as the leading experts in this effort, they garnered the support of state officials and other doctors to create a series of public institutions, organizations, and other measures to treat the mentally ill as unitary intersections of psychiatry and public health. While Brazilian psychiatrists during the late 19th and 20th centuries surely went into private practice, professional psychiatry in Rio as a field turned toward returning irrational minds to reason and “civilizing” the publicly unwell—dual and deeply complex goals of the profession. Public health offered them a preexisting muscular infrastructure through which to practice their medical knowledge and, in so doing, allowed them to expand and legitimize their professional reach. So, under the auspices of an enterprising psychiatric field, mental health largely became public health.

Article

Marcos Chor Maio, Robert Wegner, and Vanderlei Sebastião de Souza

Race is a fundamental theme in the sciences and social thought of 20th-century Brazil. The republican regime, inaugurated in the country in 1889, was already born troubled by questions concerning the viability of the nation, which, from the viewpoint of European scientific theories on race, was doomed to fail due to the high contingent of black and indigenous people, and its racial mixture. The solution proposed by the country’s scientific and political elites was characteristically the theory of whitening, which, without breaking completely from scientific racism, established its own path for nation building. The 1910s were marked by the growth of the sanitarist movement led by the medical elite, the country’s leading scientific community at the time, which shifted the explanation for the country’s ills from its racial constitution to parasitic diseases. The eugenics movement emerged in Brazil closely connected to the sanitarist movement and was dominated in the 1920s by a Lamarckian conception of heredity, seeking to improve the “Brazilian race” through social medicine. This eugenics framework did not signify the absence of more racial interventionist proposals, however, such as the sterilization of the “unfit” and immigration restrictions. The latter proposition acquired the force of law under the 1934 Constitution and was maintained under the 1937 Constitution, which lasted throughout the Estado Novo. Nevertheless, the first Vargas government (1930–1945) invested in strengthening the image of a country with harmonious race relations and the identity of the Brazilian as miscegenated, an idea sustained by the social thought and intellectual production of the period. Following the end of the Estado Novo dictatorship and the Second World War, Brazil became a field for research on race relations promoted by UNESCO. The project’s starting point was the notion that the country could provide an example of harmonious race relations for a world traumatized by war and the Holocaust. The research findings, though, pointed to the existence of racial prejudice and discrimination. From the 1950s, research in the social sciences and the black movement deepened the investigation and the denunciation of racial inequalities in Brazil. Concurrently, research in the genetics of human populations insisted that the Brazilian population was characterized by racial mixture and biological diversity. After the 1970s, during the military dictatorship still, the black movement emphasized negritude as an identity and denounced racial democracy as a myth that concealed inequality. In this context, the sociology of race relations began to affirm race as one of the determinant variables of class structure in Brazil. In the 1990s, some sectors of the black movement and the social sciences asserted that antiracism should strengthen race as an identity and the black/white polarization. At the same time, in dialogue with the tradition of social thought and with modern research on the human genome, other intellectuals highlighted miscegenation as characteristic of the Brazilian population and advanced the need to combat prejudice and discrimination. The clashes of the 20th century eventually resulted in affirmative actions and quota policies being implemented by the Brazilian government from the 2000s.

Article

Emily Story

For much of its history, Brazil’s population remained bound along the coastline. Geographic features, such as coastal mountain ranges and a relative lack of navigable rivers, stymied efforts to settle and exploit the vast interior. Because of its inaccessibility to authorities based on the coast, the interior became a place of refuge for Indigenous communities and runaway slaves. During the colonial period (1500–1822) and several decades beyond, waterways and Indigenous footpaths (sometimes widened to allow for ox carts and mule trains) were the main routes for travel into the hinterland. Slavers and mineral prospectors known as bandeirantes founded scattered settlements in Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso. As the Industrial Revolution created new demands and technological possibilities in the late 19th century, efforts to connect the interior to the coast came via the telegraph and railroad. The rubber boom of that era precipitated greater settlement of the Amazon region and relied on riverine transport. Road building has intensified since the mid-20th century. The new capital, Brasília, centerpiece of President Juscelino Kubitschek’s (1956–1961) campaign to achieve “Fifty Years of Progress,” initiated a new network of highways, later expanded by the military regime (1964–1985). Those efforts aimed to promote economic development, redirect internal migration, and extend the territorial control of the central government. Migrants and entrepreneurs, traveling on official highways and illegal roads constructed along the way, set fire to grasslands and forests to convert them into pasture. Roads, both legal and illegal, thus opened the way for transformations of the ecosystems of the Brazilian interior. At the same time, they created conditions for intensified conflict between newcomers and those who had long called the interior home.

Article

Twentieth-century science and technology in Brazil were marked by the building of new institutions of higher education, research, and research funding as well as by the professionalization of scientific practice in the country. Most of these changes were state driven and state funded, while some support came from foreign philanthropic foundations and states and, on a smaller scale, from the private sector. The mid-20th-century was when most activity took place, for instance the founding of the University of São Paulo, as a reaction of the state of São Paulo to national political changes in 1930, and the establishment of funding agencies such as Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), as initiatives of the federal government. Throughout the century the institutionalization of science moved from a strictly pragmatic model toward the acknowledgement of science as the professional activity required for the production of new knowledge. In Brazil the development of science has been marked by a succession of ups and downs closely following economic cycles and political times, albeit not perfectly synchronously. Therefore, a major brain drain began in 1960 during a democratic regime, and the 1964 military dictatorship restrained civil rights while supporting science from 1970 on. Chronological limits in this history are not turning points. On the one hand, as the 21st century began Brazilian academia suffered further ups and downs closely related to political and funding crises, which have worsened since President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office in 2019. On the other hand, the huge impact of the 20th-century changes in Brazilian academia should not detract from the production of science and technology in previous centuries.

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

A review of the literature on the Vaccine Revolt shows that it continues to be treated in an overly simplistic manner as a “structure” subjected to some form of regulation, from which its dynamics can be explained and its “root causes” identified. It is possible to forge a new, more cautious historiographical path, seeking to view this “structure” as a rhizome, as a loosely connected ensemble that exists under unstable circumstances whose precarious (dis)order cannot be grasped in its complexity by a reductionist analysis. Another historiographical approach that can shed new light on the popular revolt of 1904 situates it in the context of its links to the history of the smallpox vaccine and its diffusion. Viewing the episode as equally relevant to the history of science and technology, this article proposes to “vaccinate the Vaccine Revolt”—that is, to reintroduce the smallpox vaccine as a protagonist in the events—highlighting the need to treat the revolt as a chapter of a sociotechnical history; after all, what could be more sociotechnical than a technoscientific artifact that gave its name to a popular revolt? This is a history of scientists convinced of the superiority of their technical knowledge and of their right to exercise their power for the good of the public, who would be obliged to comply; most of all, it is a history without the problematic distinctions between content and context, between rationality and irrationality, between science and society. It is also a history of the popular mobilization on the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro, exemplified by the vigorous resistance mounted in the working-class neighborhood of Saúde under the command of the Black man known as Prata Preta, which serves as a counterpoint to top-down historical narratives more concerned with the comings and goings of White political elites and coup-plotting, positivist-inspired generals, marked by the symptomatic exclusion of Black and working-class actors. It also serves to emphasize the symptomatic absence of the voice of Prata Preta, who was imprisoned and summarily banished without any due process. The fact that he was silenced has made it easier to construct allegories about “the people,” portraying them as heroic opponents of elite oppression or the exact opposite: an antiheroic, dangerous, and disposable rabble. Among the entourage of characters who have been silenced, one should also note the absence of women’s voices; although vaccine opponents rallied around the claim that they were defending against the “violation” of women’s bodies, nothing was heard from women’s mouths. Finally, revisiting the history of the Vaccine Revolt offers another opportunity to unmask the project of an authoritarian political, military, and scientific elite, with a particular focus on Oswaldo Cruz, one of Brazil’s greatest champions of science. In the name of science and public health, that elite envisioned a modern Brazil, while remaining ignorant of the daily nightmare lived by the vast majority of the Black, poor, and marginalized population.