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By 2020, it is expected that approximately 70 % of the world’s surface astronomical observation will be located in Chile, considering both optical and infrared telescopes, belonging to international institutions. How did this happen? Can we explain the overwhelming importance of astronomy in this southern country only because of its geography? This process began when scientists from Europe, the United States, and the Soviet Union went to Chile in the 1960s, and each one of them decided to build a massive observatory in the country. The atmospheric conditions certainly had a role in these decisions, but they were also related to Cold War politics and, indirectly, to the previous history of astronomy in Chile. The international dimension of astronomy in Chile had been preset since the mid-19th century, when the first modern astronomy initiative took place. An American expedition built the first observatory, which later became the National Astronomical Observatory. By the early 20th century, another American expedition had arrived in Chile, and this one stayed for more than twenty years. Decades later, the global dimension of astronomy took the decisive step in the southern country and set the milestone for the development in the hands of Europeans, Americans and Soviets. In the process, Chileans became involved with astronomy, trying to promote science, the country’s international relations, and to grasp the attractions of modernity.

Article

Following independence in the early 19th century Argentina went through decades of internal political and social turmoil. During this time the sciences traversed a dormant period and operated at the amateur level, such as through collectors and hobbyists. Beginning in the 1850s and continuing through the 1860s, many of Argentina’s internal problems eroded. The newly consolidated state undertook a process of extending its influence throughout the nation and fostering a closer and collaborative association with the nation’s interior to foster national unity. Under the banner of ‘civilization, order, and progress’, ruling liberal elites looked for ways to herald social and economic development. The sciences, through practice and institutionalized places, played a critical role for the state. By the beginning of the 20th century, the state had invested in scientific ventures into Patagonia and other areas of the nation to collect and catalogue materials, such as fossils and plants, and had supported the construction of museums to display scientific collections to the public as a means to develop a national identity. Beyond museums and naturalists, the state financed the maturation of the medical sciences to respond to the waves of epidemic diseases that assaulted the nation and the numerous regional endemic diseases that elites presented as evidence of underdevelopment, such as malaria in the northwest and recurrent cholera and smallpox outbreaks throughout the nation. Fields such as meteorology and engineering provided the physical infrastructure to further integrate the nation, through railroads, the standardization of national time, and a space for local Argentine scientific actors to establish national and international careers. With the increased professionalization of numerous scientific fields, the bond between the state and scientists matured. Many used this as a platform to enter into politics, such as Eduardo Wilde, hygienist and Minister of the Interior. Others provided their services to the state to form public policy, as happened for example with the work of psychiatrists, criminologists, engineers, and hygienists. Collectively, these fields demonstrated that the sciences witnessed significant growth into the first quarter of the 20th century.

Article

The prevention of communicable diseases, the containment of epidemic disorders, and the design of programs and the implementation of public health policies went through important transformations in Mexico, as in other Latin American nations, between the final decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During that period not only did the advances in medical science make possible the identification and containment of numerous contagious diseases; it was also a time when the consolidation of formal medical institutions and their interaction with both national and international actors contributed to shape the definitions and solutions of public health problems. Disease prevention strategies were influenced by medical, scientific, and technical innovations and by the political values and commitments of the period, and Mexico experienced profound and far-reaching political, economic, and social transformations: the apogee, crisis, and downfall of the long Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and the period of national reconstruction (1920–1940). Thus, during the period under consideration, and alongside the consolidation of an official medical apparatus as an integral part of public power, the promotion of public health became a crucial element to reinforce the political unification and the social and economic strength of the country.

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

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

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.