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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

Claudia Agostoni

The control and eradication of smallpox have been among the most studied and chronicled topics in histories of health and medicine, which is not coincidental considering the dramatic nature of the disease, the official measures developed to deal with it, and the declaration in 1980 by the World Health Organization of its global eradication. Smallpox first erupted in Mexico-Tenochtitlán in 1520 during the Spanish conquest, and in 1952 the health authorities and the federal government declared that that long-feared disease had finally been eradicated there. Numerous historical studies have perpetuated the image of a single smallpox campaign in Mexico, free from conflicts, problems, and inertia. Recent scholarship, however, has increasingly emphasized that smallpox vaccination efforts were not homogenous or consistent, that they were not pursued equally in all geographic and cultural regions, and that vaccination strategies and campaigns gradually became less coercive and more selective and persuasive.

Article

“Technology” is the practical expression of accumulated knowledge and expertise focused on how to mediate and manipulate the world. Scholars and contemporary observers of Mexico have long characterized production methods there as unchanging and lagging well behind the standard in the Atlantic world, but there are few systematic studies of technology in Mexican history, and especially for the critical 19th-century era of early modernization. Mexico’s first half century of independence (c. 1820–1870) saw relatively little technological change. In spite of a number of sustained efforts to introduce the technologies—such as railroads, steam power, and iron manufacturing—that were transforming economic life and production in Great Britain and the United States, production methods in Mexico remained small scale and artisanal. Textile manufactures were a partial exception, as there were several dozen large-scale factories, powered by water turbines and occasionally by steam, that spun and wove thread. But the substantial obstacles to innovation discouraged or undermined most attempts. The next forty or so years, however, could not have been more different (c. 1870s–1920). As political stability slowly settled over most of the country, investment in economic activities picked up, slowly at first, then more rapidly into the 1880s and beyond. Initially focused on railroad transport and mining, new investments from both Mexican and foreign entrepreneurs diversified into a wide range of manufacturing enterprises, commercial agriculture, and urban infrastructure and commerce. Tightly linked to the concurrent dramatic expansion of the Atlantic economy—the so-called second industrial revolution—this expansion pushed demand for new technologies of production and swept across the country, transforming production, productivity, and the working and consuming lives of Mexicans at nearly all levels of society. The result was substantial modernization, manifest as economic growth as well as social dislocation. Individuals and firms proved able to adopt and commercialize a wide range of new production technologies during this period. This success was not matched, however, by substantial local assimilation of new technological knowledge and expertise, that is, by a process of technological learning. Until the 1870s, Mexican engineers, mechanics, and workers had scant opportunities to work with and learn from production technologies appearing in the Atlantic world. When new machines, tools, and processes swept across Mexico thereafter, adopting firms typically hired technical experts and skilled workers from abroad, given the scarcity of expertise at home. This became a self-reinforcing cycle, perpetuating dependence on imported machines and imported know-how well into the 20th century.

Article

Fieldwork in Latin America and the Caribbean has played a major role in the development of the modern science of ecology––the study of organisms’ relationships with one another and the physical environment. Since the colonial era, natural historical knowledge had grown and circulated through expeditions and naturalists’ encounters with indigenous and enslaved people’s environmental knowledge. Observations of the life histories, behavior, and geographical distribution of the regions’ species laid the groundwork for the emergence of ecology as a self-conscious discipline during the late 19th century. Major figures in the foundation of ecology were inspired by travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and especially by the large number and variety of species found in rainforests and other tropical areas. The growth of colonial and independent national scientific institutions––including botanical gardens, museums, and geographical surveys––also created important foundations for ecological research, although these were primarily oriented toward agricultural and economic improvement. As field stations specifically devoted to ecological research emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, long-term, place-based studies of living organisms became possible for the first time. Research at such institutions helped to shape key ecological concepts––including the ecological community, ecosystems, and species diversity––and contributed directly to the rise of the biodiversity ideal in conservation. Despite their historic importance, field studies in Latin America and the Caribbean remain significantly underrepresented in ecology in the early 21st century.

Article

Nahua peoples in central Mexico in the late postclassic period (1200–1521) and the early colonial period (1521–1650) had a sophisticated and complex system of healing known as tiçiyotl. Titiçih, the practitioners of tiçiyotl, were men and women that had specialized knowledge of rocks, plants, minerals, and animals. They used these materials to treat diseases and injuries. Furthermore, titiçih used tlapohualiztli (the interpretation of objects to obtain information from nonhuman forces) to ascertain the source of a person’s ailment. For this purpose, male and female titiçih interpreted cords, water, tossed corn kernels, and they measured body parts. Titiçih could also ingest entheogenic substances (materials that released the divinity within itself) to communicate with nonhuman forces and thus diagnose and prognosticate a patient’s condition. Once a tiçitl obtained the necessary information to understand his or her patient’s affliction, he or she created and provided the necessary pahtli (a concoction used to treat an injury, illness, or condition) for the infirm person. Finally, titiçih performed important ritual offerings before, during, and after healing that insured the compliance of nonhuman forces to restore and maintain their patients’ health.

Article

In the summer of 1981 the cow named Ubre Blanca (White Udder), born on Isla de la Juventud (formerly Isla de Pinos) in the southern Cuban archipelago, became headline news for her high milk production. After achieving a national record, in the following months she was the focus of the country’s attention for her fast-track to becoming a world record holder, first in four milkings and later, in January 1982, as highest producer in three milkings, collection of milk in one lactation period, and fat content. For the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, and scientists from the cattle industry, it was important to emphasize that it was not only a matter of this incredible cow’s personal achievement but also the fruit of many years of effort to reach a radical transformation of the country’s cattle industry, from an emphasis on beef production toward the priority for milk production and diversification of animal protein sources. These politics required major changes in bovine herds from a genetic perspective, starting with major cross-breeding of Holstein cattle, of Canadian origin, with the Cebú, formerly dominant in Cuba, along with the creation of new infrastructure and other changes toward an intensive model of cattle ranching. Therefore, the history of Ubre Blanca is tied to that of the politics aimed at increased production and consumption of dairy products, presented as an achievement of the socialist Cuban model and with aspirations to bring dairy development to tropical areas and Third World countries. Although the ambitious goals announced in the 1960s were never reached, there was an increase in milk production and a general modernization of cattle ranching that, nevertheless, began a prolonged decline starting with the deep economic crisis of the 1990s.

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.

Article

Mariola Espinosa

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. Yellow fever was one of the most dreaded diseases in the Caribbean region from its first appearance in the 1650s until the confirmation of its spread via the bites of infected mosquitos in 1900. Fear of the disease resulted from not just its high mortality rate, but also the horrifying manner in which it killed its victims: after several days of fever, chills, and body aches, the skin and eyes of those who were most seriously infected would turn yellow as their livers failed, they would bleed from the eyes and nose, and they would succumb to the vomiting of coagulated blood. Because the virus caused only mild symptoms in children and a single episode confers lifetime immunity, the disease did not heavily impact natives of the region. Instead, it was newcomers in the Caribbean who suffered the worst ravages.