Brazil was the last Western country to abolish slavery, which it did in 1888. As a colonial institution, slavery was present in all regions and in almost all free and freed strata of the population. Emancipation only became an issue in the political sphere when it was raised by the imperial government in the second half of the decade of the 1860s, after the defeat of the Confederacy in the US Civil War and during the war against Paraguay. In 1871, new legislation, despite the initial opposition from slave owners and their political representatives, set up a process of gradual emancipation. By the end of the century, slavery would have disappeared, or would have become residual, without major disruptions to the economy or the land property regime.
By the end of the 1870s, however, popular opposition to slavery, demanding its immediate abolition without any kind of compensation to former slave owners, grew in parliament and as a mass movement. Abolitionist organizations spread across the country during the first half of the 1880s. Stimulated by the direct actions of some of these abolitionist organizations, resistance to slavery intensified and became increasingly a struggle against slavery itself and not only for individual or collective freedom. Incapable of controlling the situation, the imperial government finally passed a law in parliament granting immediate and unconditional abolition on May 13, 1888.
Luis Nicolau Parés
Of the estimated 4.9 million African captives disembarked in Brazil, 70 % were shipped from Central Africa, 24 % from West Africa, and the remaining 6 % from the East Coast of the continent. Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, Africans were classified by slavers with a discrete number of generic categories often referred to as “nations.” The enslaved appropriation of such external labels, like Mina and Angola—distinguishing Western and Central Africans respectively—resulted in the formation of new collective identities. The novel ways of colonial belonging and behavior shaped and expressed themselves as distinct forms of Afro-Brazilian culture when organized around social institutions such as Catholic lay brotherhoods or other African-inspired associative dynamics. Religious practice, including music, language, bodily performance, cooking and dress, became a privileged domain for African cultural production, subsequently irradiating into other secular manifestations. The colonial calundu, concerned with healing and oracular functionalities, greatly influenced by the Bantu-speaking people, coexisted and intermingled with the more ecclesiastical West-African traditions of initiatory ritual dedicated to the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of celebration, healing and mediumship, Afro-Brazilian religious pluralism was historically marked by an extraordinary eclecticism. Different local interactions with the hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices and French Spiritism, together with the circulation of people and ideas between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade, led to a wide range of regional variation. This heterogeneous Afro-Brazilian religious field, prone to continuous discrimination and selective tolerance by the authorities, is stressed by a discursive contrast between the alleged traditional pure African forms and the mixed syncretic Brazilian ones, all claiming their share of legitimacy and ritual efficiency.
Thomas D. Rogers
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.
Felipe Fernandes Cruz
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.
Diogo de Carvalho Cabral
Although it has received less scholarly attention than firearms, microbes, domestic animals and plants, market economy, and statecraft, alphabetic reading and writing was crucial in the European conquest and colonization of the Americas from the late 15th century on. Unlike the agrarian empires the Spaniards encountered in the Andes and the Mexican highlands, the Portuguese frontier advanced upon tribal peoples who relied exclusively on oral language, such as the Tupi of Atlantic Brazil. These were semi-sedentary horticultural villagers whose entire socio-ecology (myths and knowledge, territoriality, subsistence strategies, etc.) was conditioned by the face-to-faceness and fugacity of spoken words. In turn, their Portuguese colonizers—for a while rivaled by the French, who enjoyed short periods of stable settlement through the early 17th century—were urban-based, oceangoing merchants, bureaucrats, soldiers, and religious missionaries whose organization strictly depended on the durability and transferability of written texts. Even if most of the Portuguese who came to Brazil in the 16th century were themselves illiterate, colonization as a social enterprise framed their actions according to prescribed roles set down in writing (both handwriting and printed script). Thus, the Portuguese colonization of Brazilian native lands and human populations can be interpreted from the point of view of the imposition of an alphabetically organized way of life. Two major dimensions of this “letterscaping” can be discerned as to its impact on Amerindian bodies (human and nonhuman) and modes of understanding. Although the 16th century was only the introductory act in that drama, its historical record shows the basic outlines of the alphabetic colonization that would play out through the early 19th century: native decimation and enslavement, territory usurpation by sesmaria grants, forest recovery in former native croplands (then resignified as “virgin forest”), loss of native ecological knowledge not recorded in writing, disempowerment of native cultural attunement to the wild soundscape, among other processes.
The 1922 Modern Art Week is considered the initial landmark of artistic vanguards in Brazil. However, before it was held, Anita Malfatti’s 1917 exhibition, which presented expressionism to Brazilians, and the articles of Oswald de Andrade announcing in the local press the poetry of Mário de Andrade and futurism caused significant polemics and opened the way for renovation. In the middle of the 1920s, the contacts of various artists with European vanguards—especially cubism—and the reinterpretation of the national element and popular culture with the incorporation of this repertoire, with an emphasis on cosmopolitism, established and solidified modernism in various artistic areas. In the 1930s, social commitment, the revalorization of the regional, and adhesion to leftwing ideologies changed the focus of artistic production, leading to the reorganization of groups and the emergence of new protagonists: Patrícia Galvão and Flávio de Carvalho, among others.
The return to classic forms and new experimentalisms marked the 1940s and 1950s, characterized by the reappearance of the sonnet, with Vinicius de Moraes, Cecília Meirelles, Murilo Mendes, and Jorge de Lima; renovations in language that reached a peak with Guimarães Rosa; photomontages by Jorge de Lima. Concrete art and poetry, notably the National Concrete Art Exhibition (1956) and neo-concretism, returning to the strategy of the manifestos and journals of the 1920s, revived the same polemical reception and bitter rivalries.
In the following decade, the revisiting of Oswald de Andrade’s work, especially the idea of anthropophagy, gave a strong impulse to tropicalism, Cinema Novo, and a greater renewal in Brazilian theater, with the staging of O Rei da Vela by the Teatro Oficina group (1967), the culminating point of a fifty-year cycle of artistic vanguards in Brazil.
The population of African descent in Brazil has always maintained vibrant associative communities, whether in the form of mutual aid societies, confraternities, and religious brotherhoods that existed since the time of slavery or in the form of other voluntary associations that appeared later, such as recreational societies, civic centers, literary guilds, musical groups, carnival blocos, and the black press. For Afro-Brazilians, the associative experience throughout the 20th century contributed to a sense of group belonging and a consciousness of a shared identity and experience of racial discrimination. Furthermore, these relationships enabled Afro-Brazilians to begin claiming rights as citizens, protesting against what afflicted them as a community. These joint efforts fueled collective acts of resistance and self-determination that, while evident for centuries, acquired new meanings and manifestations following the abolition of slavery in 1888. Black associations did not limit themselves to denouncing problems or detecting their causes and consequences. They tried to point out ways to overcome them by proposing several solutions: the moral elevation of Afro-Brazilians, which implied a preoccupation with their image in the various sectors where they acted; improving their educational and instructional level; valorizing their race and, by extension, black identity; and emphasizing the need to react to injustices, and even to act politically. However, the main solution was the union of black Brazilians, a sine qua non for this segment of the population to strengthen and thus be able to claim and gain space in society, improve living conditions, and even overcome persistent challenges. Understanding the history of black associative life in Brazil during the 20th century is necessary in order to grasp the struggles and challenges Afro-Brazilians have faced around common interests, particularly since these collective actions are an integral part of the black experience and, in some respects, overlap with it.
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.
In 1863 and 1864, historical and political contradictions in the River Plate region led to civil war in Uruguay, creating tensions with neighboring nations in the region. The Brazilian government intervened both politically and militarily in Uruguay to address the interests of ranchers in its province of Rio Grande do Sul, to distract the attention of the Brazilian citizens from domestic problems, and to preserve the political influence of the Empire of Brazil on Uruguay. This action by the Empire clashed with the new Paraguayan policy of political interference in the River Plate region and resulted in the declaration of war against Brazil by Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López. This conflict broadened into the Paraguayan War.
Frank D. McCann
World War II produced great change in Brazil. Its war effort improved its port facilities, left it with new modern airfields from Belém to Rio de Janeiro, as well as refurbished railroads, and stimulated manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and a burgeoning steel complex. Its army, air force, and navy gained combat experience and the latest equipment. Its international stature had reached new heights and its leaders foresaw an ever-greater role in world politics. The war era laid the foundations upon which Brazil’s remarkable development in the next half century took place. The Brazilian leadership prior to the war had linked national development and security with international trade and finance, and they were concerned not to endanger the country, but they saw themselves naturally on the side of the liberal powers, particularly the United States.
Brazil’s contributions to the Allied victory were significant. Brazil hosted, at Natal, the largest US air base outside its own territory, and, at Recife, the US Fourth Fleet; and it tied its economy to the American war machine, sent its navy in pursuit of German U-boats, and provided an expeditionary force and a fighter squadron on the Italian front. It allowed the construction of the air bases before it severed relations with the Axis at the Rio conference in January 1942, and the army lost personnel, equipment, and families to submarine attacks before Brazil entered the war officially in August of that year. Brazil’s expeditionary force that saw combat as part of the US Fifth Army was the only Latin American ground force to fight in World War II. Brazil’s industrial development encouraged and supported by the United States laid the foundation for its post-war industrial transformation.
As the world’s fifth most populous nation and by far the largest Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil possesses a massive media market. Despite factors boosting demand for homegrown audiovisual content, the fortunes of the country’s film industry—prized as a means of expressing national identity and as a testament to technological modernity—have fluctuated over time. Historically, the sector has struggled in the face of competition from imported cinema, especially Hollywood product, which has dominated Brazilian screens since the mid-1910s. Nevertheless, Brazilian cinema has attracted mass audiences at home and won critical acclaim abroad, though not always with the same films. The humorous chanchadas (musical comedies) that characterized the industry from the 1930s through the 1950s were tailor-made for domestic audiences, but gained little traction internationally. By contrast, the politically charged and stylistically inventive films of the Cinema Novo movement attracted the attention of European and US critics, but held limited appeal for most Brazilian spectators. After Cinema Novo, few works of Brazilian cinema circulated in international markets until a series of gritty crime-themed films like City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007) reached global screens at the turn of the 21st century, bolstered by state incentives for private investment in film production. While this fare was also popular domestically, present-day Brazilian audiences often prefer romantic comedies, biopics, and religiously-themed films. These trends in Brazilian cinema have responded dynamically to the tastes and expectations of both national and international audiences. Onscreen representations create enduring images of the nation that circulate at home and abroad, while everyday practices of moviegoing forge an evolving realm of shared experience.
José Jobson Arruda
The development of the Brazilian economy during the colonial period resulted from foreign inducements exercised by Portuguese colonialists under the auspices of the Portuguese Crown. Over the course of three centuries, responsibility for Brazil’s economic destiny was gradually transferred to Luso-Brazilians, a process by which both the flow and accumulation of income became naturally internalized. This topic must necessarily be contextualized within a decades-long process of historiographical confrontation in which distinct analytical perspectives have sought to assert themselves. Some arguments are linked to the label of the old colonial system (Antigo Sistema Colonial, or ASC) and others to the old regime in the tropics (Antigo Regime nos Trópicos, or ART). While both schools recognize the primacy of slavery in determining the character of colonial society, the former emphasizes colonial identity and the exploitative status that entailed, while the latter focuses on the empire and the endogenous accumulation of wealth.
Despite the friction between these hegemonic currents since the 1980s, a third analytical perspective is possible that while incorporating elements present in the two established outlooks also rejects the exceedingly long periodization and calcified three-century focus they share. This different strain of scholarship distinguishes between specific moments in colonial economic development during which external and internal accumulation fueled one or the other, serving as complementary forces responsible for the gross and per capita growth of the colonial economy, as well as granting Brazil the profile of a modern colony.
Herbert S. Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna
The 20th century represents a crucial period in Brazil’s economic history, when an agrarian, rural-dominated society became an urban, industrialized country with a complex financial sector and a large service sector. This economic transformation fueled by coffee exports led to profound demographic and social changes as millions of European and Asian immigrants were integrated into Brazilian society, followed by a massive shift of native-born migrants from the northeast to the dynamic southeast of Brazil, particularly for the state of São Paulo, which became the richest, most industrialized, and most populous state of the nation. The second half of the 20th century saw the creation of a modern industrial sector and the modernization of national agriculture, which in the 21st century made Brazil one of the most important producers of grain and animal protein in the world.
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.
Thiago Lima Nicodemo, Mateus Henrique de Faria Pereira, and Pedro Afonso Cristovão dos Santos
The founding of the first universities in the first decades of the 20th century in Brazil emerged from a context of public education reforms and expansion that modified the relationship between intellectuals and the public sphere in Brazil. The representation of national pasts was the object of prolific public debate in the social sciences and literature and fine arts through social and historical essays, pushed mostly from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, such as Gilberto Freyre’s, The Master and the Slaves (Casa Grande e Senzala, 1936) and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s Roots of Brazil (Raízes do Brasil, 1936). Just after the 1950s, universities expanded nationally, and new resources were available for academic and scientific production, such as libraries, archives, scientific journals, and funding agencies (namely CNPQ, CAPES and FAPESP). In the field of history, these effects would have a greater impact in the 1960s and 1970s with the consolidation of a National Association of History, the debate over curricula and required content, and the systematization of graduate programs (thanks to the University Reform of 1968, during the military dictatorship). Theses, dissertations, and monographs gradually gained ground as long social essays lost their prestige, seen as not befitting the standards of disciplinary historiography as defined in the graduate programs such as a wider empirical ground and more accurate time frames and scopes. Through their writing in more specialized formats, which moved away from essays and looked into the great Brazilian historical problems, historians played an important role in the resistance against the authoritarian regime (1964–1985) and, above all, contributed to a debate on the role of silenced minorities regarding redemocratization.
João Paulo Pimenta
Stemming from an accelerated and tumultuous process unleashed by European wars in the first decade of the 19th century, Brazil and Portugal split politically in 1822. In a sense, Brazil’s independence reflects a number of peculiar characteristics within the context of the time due, in part, to three centuries of Portuguese colonization and to changes within the colonial system beginning in the second half of the 1700s. In other ways, however, Brazilian independence is linked to external events like the French Revolution, the independence of Haiti, and, above all, the wars of independence in Spanish America. The most profound and lasting consequences of the break with Portugal were the emergence of a Brazilian state and nation that until that point did not exist and that was consolidated over the course of the nineteenth century, as well as the nationalization of certain colonial institutions that were partially maintained. Historiography and national memory would later imbue independence with supreme importance as the foundational moment of the nation such that it has become a recurring theme in historical studies of Brazil.
Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.
The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state.
Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
Commercial recordings in Brazil were first made in 1902 in Rio de Janeiro. During the first two decades of the 20th century, however, the recorded repertoire centered around the same musical genres established in the final decades of the previous century: for sung music, this meant modinhas, lundus, waltzes, and cançonetas; for instrumental music, this meant polkas, maxixes, marches, and tangos. During this period, sheet music for pianos and musical bands played a greater role in disseminating popular music than did mechanical recordings. This included dissemination by the medium of radio, which had begun in the country in the early 1920s but only expanded when its commercial operation was authorized in the 1930s. Of the leading musical genres of the period, samba and carnival marches (always sung) came into their own during the 1930s. Rio de Janeiro, at that time the capital of the republic, the cradle of the burgeoning phonograph recording industry, and the center of the still extant sheet music publishing business and radio broadcasting, is key to understanding Brazilian popular music of the time. During the entire period, however, migrants from other regions, especially from the northeastern states of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Ceará, made crucial contributions to popular music. These contributions became particularly significant during the final years of that decade with the success of baião, a sung musical genre with a distinct northeastern flavor whose influence would stretch into the 1950s.
Mônica Almeida Kornis
The popularity of telenovelas in Brazil begins in the 1960s. On air for many decades, they still have an audience, despite competition from cable networks, the internet, and streaming productions. Though not exclusive, Rede Globo’s presence in this genre, which also includes series and miniseries, constitutes a pedagogical exercise on Brazilian nationality, through language, the identification of the diversity of its regions, and cultural and historical references, in narratives essentially defined within a melodramatic and realist fictional framework. In the last three decades, despite Rede Globo's leadership in the realm of fictional production from the seventies, the competition increased with other free-to-air networks, first with Rede Manchete on nineties, and more recently with Bandeirantes, Record and SBT, when biblical novels, Latin American telenovelas and epic dramas were aired with great success. During those years, Rede Globo tried to overcome the competition introducing new themes and different treatments, not only on telenovelas but also on series and miniseries.
Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta
Recently Brazil reached the mark of eight million university students, which represents around 4 percent of the population. Although this level is less than those in developed countries, it signifies an advance in relation to the country’s starting point.
Unlike Spain, the Portuguese Empire did not create university institutions in its colonies. Following the Independence of Brazil in 1822, the new governing elite established some higher-level courses (initially medicine, law, and engineering), but these functioned in isolation, in other words, university institutions were not created. The first universities emerged only in the 1920s and were regulated during the Getúlio Vargas administration (1931). Since then, higher-level education has been the object of greater public attention—as well as political conflicts—due to both its role in development projects and its capacity to produce leaders. Between the 1940s and 1960s, university students became a relevant political force, having engaged in debates for university reform and also in favor of social changes, contributing to the process of political radicalization abruptly ended by the 1964 military coup. The dictatorship led by the military implemented an authoritarian modernization of the universities, repressing and purging the “undesirables” at the same time that it increased investment in research and graduate studies. The results were paradoxical, since although the dictatorship created a better structured university system, it was a more authoritarian and socially elitist one.
The first post-dictatorial governments maintained the university structure inherited from the previous period, but they deteriorated due to a lack of public resources caused by hyperinflation and also by the intention of reducing public expenditure on higher education.
The country managed to improve its higher-level institutions during the 20th century, which became strategic spaces for political battles and, for this reason, targets of constant state intervention. Despite the reforms and the expansion, universities were marked by elitism and social inequality, like Brazilian society itself, problems that only recently have started to be addressed. Only in the 21st century did Brazilian universities undergo a new expansionist phase, led by the center-left Brazilian governments which, in addition to expanding the public system, also invested in the inclusion of social sectors that previously had no access to higher education. It appears that this process may be interrupted, thanks to the “right turn” experienced by Brazil since 2016–2018.