Digital resources for Brazilian legal history in the early 21st century cover an essential range of subjects. Official or institutional websites dominate the archives that allow users to research diverse themes, from the administration of the Portuguese colonies to the documents produced by truth commissions. Many of them are open access, fostering the democratization of the archives. To assess the most relevant ones, one must consider funds, collections, documents, and their accessibility and usability, as well as the limits for accessing Brazilian historical legal documents on the internet. Researchers of Brazilian legal history must consider the dominance of official narratives that can neglect the interpretations of other actors such as minorities. The colonial period is covered by digital resources with archives that were produced in Spain or Portugal but also by the Brazilian National Library and National Archives. The Historical Archives of the House of Deputies presents relevant resources for the period of the Brazilian Empire. The First and Second Republics historical periods count on collections of judicial rulings provided with easy and free access. The period of partial democratization between 1946 and 1964, the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964–1985, and the Third Republic that came after the Brazilian 1988 Constitution are part of a significant number of digital resources also easily accessible. Presupposing the necessity of effectiveness to the right of access to information, the process of digitalization of legal resources was consolidated and became a general practice. It dominated a wide range of institutional archives. Nonetheless, researchers must be aware of governmental limits, revisionist theories, and insufficient funding for Brazilian legal digital resources.
Emilio Peluso Neder Meyer and Maria Guiomar da C. Frota
Despite moral criticism of the institution of slavery from the second half of the 18th century, slavery, racism, and liberalism would be mutually defined throughout the 19th century. The slave economy in the Americas grew in the 19th century as a result of the expansion of the world market, sustained by constitutional states, including two national ones: the Brazilian Empire, a constitutional monarchy, and the United States, a republic. In these national states, representative systems would shape the legitimacy of the institution of slavery, relating the adoption of citizenship rights to processes of racialization. In Brazil’s late colonial period, more than one-half of the free population was defined as “black” or “brown,” and manumission rates were as high as 1 percent per year. Under Portuguese colonial rule, this population of color was denied access to public offices and ecclesiastical positions, but allowed to own slaves. The rallying cry of “equality for people of all colors” served as a cornerstone of popular nationalism in the liberal uprisings of the late Brazilian colonial period. Popular liberalism also called for the passage of laws that would recognize the Brazilian-born sons and daughters of enslaved people as free persons. After independence, the Brazilian Empire experienced more than twenty years of political struggles and localized civil wars around the construction of representative political institutions. The Brazilian coffee production boom inaugurated in 1830, allowed the consolidation of the monarchical order in Brazil with the rise to power of a conservative party, the Party of Order, in 1837. From 1837 to 1853, this conservative party consolidated a slave-based national identity. During these years of conservative pro-slavery leadership, political strategies to legitimate the continuation of the Atlantic slave trade were developed and illegal enslavement was tolerated and even encouraged. Liberalism, race, and slavery shaped the history of the Atlantic world in a very interconnected way. Despite the non-race-based legitimation of slavery in a Catholic and constitutional monarchy, race was a central issue in 19th-century monarchical Brazil. Slavery was legitimated as a historical institution in the Brazilian Constitution of 1824 in the right to own property. The same constitution guaranteed civil rights to the freedmen born in the country and their descendants, denying, however, Brazilian citizenship for free Africans and political citizenship to former slaves born in Brazil. Eventually, after the end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1850, the state bureaucracy adopted a norm of racial silence for the free population, racializing slave experience and reinforcing the precariousness of freedom of the Brazilian citizens of African descent. These practices shaped crucial aspects of structural racism still present in 21st-century Brazilian society.