Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was launched in 1997. The library contains almost five million documents (manuscripts, books, journals, newspapers, maps, iconographic documents, and recordings), many of which are connected to Latin America, offering rich perspectives on the relationships between France and Latin American countries across the centuries. The many travel narratives, testimonies, essays, photographs, and maps available provide rich insight into French perception of Latin America from the early 16th century to the mid-20th century. Although Gallica’s collection of manuscripts on Latin America is not plentiful, one of its main goals is to provide easy access to rare French books printed centuries ago, of which not many copies are available today and which are rarely present in other digital libraries. The richest collection is probably on Brazil, since Gallica has organized a special collection titled “France-Brésil” which provides access to the rich personal collection of books and manuscripts of the first French historian of Brazil, Ferdinand Denis (1798–1890), among other treasures. Gallica has undeniable value for researchers specialized in Latin American history, although working on its collections requires at least reading proficiency in French as the vast majority of the accessible resources are in French.
More than 98 percent of the Brazilian population descend from people who arrived in the country, willingly or forced, during the last five centuries. French and Dutch Calvinists established colonies during the 1500s and 1600s. The Portuguese, including Jewish conversos, expelled these imperial rivals and, unlike in Portuguese India, managed to forge the Luso-Brazilian culture to which later arrivals would eventually assimilate. Close to four-tenths of the eleven million slaves trafficked across the Atlantic landed in Brazil, giving the country the largest Afro-descendant population in the world outside Nigeria. The large numbers, the traffic’s long temporal span, and the country’s close connection to Portuguese Africa infused Brazil with distinctively intense and varied African ethnic cultures that shaped both the slaves’ strategies of adaptation and resistance and the national ethos. Brazil also received over five million immigrants after its independence in 1822, most of them between the 1880s and the 1920s. Latin Europe accounted for four-fifths of the arrivals (1.8 million Portuguese, 1.5 million Italians, and 700,000 Spaniards). Others came from elsewhere in Europe and beyond, giving Brazil the largest population of Japanese descendants in the world outside Japan, the largest of Lebanese descendants outside Lebanon, and the second largest of German descendants outside Germany (after the United States). This engendered a strikingly multicultural society. Yet over a few generations, Brazil absorbed these new populations in a manner that resembles the experience of the rest of the New World. Economically, immigrants turned southern Brazil from a colonial backwater into the richest region of the country, but, in the process, they also brought racially embedded regional inequalities to the forefront.