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Rio de Janeiro: A Sociocultural History  

Paulo Cruz Terra and Marcelo de Souza Magalhães

The city of Rio de Janeiro underwent profound changes between 1870 and the early 20th century. Its population grew dramatically, attracting migrants not only from abroad but also from other regions of Brazil. It also expanded significantly in size, as the construction of trolley and railway lines and the introduction of real estate capital powered the occupation of new areas. Meanwhile, urban reforms aimed at modernization transformed the social ways in which urban space was used. During this period, Rio de Janeiro went from being the capital of the Brazilian Empire to being the capital of the Brazilian Republic. It nevertheless maintained its position as the cultural, political-administrative, commercial, and financial center of the country. Against this backdrop of change, the city was an important arena for the political struggles that marked the period, including demonstrations in favor of abolition and the republic. Rio de Janeiro’s citizens were not inert during this period of transformation, and they found various ways to take action and fight for what they understood to be their rights. Protests, demands, petitions, and a vibrant life organized around social and political associations are examples of the broad repertoire used by the city’s inhabitants to gain a voice in municipal affairs. Citizens’ use of public demands and petitions as a channel to communicate with the authorities, and especially with city officials, shows that while they did not necessarily shun formal politics, they understood politics to be a sphere for dialogue and dispute. The sociocultural history of Rio de Janeiro during this period was therefore built precisely through confrontations and negotiations in which the common people played an active role.