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Roots of Brazil, the debut book of historian and literary critic Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (1902–1982), is a classic work of Brazilian social critique. Conceptualized in Germany between 1929 and 1930 and published in Rio de Janeiro in 1936, during the Getúlio Vargas government (1930–1945), the book attempts to make sense of the dilemma of modernization in Brazil. Focusing on the crises stemming from urbanization and, in 1888, abolition, Buarque de Holanda analyzes how these factors put in check the personalism that had governed Brazilian sociability since colonial times. In exploring the Iberian roots of the mentality of the Portuguese colonizers, as well as concepts such as the “adventurer” and the “cordial man,” the book reveals the contentious formation of democratic public space in Brazil. The limits of liberalism, the seduction of totalitarianism, the legacy of slavery, and new forms of labor are some of the themes explored in Roots of Brazil. Still central to the Brazilian imagination today, the book has lent itself to a diversity of conservative and radical readings, including those of the author himself, who revised it substantially and never felt fully satisfied with his initial foray into topics that would captivate him throughout his academic career.


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.