An Empire in the Tropics, 1808–1821: A Historiographical Review
- Maria Fernanda Baptista BicalhoMaria Fernanda Baptista BicalhoUniversidade Federal Fluminense
- and Iara Lis Franco SchiavinattoIara Lis Franco SchiavinattoUniversidade Estadual de Campinas
The Portuguese Empire in the tropics, established in Rio de Janeiro, the political center of Portuguese America between 1808 and 1821, was characterized by a government in flux, dealing with a revolutionary Atlantic, an immediate result of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions. This was a period of instability and transition. Studies from the perspective of political culture analysis have demonstrated the strength of enlightened ideas, the reformist strategy of the Portuguese monarchy in the reorganization of its overseas empire, and the regimentation of Luso-Brazilian elites since the 1780s and 1790s. After 1808, the association of interests between those born in Brazil and those from Portugal benefited from King João’s policy to distribute lands, offices, privileges, and mercês (favours). The process of the interiorization of the metropole in Southern Central Portuguese America corresponded with the interests of the Luso-Brazilian elites around the city of Rio de Janeiro, who expanded their political projects toward other regions of Brazil. In Pernambuco, by contrast, the 1817 insurrection and the republican choice of its leaders explained the fracturing of the empire and monarchical authority. Revisiting debates about the empire in the tropics—including in the press that emerged following the establishment of the court of Rio de Janeiro—implies rethinking the dynamics of the reconfiguration and apprehension of the territories and their geopolitics, thinking about heterogeneous temporalities, and investigating the transit of people on a large scale across the world, the increase in black slave traffic, and forms of compulsory labor.
These dynamics were the subject of innovative studies during the bicentenary of the transfer of the court, providing details of the unprecedented experience of a European king in the Americas. In 2008, many academic, cultural, and artistic events were held, and numerous books, collections, and catalogues were published, fruit of a dialogue between Brazilian and Portuguese historians. Among these were the publication of biographies, correspondence, and studies of scientists and artists who were in the court in Rio de Janeiro and who traveled through Brazil from north to south at the beginning of the 19th century. Furthermore, the project of civility in the tropics helped gestate liberal constitutional politics and a limit on the Joanino government in relation to the forms of reappropriation of the revolutionary ideal. Thus, the court in exile was an important element of the redefinition of the autonomization process in Brazil in the 1820s.