From the mid-nineteenth century, central statistics agencies contributed to nation-state building through their dual mission of producing statistical description and policy prescription in the name of national progress. This article examines how one such agency, Brazil’s Directoria Geral de Estatística, worked to simultaneously measure and promote national progress from 1870 to 1920. The article documents a fundamental shift in this period in the DGE’s vision of the qualities of the population essential for Brazil’s progress as a nation. In the 1870s, the DGE saw educational statistics as the key measures of national progress and lobbied for government investment in primary schools to ensure the advancement of the nation. By the 1920s, the DGE looked instead to immigration and racial statistics to measure progress and advocated cultural and biological “whitening” of the population to improve the Brazilian nation. Analysis of a broad range of archival and published primary sources reveals the gradual racialization of the DGE’s institutional definition of “progress.” The study contributes to a growing body of research that examines how racial thought influenced the development and official practices of state agencies in Latin America.

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