This article analyzes the ways in which the book Beginnings of Brazilian Science: Oswaldo Cruz, Medical Research and Policy, 1890 – 1920, published by Nancy Leys Stepan in 1976, has been received in the debates on science and the history of science in Brazil. Our purpose is to show how the discussions prompted by Stepan's book have been directly linked to the emergence of a new historiography of science in that country since the early 1980s, as a professionalized and institutionalized scholarly field. This process has been associated, in turn, with a broader policy debate in Brazil and Spanish America on the particular features of science, and of the history of science, in the so-called developing countries. We also seek to show the extent to which some of the questions posed in The Beginnings of Brazilian Science are still richly relevant to academic and political consideration of the complexity and specificity of the historical and social process of institutionalization of science. Rather than attempt an exhaustive analysis of the readings of Stepan's work, we will focus on the main areas of historiographic debate, based on the more representative works and authors, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.