It’s not often that biology is accorded a key role in the formation of national character, and even less frequently do we perceive it as a savior of national problems. Yet this is what Regina Horta Duarte outlines in her fascinating examination of the discipline and the Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro from the twilight years of the Second Republic through the Estado Novo. The insertion of biology into Brazil’s body politic, primarily during the years of Getúlio Vargas, was dependent on three significant and nominally apolitical actors: arachnologist Cândido de Mello Leitão, anthropologist Edgard Roquette-Pinto, and botanist Alberto José de Sampaio. Through their understanding of science, the role of the museum, and the future of the Brazilian nation, these men defined a political-scientific relationship that Duarte characterizes as “militant biology.”

A biologia militante outlines how this trio conceived of the museum...

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