Peter M. Beattie deftly examines the sociopolitical history of a national agricultural penal institution to gain insight into the Brazilian state and civil societies. Beattie offers an exhaustive analysis of Fernando de Noronha, located off the coast of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, the largest forced-labor penal colony in nineteenth-century Brazil. Beattie grafts the microhistory of this colony onto larger national processes such as independence from Portugal in 1822, repeated revolts, the War of the Triple Alliance in 1864–70, abolition in 1888, and the end of the empire a year later. Beattie underscores how issues connected with slavery, race, gender, and penal reform on the mainland had their counterparts on the island.

Beattie is particularly interested in the categorization of people into groups as a sociolegal process, especially the state's role as a classificatory agent. Throughout Beattie considers the categories under which...

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