While anniversaries of historical events spur publications by scholars in Latin America more than they do in the United States, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Brazilian independence has not passed unacknowledged publicly in the United States. In 1972 the Department of History of the Johns Hopkins University held a symposium on Brazilian independence. From Colony to Nation: Essays on the Independence of Brazil presents four of the papers given there, supplemented by three additional essays, two of these previously published in Brazil. A. J. R. Russell-Wood introduces the collection with a general essay on the historical development of Portuguese America and the “preconditions and precipitants” of the Brazilian independence movement.
In the first section of the volume, concerning political aspects, Emília Viotti da Costa traces the political emancipation of Brazil, analyzing Portuguese policy, Brazilian liberalism, and the voiced opinions of members of the elite. Maria Odila Silva Dias, who also prefaces her essay, entitled “The Establishment of the Royal Court in Brazil,” with a brief appraisal of the state of Brazilian historiography on independence, discursively treats such matters as differences between the Portuguese in Portugal and those of the new court in Rio de Janeiro and the “metropolitanization” of the colony. Just as she attacks the myth of the colony struggling against the mother country, so does Stanley E. Hilton oppose another myth reiterated by politicians more than by historians, that of the United States and Brazil sharing common ideals and values since their first official contacts. Hilton chronicles the divergence and frequent suspicion and friction, rather than mutual understanding, which characterized Washington’s relations with the house of Bragança during the independence period.
The second half of the volume contains sections on social and cultural matters. Stuart Schwartz attempts to trace the rise of a rural peasantry and its impact on elite politics in the late colonial period, but without complete success. Richard M. Morse contributes another of his gracefully written and insightful essays in Latin American urban history, considering Brazilian urban development in both colony and empire, without reference to the main topic of the volume. In his provocative study entitled “The Modernization of Portugal and the Independence of Brazil,” Manoel Cardozo laments the decline of the baroque mood and values in Portugal, which, he maintains, left that nation unable to meet the challenge of liberalism and so led to the loss of Brazil. E. Bradford Burns assesses activities of eighteenth-century intellectuals, describing the secular intellectual infrastructure of formally, and less formally, organized institutions, and, citing the 1789 Bahian conspiracy, contends that the intellectuals’ influence extended beyond the confines of the elite.
The essays in this collection suggest the relative lack of importance of political independence for Brazil, a view with which many others would agree, and show that Brazil did not move decisively “from colony to nation.” However, certain aspects of the independence period are left largely untouched. With the exception of Viotti’s essay, economic questions tend to be ignored. Nor do the authors address themselves to events in Portugal. Yet the volume should prove useful as a solid introduction to the late colonial period and to Brazilian independence, as well as providing some new insights and material.