Chapters of Brazil's Colonial History, 1500-1800


In all the history of Latin America, few historians have been so influential as the Brazilian scholar Joao Capistrano de Abreu. His own life reflected the changes that swept his country and his academy: the nineteenth century scion of a remote Brazilian province, he paid his way to the capital by selling a slave he had inherited; he went on to bring Brazilian history into the twentieth century, moving it from patriotic sentimentalism to rigorous, rational scholarship. Now, for the first time, his central work, a classic of historical literature, appears in a sharp, clear English translation. In Chapters in Brazil's Colonial History, Abreu created an integrated history of Brazil in a landmark work of scholarship that is also a literary masterpiece. Breaking with previous writers, who had taken a plodding governor after governor approach that rested upon administration and politics, Abreu offers a startlingly modern analysis of the past, based on the role of the economy, settlement, and the occupation of the interior. In these pages, he combines sharp portraits of dramatic events--close fought battles against Dutch occupation in the 1650s, Indian resistance to often brutal internal expansion--with insightful social history. A master of Brazil's ethnographic landscape, he provides detailed sketches of daily life for Brazilians of all stripes. Abreu first won acclaim for a linguistic study of a Brazilian Indian language; he brings that knowledge to play as he describes the interaction between colonial settlers, African slaves, and native inhabitants, as cultures mixed in the creation of the modern nation. He also stresses the role of the physical landscape and environment in ways that presaged contemporary developments in historical scholarship. And along the way, his distinctive voice provides the reader with rare pleasure. After quoting a vivid description of a typical seventeenth century atrocity, for example, he interrupts his narrative to ask, "Do horrors such as this make it worth thanking the bandeirantes for taming this land and making it part of Brazil?" This accomplished new translation of a Brazilian classic will be an integral volume in Oxford's new Library of Latin America. Never before available in English, this superb narrative opens Brazil's rich, fascinating past to the general reader, and offers scholars access to a great turning point in historical scholarship.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1998


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