Panel 4: Brazilian Primary Sources: An Evolving Challenge – Perspectives from Scholars (2015)

Moderator: Peter T. Johnson, Princeton University
Rapporteur: Holly Ackerman, Duke University

Stanley J. Stein, Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor in Spanish Civilization and Culture and Professor of History, Emeritus, at Princeton University, is a lifelong Latin Americanist. Together with his late wife Barbara Hadley Stein, herself an accomplished bibliographer and historian of the region, Professor Stein wrote several books and articles that put their stamp on methods of writing the economic and political history of modern Latin America, specifically on the impact of colonialism and industrialism in Mexico and Brazil in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is fair to say that no one studying Latin American history would fail to engage his work (The Americas 66:3/ January 2010).

Pedro Meira Monteiro is a professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures at Princeton University, where he teaches courses on Latin America with a special focus on literature and society in Brazil, ranging from fiction, poetry, essays, and music, to politics, race, and citizenship. In recent years Prof. Meira Monteiro’s research has developed around the intersection of intellectual history and literature. He has worked on multiple fronts, combining academic production with the writing of shorter texts for cultural magazines, blogs and newspapers.

Daryle Willams is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. In addition to his teaching contributions to history and the Latin American studies certificate program, he served as director of the Committee on Africa and the Americas, associate director of the David C. Driskell Center, and director of graduate studies in history. A scholar of modern Latin America, Williams’ research specialty is Brazil. His first monograph, “Culture Wars in Brazil: The First Vargas Regime, 1930-1945,” won the American Historical Association's prize for the best book in Latin American or Iberian history. In 2013 he was appointed Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the College of Arts and Humanities.

Stanley Stein began by saying that he offered two caveats on his presentation entitled Aspects of Field Research in Brazil; the first being that he would describe conditions from seventy years ago and the second being that his memory sometimes fails. That said, he set the scene by saying that he first arrived in Brazil in 1941 as a Harvard graduate student but his research was suspended upon joining the US Navy in 1943. After military service in Italy, he returned to Rio de Janeiro in June of 1948 after a thirteen day sea voyage with his wife (Barbara Hadley Stein), two year old daughter, two letters of introduction from colleagues at Harvard and his camera.

At that point he had been a doctoral student at Harvard for two years; was exposed to multiple disciplines and had read Afonso de E. Taunay’s multi-volume history of Brazilian coffee. He was interested in History, Anthropology and Economics and planned to study five different municipalities in Brazil over a period of fifteen months, photographing the process of deforestation going on at that time. He quickly saw that his agenda was too crowded and narrowed his study to one municipality – Vassouras.

Stein recalled meeting with Melville Herskovits prior to going to Brazil and was greatly influenced by Herskovits’ Life in a Haitian Valley. Herskovits advised him to prepare general discussion themes for each interview but never to take notes or photos during an interview but to make notes at once afterwards. He remembered sitting down in the roadside after interviews to make extensive notes.

Stein’s daily schedule in 1948 included working in the morning at the national archives and in the afternoon in the notarial archives. With the help of his wife Barbara, he met two gentlemen who were former slaves. These two informants became central to the field work. He recorded their slave chants called “jongos” which they shared with him. Although Stein used the jongos simply to search for general themes that preoccupied the slaves, he pointed out that these recordings eventually became important sources for the study of literary forms explored by a new generation of scholars including co-panelist Pedro Meira and other Brazilianists such as Michael Stone.

Pedro Meira Monteiro credited Stanley Stein as an inspirational force in his own work. He offered his presentation as a case study of how a project evolves and as a panoramic view of how sources are found and used. The project he described was a ten year quest to find and analyze correspondence between two Brazilian intellectuals - Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (1902-1982). The result is a book jointly published in 2012 by Companhia das Letras and the University of São Paulo (USP), in partnership with the Institute for Brazilian Studies at USP. It was also ten years where there was a change in the dynamics of annotation, thanks to what perhaps we can call the digital age.

Prof. Monteiro showed slides demonstrating the changing methods for explicating the correspondence. For example, notes were essential to create context for the reader regarding references in the letters and the world inhabited by the authors. This resulted in numerous and lengthy footnotes. The question for the author is: How far do you go in researching the context and, then, how much of your findings do you pass on to the reader? Also, what is the nature of the footnotes – are they encyclopedic? Time bound? – i.e., must explanation be limited to events and knowledge at the time the letters were written?

Additionally, the very nature of how one conducts research was changing over the decade while the study was in process, with digital sources and internet content expanding exponentially. This made it easier to find material but also pointed up the evolution of a kind of “common sense” in the Internet where errors are introduced and then rapidly shared. Dr.  Monteiro suggests that future scholars may find themselves unraveling the errors of the Internet and points to the importance of preserving original sources to permit comparison and resolution.

One example offered of the process described above is a request made in a letter from Mario de Andrade to Sergio Buarque to assist in finding the population of Itu during a particular time period. Sergio refers him to a travel account by the naturalist Von Martius. This results in a discussion between the correspondents about the books they own and their relative value. Prof. Meira Monteiro then finds data on Mario’s indebtedness during the very time when he tells Sergio that he is unwilling to sell some of his most valuable books. And, Prof. Meira Monteiro also finds that one of those books recently sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  What do these findings tell us about Andrade’s priorities, his status as a bibliophile and how might the information be included by the author?

Meira Monteiro proposed that the development of future critical production depends less on a technical breakthrough, and more on an intimacy with the digital world, which only the younger generations have. He concluded by saying that perhaps the function of the older generations of scholars is precisely to avoid throwing out the baby with the bath. After all, what will notes mean to future scholars who do not know how to slowly cultivate reading and research? What is the limit to the acceleration and multiplication of information? This seems to be our big question.

Daryle Williams began by acknowledging an intellectual debt to his co-panelists, stating that Stanley Stein was his first professor of Latin American & Caribbean Studies when he began his studies at Princeton. Peter Johnson was his professor in his junior year who taught him both substantive content and the importance of working with a librarian and Pedro Meira Monteiro helped him with important field work.

Professor Williams pointed out the often overlooked importance of general interest periodicals which is the format he then discussed.  Although there was no local press in the Brazilian colonial period, by 1808 a press was working freely and the 19th Century saw a press relatively free of censorship. After 1850s the crônica became a typical Brazilian form. In the 1900s press censorship became heavy and even in the 1980’s newsstands were bombed to prevent circulation of material on the movement toward democracy.

In his own research Prof. Williams has found the National Library as the best source for this type of material along with some private archives consisting mainly of hard copies and microfilm.  He reminded researchers that this is a manual process using outdated film and microfilm readers under conditions with poor electric connections which makes it a slow and tedious process. He is accustomed to limited lists and brief cataloging as well as narrow and deep searching of a single title.

Williams stressed the importance of evaluating the condition of materials to select the best site for research. For example, he goes to Campinas to use copies of film from Rio de Janeiro because the copy there is in better shape.  Another valuable but overlooked source is clipping services.  In the 1990s this type of source was proven useful when the Brazilian police opened their archives and he could see their clipping collections.  He suggested that librarians think about useful ways to catalog this type of resource.

Around 2004, some of these sources began to be digitally available.  O Globo led the way by digitizing in the 1990s and in 2002 government documents were released digitally along with out-of-print serials. This reintroduced researchers to some sources and also democratized who can conduct research by making things available without extensive travel. It widened the community of researchers and meant that research is not driven by headlines or page placement. With free-text searching, it is easy to follow individuals; to aggregate data such as price series and to incorporate many voices.

Time expired before questions could be asked.