Digital Imperial Brazilian Newspapers, the Hemeroteca Digital Brasileira, and Historical Research, Part 1: Context, Content, and Research in a Digital Archive

AHA Session 139
Conference on Latin American History 26
Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 402 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Judy Bieber, University of New Mexico
Judy Bieber, University of New Mexico

Session Abstract

While many have studied the small but influential political press of the 1820s and 1830s or the popular illustrated weeklies of the 1860s to the 1880s, few have systematically worked on or with the flourishing periodical press of the mid- and late nineteenth century. The recently-established  Hemeroteca Digital Brasileira (HDB) has made the entire Biblioteca Nacional (National Library)’s periodical record available in a somewhat searchable electronic format, but historians have scarcely begun to analyze the approximately fifteen million pages of advertising, news, literature, chronicles, essays, apedidos (paid articles published on request), and editorials that produced in imperial Brazilian cities and towns. Formerly only available in deteriorating print copies or in myopia-inducing microfilm that few historians had the patience to use, the newspapers can now be read from the comfort of one's desktop or tablet. As what may be the world’s largest open-access digital newspaper archive, the HDB offers historians of nineteenth-century Brazil an embarrassment of riches, but also poses new and old questions for researchers.

This panel seeks to map key elements in the press of roughly the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Based on half a century of research, Roderick J. Barman sets the context with an overview of the transitory bi-weekly periodicals that accounted for the majority of the titles published in Rio de Janeiro in the 1850s. He sets journalism in its social and economic context by examining the business of publishing and the struggles of journalists to earn a living. José Juan Pérez Meléndez reflects on the difficulties of tracing ideas about labor regimes and land-distribution models through the newspapers that published frequent articles about these issues. Teresa Cribelli and Hendrik Kraay both focus on specific genres of articles. Cribelli analyzes the ubiquitous apedidos (paid articles published on request) in the Jornal do Commercio and what this genre meant for newspapers and public life; she traces the evolution of this genre of articles from the 1850s to the 1870s. Kraay surveys one year (1868)’s worth of provincial correspondence (another ubiquitous genre in the major dailies of the time) from Bahia to inventory the content and to analyze how the correspondents discussed major political events from their provincial vantage point.

Together, these papers seek to lay a foundation for further research on and in newspapers through the HDB. Each presenter has been asked to reflect on newspapers as sources for research in Brazilian history (in light of the much easier access to them) and on issues that their research in newspapers has raised. We are a long way from being able to apply high-level methods of digital history to the HDB database, so the research in Brazilian newspapers remains a hybrid between old and new methods.