Interior History: Rethinking Brazil from the Inside

AHA Session 183
Conference on Latin American History 42
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Frederico Freitas, North Carolina State University
Frederico Freitas, North Carolina State University

Session Abstract

This session is the first step in a larger project to inaugurate a new conceptual approach that we call “interior history.” Through four case studies in Brazilian history—stretching from the colonial period to the 20th century, and from across the country’s territorial reach—we will showcase the analytical and historiographic potential of rethinking Brazil from the inside.

While the overwhelming majority of scholarship on Brazil has focused on the country’s coastal regions, we propose an innovative approach that aims to establish interior history as a dedicated subfield. Moving beyond the natural and geographic pillars of environmental history, and broader in scope than the recent wave of scholarship on regionalism in Brazil, a history of the interior seeks to reimagine the Brazilian nation from the perspective of its vast interior regions and populations.

In the five centuries of European presence in Brazil, a contrast has developed between the coastal and interior regions. The coastal areas around Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and São Paulo have been depicted as the center of ‘civilized’ and ‘modern’ society, inhabited by European-descendant elites seen as the creators of national culture and politics. In contrast, the interior regions have been stigmatized as the so-called ‘backlands.’ As the perpetual foil to the more advanced coast, the backlands have stood as an imagined spaced useful only for its natural resources and the labor of its local populations. Over hundreds of years, this traditional view has become implanted in national imaginations, where the backlands of the interior are relegated to the conceptual and political periphery of Brazil.

To challenge the dominant narrative between coast and interior, this session re-examines Brazilian history from the inside. This approach will show how interior histories can open new paths in the historiography of Brazil and also in Latin America as a whole, where in almost every country there exists an assumed historical disjuncture between the supposedly civilized coast and the backwards interior. Seeking to invert the conceptual and geographic boundaries often used to study the history of Brazil and of Latin America, we show how the people and spaces of the interior have been central to the development of national identities, politics, economy, and culture.

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