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Print Culture and Brazilian Independence: 200 Years of Cultural Diplomacy

The following is a post by Henry Granville Widener, Portuguese Language Reference Librarian in the Hispanic Reading Room of the Latin American, Caribbean, and European Division.

Commemoraçao do centenario da independencia do Brasil International Exposition Rio de Janeiro Sep. 7th 1922 to March 31st 1923. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

September 7, 2022 marks 200 years since Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal on the banks of the Ipiranga River. Similarly to its sister nations of the former Spanish, French and English colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, Brazil’s declaration was but one step among many on the long road to independence.

In other ways, however, Brazil’s history and years-long campaign for independence differ significantly from those of its fellow former colonies. Brazil was the only colonial possession to become the seat of colonial power when Dom João VI moved the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808. It is probably no coincidence then that the heir to the Portuguese crown led the move toward independence or that the monarchical system remained in Brazil until 1889.

Brazilian independence enjoyed support among a broad base of people, but the contingent of monarchists in the country embraced Pedro I’s claim to sovereign authority most emphatically. Garnering this support or indeed, contesting Pedro’s right to rule, relied on the use of the printing press, which had been in use in Brazil for scarcely over a decade because the first printing press in the country came with the royal entourage who had fled Napoleon’s invasion in 1808. In the former Spanish colonies, the printed word had existed for centuries.

Supported by its overseas office in Rio de Janeiro, the Library of Congress has collected Brazil’s documented history and culture meticulously. We invite you to join in commemorating this relationship by checking out some of the resources and events we’ve made available.

Historia naturalis Brasiliae. Louis Elzevir and Franciscus Hackius, printers. 1648. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

First, explore the history of Brazil’s independence and its long diplomatic ties to the U.S. through the StoryMap Brazilian Independence: A Bicentennial Commemoration from Afar, Above and Abroad. This resource follows the career of José Silvestre Rebello, a Portuguese-born champion of Brazilian Independence who in 1824 became Brazil’s first diplomatic representative to the United States. As a conservative monarchist, Rebello’s reflections on Brazil and his five-year tenure in the United States offer unique perspectives on the meaning of independence.

From September 7, 2022 to January 9, 2023, the Law Library and the Hispanic Reading Room of the Library of Congress will display items from our collections in the Southwest Alcove of the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. This display will explore Brazil’s history through two lenses. The first section, entitled Centuries of Legal Transformation, traces Brazil’s path from slaveholding colony to modern constitutional democracy, beginning with the Philippine Ordinances of 1603, a civil code which governed Brazil, at least partially, until as late as 1917. Every item from the Law Library on display, and many more, have been made available digitally through loc.gov.

The second section of the display, entitled Visions of Brazil through 500 Years of Print, examines how print technology and culture have contributed to an idea of the Brazilian nation, its people and their place in the world. This section of the display features several items from the bicentennial StoryMap, including two of the Library’s four copies of Willem Piso’s lavishly illustrated Historia naturalis Brasiliae…(1648). Also included is a copy of the Brazilian national anthem printed in 1963 by the fine press publisher Sociedade dos Cem Bibliófilos do Brasil. This gorgeous work of art, with colored etchings by Isabel Pons and printed in a limited run of 140 copies, is inscribed directly from the publisher to the Library of Congress.

Unidentified building, probably in Portugal or Brazil, between 1850 and 1920. Carvalho Monteiro Library of the Library of Congress

The commemoration will peak on October 13th with a lecture entitled Visions of Brazil, where Dr. Nathalia Henrich and the Library of Congress’ own Beatriz Haspo examine the Oliveira Lima Library at the Catholic University of America and the Carvalho Monteiro Library of the Library of Congress, two of the most important Luso-Brazilian collections in the world. The lecturers will discuss the collectors behind the respective libraries, the images of Brazil these men constructed through their collections, and the significance of their presence in Washington, D.C. Video of the lecture will later be available for viewing online via loc.gov.

Whether in person or online, the Library of Congress looks forward to commemorating and sharing 200 years of Brazilian print culture on the anniversary of Brazilian Independence.


Discover more

Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS): A Resource Guide The Handbook of Latin American Studies is a bibliography on Latin America consisting of works selected and annotated by scholars. 

The PALABRA Archive at the Library of Congress The PALABRA Archive is a collection of original audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. 

Library of Congress Research Guides Library’s guides organized by research topic and collections – these include both online materials, and materials only available on site. The guides related to the Caribbean, Iberian, and Latin American Studies can be found here.

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