History of the Brazilian Northeast
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0160
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0160
Once belonging to the vast Northern region, the Brazilian Northeast was first referred to as such by a governmental agency dedicated to drought management in 1919. From that point onward, intellectuals imbued the region with biological, economic, social, political, and cultural characteristics. Scholars have associated the Northeast with drought, poverty, and high infant mortality rates, but they also have referred to it as a place of resistance to imperialism, as the cradle of racial democracy, and as the very essence of Brazilian nationality. Nonetheless, regional stereotypes in Brazil are so problematic that the simple act of defining the Brazilian Northeast is a highly contentious point. The most straightforward description is that the Northeast is a political, cultural, economic, and geographic unit of nine states, including Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Bahia. Yet, while this definition rests comfortably on a map, some scholars argue that defining the region only furthers the perseverance of stereotypes. Further, according to this line of thought, referring to “the Northeast” before 1919 is anachronistic and simplifies the region’s past. While this is certainly true, regional literature—both creative and scholarly—has often called back on a distant past to describe the region and its culture. To describe the region, historians, folklorists, and novelists draw on the history of Salvador da Bahia as colonial capital, of sugar plantations as heart of the colonial economy, and of slavery as the cruel system that simultaneously upheld the economy and fueled the region’s cultural development. Scholars base the region’s uniqueness on its past of Dutch colonization and Jewish emigration, but also on its great droughts that led to poverty, migration, rebellions, and social movements. This article bases an understanding of the invention of Northeastern cultural identity on a basic knowledge of its history. The article maps out sources for the study of the history of the Northeast in the colonial, imperial, and republican periods, before turning to themes frequently associated with the region and movements that defined its identity.
What is the Northeast? The question is deceivingly simple and the answer is quite contentious. While intellectuals charged with Defining the Northeast in the 20th Century proposed a definition based on economic, political, and cultural distinctiveness, more recently, writers have questioned the act of definition, choosing instead to investigate how the Northeast was invented or imagined. While Penna 1992 introduced this type of investigation of regional identity in his study of newspaper discourse on the Northeast in São Paulo in 1988, Albuquerque Júnior 2009 is the groundbreaking text that set a reexamination of the social and historical construction, or “invention,” of the Northeast in motion. Albuquerque Júnior 2004 is a shorter, English-language version of the main arguments expressed in Albuquerque Júnior 2009 and is more accessible for undergraduate courses conducted in English. Albuquerque Júnior examines intellectual discourse, literature, visual arts, and music to present how ideas, tropes, and stereotypes of the Northeast were socially constructed. Blake 2011 continues in this tradition of identity studies, focusing on how medical doctors, politicians, and intellectuals relied on theories of social Darwinism, eugenics, biomedicine, race, and science to construct the concept of the “Northeasterner.” Campbell 2014 examines popular art, cordel pamphlet literature, visual culture, intellectual manuscripts, correspondence, and the press that discuss international events to argue that the Northeast’s cultural identity was a product not of isolation, but of international interaction. Garcia 1986 and Araújo 2004 emphasize the diversity and plurality of the Northeast. Garcia 1986 is an attempt to break the stereotypes of the Northeast held by Brazilians from outside the region. Araújo 2004 is a study of the Northeastern economy and serves as a helpful introduction to the region.
Albuquerque Júnior, Durval Muniz de. “Weaving Tradition: The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast.” Translated by Laurence Hallewell. Latin American Perspectives 31.2 (March 2004): 42–61.
Article-length presentation of many of the arguments expressed in Albuquerque Júnior 2009. Presents region as originally defined by governmental agencies working with drought and then by intellectuals like Gilberto Freyre who established its origin and rooted its culture in the past.
Albuquerque Júnior, Durval Muniz de. A invenção do nordeste e outras artes. 4th ed. São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez, 2009.
Watershed text on Northeastern regional identity formation. Employs discourse analysis to study literature and art as inventing Northeastern cultural identity. Originally published in 1999.
Araújo, Tania Bacelar de. “Northeast, Northeasts: What Northeast?” Latin American Perspectives 31.2 (March 2004): 16–41.
Study of economic characteristics and direction of the Northeast, emphasizing the diversity of the region. Good overview of the region for beginners.
Blake, Stanley. The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern Brazil. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.
Examines construction of Northeastern regional identity by politicians, intellectuals, medical doctors, and other urban professionals from 1888 to 1940, highlighting ideas put into practice in state building. Focuses primarily on Pernambuco.
Campbell, Courtney J. The Brazilian Northeast, Inside Out: Region, Nation, and Globalization (1926-1968). PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 2014.
Dissertation examining regional discourse around international events in the Northeast between 1926 and 1968. Topics include: international regionalist conferences, an Orson Welles film about Northeastern fishermen, Northeastern women who dated U.S. soldiers during World War II, French and Northeastern popular culture movements, World Cup soccer, and international beauty pageants.
Garcia, Carlos. O que é Nordeste brasileiro? 5th ed. São Paulo, Brazil: Brasiliense, 1986.
A short pocket book describing physical, cultural, and economic aspects of the Northeastern region with the intent of dispelling stereotypes about the region held within Brazil.
Penna, Mauro. O que faz ser nordestino: Identidades sociais, interesses e o “escândalo” Erundina. São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez, 1992.
Studies regional identity through an examination of newspaper discourse following the election of Luiza Erundina de Souza, of Paraíba, in November 1988 as first female mayor of São Paulo. Concludes that Northeastern identity is a historical construction, referring to recognized symbols, assembled collectively and represented individually.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500-1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- São Paulo
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas