Within the Americas, Brazil stands out for the intensity, ubiquity, and longevity of its experience of slavery. The history of slavery and of the enslaved in the Western Hemisphere significantly overlaps, therefore, with the history of slavery in Brazil. In the early 20th century, scholars such as Gilberto Freyre and Frank Tannenbaum turned to Brazilian slavery to explain differences in race relations in the United States and Latin America, creating a narrative of harmonious coexistence between races in Brazil. Endemic racial inequality in the country later encouraged the production of scholarship that challenged any notion of “racial democracy.” Between the 1970s and 1990s, inspired by the centennial of the abolition of slavery in Brazil (1988), scholars recast Brazilian slavery as exploitative, brutal, and racially based. They also recovered stories of slave resistance from runaways and quilombos to black religious associations, to slaves’ tireless pursuit of legal freedom. These studies highlighted ways in which slaves empowered themselves and shaped Brazil’s historical trajectory, despite the oppression and power inequality slavery promoted. Historians of women and gender importantly challenged the long-standing—and still existent—image of the amoral, sexually available black woman, which had helped to support portrayals of Brazilian society as racially mixed, inherently not racist, and inevitably patriarchal. By exploring the intersection of slavery and gender, and engaging the long-neglected gendered violence and racial thinking that remain slavery’s strongest legacy, scholars have rescued the historical relevance of enslaved women and unveiled the discursive and pragmatic tools of domination that supported white male power. More recently, historians of Brazilian slavery have also contributed to the field of African diaspora studies. Concentrating the largest contingent of Africans enslaved through the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil maintained a strong connection to Africa well into the 20th century. Important works have examined the economic, political, and cultural exchanges that occurred between Brazil and Africa in the age of slavery to highlight Africa’s place in Brazilian history and equate it to Europe’s. Historians of abolition have also recently challenged older narratives in the history of Brazilian slavery. From emphasizing the role played by political elites and foreign actors, recent work has recovered the story of black involvement in the abolitionist process and later struggle for citizenship. While the memory of slavery remains a contested terrain, scholarship in the field of Brazilian slavery has enriched historical knowledge about black political engagement in the Americas.
These articles provide an overview of the major themes and topics that frame the study of slavery in Brazil. They also reflect some of the important debates that have emerged in the field in the past half century or more. Early studies focus on the role slavery played in shaping Brazilian culture and society and engendering positive (Freyre 1956) or negative (Degler 1971, Lara 1988) race relations. Moving beyond a static and structural view of slavery, de Queirós Mattoso 1986, Klein and Luna 2010, and Tomich 2015 highlight the changing nature of slavery as a practice of labor exploitation and its employment in diverse economic settings. These works also stress the different experiences slaves themselves faced as increased labor demands, new economic exploits, and the consolidation of the slave system affected the intensity and organization of the slave trade, the physical demands of slave work, and Brazilian society’s treatment of its enslaved population. These works, along with Lara 1988, pay closer attention to slaves as historical actors who strove to exercise some control over the terms and conditions of their enslavement. Schwartz 1992 and Russell-Wood 2002 focus further on questions of resistance and autonomy in their overview of the history of Brazilian slavery. Through a discussion of food production by slaves, runaway slave communities, and acts of rebellion, Schwartz 1992 stresses the many forms of slave resistance. Focused more specifically on former slaves and persons of mixed African and Portuguese descent, Russell-Wood 2002 examines the broader question of black struggle for autonomy and inclusion in a slave society.
Degler, Carl N. Neither Black nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the Unites States. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
A comparative discussion of race relations in Brazil and the United States that offers an overview of slavery in each country to challenge Frank Tannenbaum’s claim that different practices of slavery and a more benign treatment of slaves in Latin America explain divergent race relations in the two regions.
de Queirós Mattoso, Kátia M. To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550–1888. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986.
Written for a general audience, this overview of slavery in Brazil proposes to understand the experiences and worldview that informed slaves’ everyday and general realities. It discusses the process of enslavement in Africa, adaptation to slave life in Brazil, and slaves’ constant pursuit and hope for freedom.
Freyre, Gilberto. The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. New York: Knopf, 1956.
First published in 1933, this foundational work of Brazilian scholarship has shaped cultural imaginations about slavery and plantation society by proposing that Brazilian civilization and the Brazilian “man” were the product of a benign genealogical and cultural miscegenation between the Portuguese, Africans, and native Brazilian peoples.
Klein, Herbert, and Francisco Vidal Luna. Slavery in Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
A helpful survey of African slavery in Brazil, from its inception to its abolition (16th–19th century), that focuses on the economic relevance of slave labor to the country’s development while also paying attention to slaves’ experiences with family, community, international migration, freedom, and rebellion.
Lara, Silvia Hunold. Campos da Violência: Escravos e senhores na Capitania do Rio de Janeiro, 1750–1808. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editora Paz e Terra, 1988.
This study aims to conciliate the violent nature of Brazil’s slave society with slave masters’ claims of paternalism and mild treatment that have survived in the Brazilian imagination. It reveals the complex world of negotiation that nevertheless built a dominating and oppressive social order under slavery.
Russell-Wood, Anthony J. R. Slavery and Freedom in Colonial Brazil. Oxford: Oneworld, 2002.
A comprehensive study of enslaved and free blacks, focused on their experiences with the oppressive nature of Brazil’s slave society and their struggles to wield control over their lives. Of particular relevance is the discussion of black religious brotherhoods and the status and experiences of persons of mixed descent.
Schwartz, Stuart B. Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
Schwartz’s volume of essays engages with some important themes in the scholarship on slave resistance and daily life: the role labor played in defining slaves’ experiences, runaway slave communities, slaves’ limited but existent economic autonomy, and slaves’ efforts to reconstruct kinship.
Tomich, Dale W., ed. New Frontiers of Slavery. New York: State University of New York Press, 2015.
This edited volume views the practice of 19th-century slavery, mainly in Brazil and Cuba, as a response to new economic demands and contingencies within the global economy. The chapters that focus on Brazil highlight the continuous reinvention of slavery in response to the country’s new economic goals and international engagement.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- 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 New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- 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
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- 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
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- 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)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- 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-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- 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