In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section São Paulo

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Colonial City (From Encounter to 1822)
  • The Provincial Capital in the Empire (1822–1889)
  • The City of the 1930s and the 1940s
  • The City of the Postwar Period (1946–1964)
  • The City of the Military Dictatorship (1964–1985)
  • The City of the New Republic (1985–)

Latin American Studies São Paulo
Cristina Mehrtens, Fernando Atique, Aiala Levy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 June 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0181


With almost twelve million inhabitants, São Paulo today ranks among the most populous cities in the world. Its dramatic urbanization over the course of the 20th century has defined not only the city’s history but also scholarship about the city. Long touted by many Paulistanos—the city’s residents—as exceptional within Brazil and as a model for the nation, São Paulo has over the years earned a variety of identities: at the same time that it has been praised as an immigrant city, a working city, a modern city, even an “artistic capital,” São Paulo has also been censured for its chaos, violence, and heightened income inequality. All of these labels have shaped and continue to shape interpretations of the city’s development. Because any attempt to compress the literature about a Brazilian city into a bibliography can make no attempt at comprehensiveness, what follows is an informed but selective guide. We have chosen to organize this guide according to the national periodization widely accepted by historians of Brazil and defined by the country’s political institutions: the colonial era (from the arrival of the Portuguese to independence in 1822), the empire (1822–1889), the Old Republic (1889–1930), the first Vargas era (1930–1945), the democratic era (1945–1964), the military dictatorship (1964–1985), and the New Republic (1985–). From a Jesuit mission to a frontier town, from a sleepy “academic village” to the epicenter of labor and political upheavals, from an entrepôt between coffee plantations and port to an industrial megalopolis and global city, São Paulo has rapidly transformed over the past century and a half in terms of its economy, demographics, built environment, and culture. Along with São Paulo’s skyscrapers and global clout, scholarship on the city has grown considerably in the past three decades. This is especially true within the English-speaking academy, where historians of urban Brazil have historically been more attentive to the national capital, Rio de Janeiro. In this bibliography, we include works from both Brazil and “Brazilianistas” (scholars of Brazil based outside of the country) as evidence of the productive intellectual outcome of an important transnational, public and private, professional network.

General Overviews

São Paulo’s four hundredth anniversary in 1954 was a landmark moment for urban analysis. It was at this time that both Bruno 1954 and Morse 1958 reinterpreted the first histories of the city, which had been grounded in turn-of-the-century regional discourse, using a language of hope and development. The outcome was what are now regarded as the “classic” works on São Paulo’s urban evolution. Since then, few historians have attempted to explain the entirety of São Paulo’s development, although several, as in the case of Andrews 1991 and Alberto 2011, have adopted an extended timeframe for a more focused social analysis and, in Alberto’s case, also a comparative analysis. In 2004, for the city’s 450th anniversary, Porta 2004 and Szmrecsányi 2004 resumed Bruno’s and Morse’s tradition through collective effort, bringing new scholarship to the historiographic forum in the form of edited volumes. The São Paulo Symposium (2013) continued in that vein, gathering together scholars from both the United States and Brazil to offer new perspectives on the city and its history as well as resources for further study. Several resource guides for researching São Paulo have been published in paper form over the last few decades, and Porta 1998 is perhaps the most comprehensive.

  • Alberto, Paulina L. Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

    Building on Andrews 1991 and Butler 1998 (cited under the City of the Old Republic (1889–1930)), compares the development of a self-identified, politically active black intellectual community in São Paulo with its counterparts in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. By contextualizing each group within its city, explains the distinct ways in which each contributed to ideas of racial democracy and equality.

  • Andrews, George Reid. Blacks and Whites in São Paulo, Brazil, 1888–1998. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

    Analyzes the place of Afro-Brazilians and race in São Paulo’s post-slavery, industrializing workforce. Most notably examines industrial personnel records, among other records, to argue that extralegal racial barriers––workplace discrimination and a lack of opportunity for skill development––continued to hinder black Brazilians’ social mobility even in the changing economy.

  • Bruno, Ernani Silva. História e tradições da cidade de São Paulo. 3 vols. São Paulo, Brazil: Livraria José Olympio, 1954.

    Written by a municipal officer, the three books mix historical data and social analysis. Despite the text’s colloquial tone, the rigorous research conducted for more than forty years by the author transformed the trilogy into a perceptive and frequently cited guide to the city’s history.

  • Morse, Richard. From Community to Metropolis: A Biography of São Paulo, Brazil. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1958.

    Based on his 1947–1948 fieldwork, offers a long-duree analysis of the city’s development through the lens of generations of intellectuals, entrepreneurs, technocrats, and urban planners. Pays particular attention to the relation between urbanization and changing perceptions of São Paulo.

  • Porta, Paula, ed. Guia dos Documentos Históricos na Cidade de São Paulo, 1554–1954. São Paulo, Brazil: HUCITEC/NEPS, 1998.

    This book is a research guide for the study of São Paulo City from multiple perspectives and for multiple methodologies. Includes information about archives, libraries, funds, institutions and schools that hold sources for the following topics: economics, politics, religion, culture, arts, and law.

  • Porta, Paula, ed. História da cidade de São Paulo. 3 vols. São Paulo, Brazil: Paz e Terra, 2004.

    The interdisciplinary trilogy written by Brazil’s leading researchers is considered an essential reference for understanding the city’s past. The essays collectively span the entirety of São Paulo’s history: the first volume concentrates on the colonial period; the second volume, on the imperial period; and the third, on the 20th century.

  • São Paulo Symposium, University of Chicago, 2013.

    Indicative of the growing interest in São Paulo within the US academy, the multidisciplinary conference marked the first time in which scholars from both Brazil and the United States gathered to examine the city and its contributions to broader theories and questions. The website features videos of presentations, among other resources.

  • Szmrecsányi, Tamás, ed. História Econômica da Cidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, Brazil: Livros de Valor, Editora Globo, 2004.

    Published to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the foundation of São Paulo, the book, despite its title, offers a broad interpretation of the city from colonial period to 20th century. Social aspects as well as housing, environment, labor, health and education are framed as economic issues.

back to top

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.