1822 – dimensions

Carlos Zilio, 1970, day after day, 50x35


Commentary on the book organized by Carlos Guilherme Mota

The reprinting of this book, in 2022, without alterations in relation to the first printing of 1972, recalls scholarly debates of that time on the Independence of Brazil, when a civil-military dictatorship commemorated the theme and celebrated, with fanfare, during its Sesquicentennial.

For historians, Independence was and is a problem of knowledge. The academic profile of the collaborators gathered there distances the volume of easy and laudatory celebrations from 50 years ago or from the present, which does not prevent their incorporation, pirated, into the commemorative collection of then and now: Arthur Cezar Ferreira Reis, collaborator in the volume, he was an intervenor in Amazonas (1964/1967), appointed by the dictator Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, and directed the Federal Council of Culture in 1967 and 1968. The collection must have circulated in his political and academic spaces.

The new edition lacks an updated ensemble essay, written by its organizer or a guest, as a balance of the opera (on the analyzes dated 1972) and reflection on the new discussions of such a universe, which have arisen since then. Questions considered little known related to Independence in 1972, such as demography and ideological formations, are they still in the same situation 50 years later? This also applies to the dependency debate, a concept that designates part of the book: is this still thought of as a stage of capitalist society, to be overcome? Did Africans and indigenous people become Brazilians on that date or did they remain almost linked to their nations?

A critical reading of this material, therefore, is very necessary.

If the authors of 1972 revised their texts today (unfortunately, almost half of them have already passed away: Arthur Cezar Ferreira Reis, Augustin Wernet, Emília Viotti da Costa, Fréderic Mauro, Helga Picolo, Jacques Godechot and Joel Serrão), they would probably produce other writings in the face of state of the art on Independence, revolution and social relations, among other topics, after so many decades. It is enough to evoke women, indigenous people, African slaves, poor people who were more or less free… If these human groups did not make that Independence, they existed during it, they suffered its consequences, perhaps they had other projects for their future. The book Daily life and private life in Portuguese America taught that there was no Brazil, with some kind of unity and identification, before Independence.[I] And after 1822, which Brazils were born? Was everything Brazil?

Its rereading, fifty years later, is a historiographical exercise (which most of the reading public is not used to doing) and a possible projection of new issues. Around and inside the victorious political project in 1822, what else does the historian want to inquire about that milestone? After all, not everything, historically, was institutional policy or the general interests of economic and social elites. Where are other men and women, who did and happened? Shall we speak of slavery without slaves? It is better to go beyond that enforced date.

The invention of Brazil as a national state perhaps ran parallel to other elaborations of nation and the indigenous nations survived, in that universe, with difficulties, without recognition as such, in addition to the African nations being fought in the cultural field, resisting hard penalties.

The continuity of slavery, later constitutionalized, and the social action of these slaves in the invention of their rights are not the least of the dilemmas faced by the new national state. Artists and intellectuals asked which nation that was. And the indigenist or lusophile idealizations harbored tensions, along with Africanities that were more than excluded. 1822 goes beyond calendar milestone.

The collection teaches us that such Independence was the project of certain social groups, at a specific historical moment. What were the other structural groups in that society, did they hold different historical perspectives and actions, at that moment, of the Brazilian nation that had become a State?

This is how the debate on revolutions figures in comparative economic and political profiles, following the trail of Godechot (present in the book as a collaborator, by the way).[ii] It is worth remembering the revolution as an invention and object of criticism, from Burke to Michelet, Tocqueville, Arendt and Furet,[iii] among many others.

The volume brings together experienced authors at the time, as well as researchers at the beginning of their careers, a mixture endowed with potential, between instituted knowledge and other words. Some of these writings had previously been published in specialized journals. The texts by Fernando Novais (end of the Old Colonial System) and Maria Odila Silva Dias (interiorization of the metropolis) announce studies grouped there. There is also an outline of the historiographical debate, in the form of an annotated bibliography, led by Gizelda Mota, which includes political aspects of that 1972, worthy of special attention.

Gizelda shows links with a moment of consolidation of university historical research in Brazil, especially in postgraduate centers, a moment mixed with general political tensions in opposition to the then current Brazilian dictatorship.

It would be frighteningly simplistic to characterize this opposition as “left” en bloc, although a privileged target of criticism, in Gizelda Mota, is the PCB (via Werneck Sodré and, more subtly, Prado Jr.),[iv] also contested in the general political space by new “lefts”. This was a political profile severely repressed by the then dictatorship; the same Werneck Sodré and Prado Jr. they were arrested by the dictators, as you know. Such opposition ranged from sectors in the Legislature and the Press to the armed struggle, passing through religious and union organizations.

It is better to prioritize, in the book, the emphasis on documentary and argumentative (meaning: methodological) rigor, demanded by Gizelda based on those criteria of increasingly institutionalized postgraduate studies, still lacking, in this guide, analyzes on different genres of historical writing ( academic, literary and, later, market, pedagogical, journalistic, etc.). There is no automatic hierarchy of quality among these writing genres, each material deserves close analysis.

The criticism of Marxist historians, in 1972, could, involuntarily, provide erudite arguments to the dictators, who wished to disqualify, intellectually and politically, such scholars. The fair indication of his mistakes neglected successes, which greatly irritated the dictatorial logic: throwing the child out, along with the bath water.

The appeal for a structural analysis of Independence has the merit of overcoming factual and personalist views of 1822, so present in the usual commemorations, but it loses sight of making history in conditions that go beyond the will of men and women, as classically remembered by Karl Marx[v]: only the conditions, without makers, that make structures characters and events may remain. This perspective, consolidated while there was a dictatorship that wanted to drastically limit the space for making and making history, offered the risk of feeding those who ideologically commemorated the Sesquicentennial of 1822, with the dictator of the moment equated with Pedro I and Deodoro da Fonseca – who make history are these “big names”. Ideology constructed deductive models, where there was no room for history makers other than established heroes – owners of large fortunes, political leaders, military commanders, religious leaders.

Talking about Revolution, Liberalism, the West and the Atlantic, even with empirical foundations, can also be to hide the makers of Independence and those who were kept in it as merchandise and objects of administration, but they were more than that. Slavery without slaves that act in different ways, it is a structure that moves automatically. There is a subtle return to socially selected events and individual characters in the book, especially in the writings about examples of captaincies.

The book was, in 1972, a historiographic effort to problematize the Independence of Brazil, within certain methodological parameters – theoretical, technical and political. Its reprint, in 2022, without revisions, invites new efforts and historiographic inquiries about the work and its objects, rather than mere celebrations.

The Bicentennial of 1822 served as the stage for an electoral campaign along the lines of contemporary fascism.

Okay, for today's critical historians?

I think not.

*Mark Silva He is a professor at the Department of History at USP.


Carlos Guilherme Mota (org.). 1822 – Dimensions. 3rd ed. São Paulo, Perspectiva/Editions SESC, 2022.


[I] SOUZA, Laura de Mello e (Org.). Daily life and private life in Portuguese America. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997 (History of private life in Brazil – 1).

[ii] GODECOT, Jacques. The Revolutions 1770/1799. Translation by Erothildes Milan Barros da Rocha. São Paulo: Pioneer, 1976.

[iii] BURKE, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Translation of Herculaneum

MICHELET, Jules. History of the French Revolution. Translation by Maria Lúcia Machado. Sao Paulo: Cia. Of Letters, 1989.

TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis de. The Old Regime and the Revolution. Translated by Yvonne Jean. Brasília: EdUNB, 1997.

ARENDT, Hannah. About the Revolution. Translated by Denise Bottmann. Sao Paulo: Cia. Of Letters, 2011.

FURET, François. Thinking about the French Revolution. Translated by Luiz Marques and Martha Gambini. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1989.

[iv] WERNECK SODRÉ, Nelson. The Reasons for Independence. 2nd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1969, 266 pp. 3rd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1978 (Portraits of Brazil – 39). [1st edition: 1965]

PRADO JR., Caio. “Political Evolution of Brazil”, in: Political Evolution of Brazil and Other Studies. 4th ed. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1963, pp 5/94 (1st ed. of this essay: 1933).

[v] MARX, Carl. "The Eighteenth Brumaire" in: The Eighteenth Brumaire and Letters to Kugelman. Translation by Leandro Konder and Renato Guimarães. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1997, pp 9/159

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