It's a time of war

Edwin Sanchez. Bestiary (Photo Laura Imery-IDARTES). Collection about a specific place in Bogotá with objects, reports and documents gathered. Installation. Bogota, Colombia, 2020.


Inaugural Class of the FFLCH-USP History Course, 2021

For Esmeralda Blanco B. Moura (*1948 / +2021), historian and professor at the Department of History at FFLCH/USP, always welcome.

The Brazilian composer Chico Buarque created a song, in 1968, with the title “Benvinda”. He explored the homophony of that proper name with the adjective welcome[I]. The song's beautiful lyrics contrast the personal, loving and affective universe of person poetry to the world of isolation imposed by the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964/1985, to be broken by hope and encounter between human beings, new world and new life. Welcome is a person, Benvinda. Welcome and welcome are all of us, endowed with proper names, Benvindos and Benvindos, new world and new life.

A poem by the playwright and theater director Bertolt Brecht (1898/1956), with the title “To those who will come after us”, was turned into a song by Brazilian composers Edu Lobo (1943/…) and also actor and playwright Gianfrancesco Guarnieri ( 1934/2006). The title of the song is “I live in a time of war” and it appeared in Brazil in 1965, a year after the beginning of a dictatorship. This song recalls, in the chorus: “It's a time of war, / It's a time without sun.”[ii].

Such frightening words suggest the discontinuity of life: without the sun, permanent night reigns, photosynthesis disappears, human subjects and almost all other living beings cease to exist. War, therefore, is the great enemy of humanity, against the sun and life. The image of the sun, symbolically, refers to light, knowledge, as already observed in the Greek philosopher Plato (approximately 428/348 BC) and in different mythologies[iii]. Its absence, in poetic terms, means multiple blindness.

Another song, now by Brazilian composers Carlos Lyra (1933/…) and also by Poet and Playwright Vinicius de Morais (1913/1980), “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Ashes”, stated in 1964, the year in which that dictatorship began: “(…) And yet, it is necessary to sing, / More than ever it is necessary to sing, / It is necessary to sing and make the city happy.”[iv]. They are sung verses, the lyrics and the melody are said in an act against the sadness of a world without carnival, without collective singing, without beauty – and against the dictatorship of that time, in its beginning.

We know, since the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384/322 BC), that Poetry is not History, as a field of writing and knowledge, but legitimately talks about everything (including about History) and can serve as inspiration for the work of Historians, as the German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892/1940) taught us later, who died while trying to flee from Nazism[v]. Homer (probably 928/898 BC), Poet of ancient Greece, spoke of the Trojan War, its heroes and criminals; Charles Baudelaire (1821/1867), French poet, characterized the city that was contemporary with him as impersonal and without continuity in human contacts, a capitalist scenario of lack of love[vi].

Excellent contemporary Brazilian lyricists, such as Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso (1942/…), prefer to declare that Lyrics are not Poetry. But the dialogue between such textual genres is very frequent, in Brazil and in other countries, in addition to some Lyricists being respected Poets or many Poets having many of their texts transformed into songs. As is known, the American composer Bob Dylan (1941/…) received a Nobel Prize for Literature and the Brazilian Chico Buarque was awarded the very prestigious Lusophone Camões Prize: Lyrics, therefore, it can be Literature.

The pairs Lobo/Guarnieri and Lyra/Morais produced within a dictatorship that was and continued to be war (military and civilian elites against the poor, in the period 1964/1985 and until today, with brief intervals) and used poetic resources to denounce their atrocities. They established parallels with Nazism, in the case of Lobo and Guarnieri, and with Festa as Resistance, in Lyra and Morais. The last poetic and political field was later taken up by Cacá Diegues' film When the carnival arrivesOf 1972[vii].

I am not referring here only to wars between national states, which attack each other militarily and send young people to death, condemning other age groups to hunger, homelessness, disease and bombings. I am also talking about wars in everyday life, between governments and civilian populations of the same nationality, between social sectors of these populations. The weapons used to kill men and women of different age groups, in the current Brazilian daily life of wars, are lack of vaccines, lack of food, lack of employment, lack of housing, lack of wage readjustment – “Sunless weather”. We are in the space of class struggle and other social struggles. The young people (or no longer young people) killed in these internal wars in Brazil are mainly black and poor, but other ethnic groups and social classes cannot consider themselves safe.

We are not singers “(…) And yet, it is necessary to sing”, think about the poetic and critical meaning of this act: our silence would reinforce all those faults and consolidate the power of those who produced and produce them, in the name of the profit that objectifies human beings.

I indicate a geographic space in the title of this writing: Brazil. The Historian, more than just recording and narrating, must problematize his clippings, as I did in relation to the concept of war. Brazil is never just Brazil (there are relationships with different parts of the world) nor is it uniformity (there are internal differences between social classes, ethnicities, genders, age groups, regions, etc.). It is a reasoning that also applies to other countries. To approach any country is to think about tensions, contrasts, harmonies and agreements.

I still record a while, 2021, our today. Many people still think that historians are professionals specialized in the past. They ignore that the Historians Thucydides (460/400 BC) and Herodotus (485/425 BC) and that the Philosophers Machiavelli (1469/1527) and Marx (1818/1883) wrote about their contemporaneities[viii]. And they forget to inquire about the content of that past, about the relationships between men and women that took place on a daily basis and were present for such beings.

The past is not monological, it does not close in on itself. He was present and is taken up again by other presents, which each day become the past and are projected towards different futures, new presents and, later, pasts as well. Dealing with the present call as relations between men and women, therefore, is also the task of historians, who do not forget the different pasts and seek to establish relationships between temporalities, including possible and, preferably, better futures.

Our time of wars is one of present wars, which directly attack us, but also of past wars, which did not end without leaving a trace, and of possible future wars, which we can try to avoid. We see, in cinema or television, films that speak of different wars as just past - the Second World War, for example, with its horrors of killings, cult of death, launching of atomic devices against human beings, which are not just in the past, as evidenced by today's rulers who reissue Nazi ceremonials and the like, give continuity to Nazism and its policies of exterminating political opponents, sectors of social classes, ethnic groups. History, as a field of knowledge, addresses present wars, without being able to ignore past wars because some are in the others, nor remain silent about the threat of future wars, which we will build, make difficult or prevent, from the fields of political dispute where we operate . Our horizon of critical work is based on scientific references, expressed in work methods and techniques.

This is one reason why the Historian needs to learn about different temporalities and different societies. History, field of Knowledge, exists in the conditions of mirror and window. Through History, we learn what we are, individually and in the diversity of collectives (mirror). But history also teaches about what we are not immediately, about other periods, other societies, other groups in our own society (window)[ix]. It is not worth focusing only on alleged direct genealogies of what we declare to be – country of the world self-designated as Western, alleged heir to romanticized classical Greece and Rome, via photogenic Medieval and Modern Europe. Other genealogies are silenced in this section – Africa and pre-colonial America, plus the infinity of nationalities that emigrated here, including Asians, and those with whom we have little contact, such as those from Oceania. It is not possible to ignore other parts of the world that are said to be globalized. When a part of the world is designated as the West, on a planet that is a sphere, the other parts are treated as something external, as a remainder. We really need to know China, Angola, India, Ecuador, Japan, Haiti, Australia etc. in different temporalities.

We were formed and worked as Historians in a specific society, in Brazil, a reality with multiple faces – the aforementioned differences of class, gender, ethnicity, etc. We study in Portuguese, but we need to master other scientific languages ​​to expand our knowledge, reaching foreign publications on different problems, including Brazilian themes. I remember a Professor of mine, in the first year of graduation in History at this FFLCH/USP, in the '70s of the last century, pointing out what he considered obvious: knowing English, French and Spanish. And a little more Italian and German – at least to know how to use a dictionary, according to him. And even specific languages ​​for certain problems that we want to study in life: the list is endless, anyone who wants to research ancient Greece will need to know classical Greek and so on.

Few of us will master all these languages ​​at the level of fluency, but we will need to know how to deal with each one of them on a level that allows reading. Mastery of some languages ​​is fundamental for us to have access to one of the basic instruments of work of the Historian: the critical reading of the Historiography available, that is, the Historical Knowledge produced in different times and countries. We cannot always count on translations, either because of the interval between the original publication and its version in our national language (in the case of articles in specialized journals, this is very serious due to the up-to-date character of the research published there), or because of the quality, which is not always reliable. , from available translations, especially the use of false cognates – translating the French word “collecteur”, applied to tribal societies, as collector and not collector. In terms of research, the domain of the language of the society chosen for study needs to be extensive, even when working with period sources that are not just textual: no historical source dispenses with other modalities of recording human experiences, anyone researching paintings will need to know texts and period maps, plus other types of documents and so on.

I spoke of sources: the Historian always works with materials produced by the society he is talking about, whether texts, buildings, other material objects, recorded interviews, artistic productions in different languages ​​– the list is endless. Without these documents, the History professional would be reduced to the condition of disseminating what others have researched. The sources of the time are placed by the researcher in dialogue with the Historiography already produced and with the theoretical arsenal adequate to his understanding – elements of Philosophy, Economics, Linguistics, Psychology, etc.

The Historian's relationship with different documents is one of technical zeal and interpretative autonomy, based on scientific criteria. These professionals are not repeaters of what the documents say. Each Historian critically reflects on their research documents, explains their original production and circulation, problematizes their contents from different conceptual and historiographical approaches.

The regime of History as an erudite discourse (research and teaching) dialogues with the regime of Politics as a social practice (power relations), having the common ground of the dispute for Memory. Historians are not alien to Politics, but their regime of thought and writing is their own. I understand that an effort is needed to guarantee the specificities of Historical Knowledge, without losing the political ground on which it is made possible – access to documents or censorship by different institutions, working conditions, presence in Culture of different social groups, etc. And we return to the question of the History of the Present Time.

Historians specialize in the study of different periods of history and all are of extreme importance to this field. Some of those professionals are dedicated to the History of the Present Time or Immediate History, a genre of studies that, with its specific configurations, participated in the Greek invention of this field of Knowledge, continued to be practiced over time, in multiple ways, and tended to be devalued by some professionals in the area, who considered it minor, similar to Journalism (I remember that brilliant authors such as Karl Marx and Euclides da Cunha wrote for newspapers), confused with political practice, short of a knowledge endowed with method. Oral History researchers are also pejoratively compared to Journalists, our pariahs: shall we be brahmins to these pariahs?

It is important to understand the methods of this History of the Present Time or Immediate History, to understand that its relations with Journalism cannot be confused with a lack of rigor[X]. This History faces an infinity of available documents (media, government reports, people to be interviewed, Material Culture), usually dispersed; and it coexists with another infinity of inaccessible sources (governmental and corporate secrecy, texts and images that are destroyed by their producers after immediate use, etc.). It will never be the only genre or isolated from historical research, just as the other genres in this universe cannot aspire to hegemony over each other.[xi]. But in addition to talking historically about the Present or Immediate Time, it has a peculiar importance for other specialists in History: explaining the time from which all Historians, dedicated to the study of the most diverse periods, speak.

Most of these professionals directly address times different from the one they live in in their research, and this is very good, even necessary. None of them, however, manages to undress their own time, either in the technical apparatus they use (in our days, computers, laboratories, conceptual universe of different fields of knowledge, devices for reproducing image and sound, etc.), or in the reference questions about the world that is part of their cultural experience as a woman or a man, including dimensions of social class, ethnicity, age group, gender and so many more in struggles or negotiations.

Historical Knowledge talks about differences and continuities between periods and societies. If any historian, when approaching a period different from his own, merely repeated his immediate temporality of experiences, projecting them to other times and societies, that field of study would lose its raison d'être, a kind of continuous present would be consolidated in its results of research. search; such a Historian would remain, therefore, in the mirror (reflection of his image), without the courage to go to the window (opening to other experiences, which may even clash with his own).

All periods and all societies are worthy of the attention of historians. No researcher will be able to study the infinity of existing times and societies, but he will always be able to have critical access to the investigations carried out by other specialists.

Our curriculum for the Graduation in History at FFLCH/USP is based on a classic European division, which is understandable because this area, in the former name Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo, was founded on a large scale by French professors , in addition to the important Gallic historiography being a world reference. We have, then, the central axis represented by Ancient History, Medieval History, Modern History and Contemporary History, plus History of Brazil, History of the Americas, Iberian History, History of Africa, History of Asia, Methodology and Theory of History and other disciplines, in clippings by research issues.

All these areas are fundamental, important and necessary in the formation of a History professional. The excessive weight of the classic Ancient / Medieval / Modern / Contemporary division invites us to think about the predominantly European bias of what we study[xii], to the detriment of other Stories. The African continent already deserves good attention in our FFLCH/USP, but Asia, although covered in excellent courses, still does not deserve greater care regarding its great diversity of periods and experiences, not to mention the almost always hidden Oceania and parts the Americas or even Europe.

Evidently, European and Near Eastern History from different periods has to be very well studied by all of us who graduate in History in Brazil. We will never understand the historical paths of our country without a good knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome, references in Politics, Rhetoric, Philosophy, Theater, Law, Religions... It is impossible to know colonial Brazil without having studied ancient Greece and Rome. Catholicism, so important in the colonization of Latin America, demands that one study the Histories of Jews, Egyptians, peoples of Mesopotamia, Greeks and Romans of Antiquity. The brilliant rhetoric of Antônio Vieira (1608/1697) appealed to classical models of Greco-Latin Oratory, re-elaborated in the light of Catholicism and Colonialism of his time. A lot of similar things could be said in relation to Medieval, Modern and Contemporary Europe, necessary landmarks for the understanding of Catholicism, Colonization, Secular State, Industrialization, workers' struggles, disciplinary institutions and many other experiences of sociability.

But these milestones are neither linear origins nor solitary starting points.[xiii]. The serious problem is that we ignore other Histories or treat them in a subsidiary and minor way, neglecting men and women as History makers in different conditions that they inherited[xiv], procedures often associated with silence about the time from which the Historian speaks.

No Graduation in History will be able to address all the Histories of the world, but each Course can contribute to make its Professors and Students aware of this inexhaustible vastness of historical experiences and the incompleteness of what we know; and it will always be able to open new doors for this expansion of known Histories, their struggles and compromises.

Our academic training takes place, more commonly, in a circuit that tends to be closed: we learn research methods and techniques from specialists who are our contemporaries, we dialogue with our elders (the Historians who preceded us) and, later, with our peers. This virtual isolation can contribute to the individual improvement of each History Professional, but it is never complete. We think, write and speak in the world, for the world – a world full of conflicts and which, we hope, moves towards other horizons of coexistence. The results of our work appear in classes, conferences, articles in specialized journals, texts in popular journals (daily newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.), erudite and didactic books, exhibitions set up in museums and similar entities, lectures outside the academic space , interviews… We reach, therefore, an audience of non-specialists, who are informed about History through such media and spaces and respond to our research in multiple ways, in the midst of so many struggles and desired encounters.

There is, therefore, a more strictly academic Historical Knowledge, in that closed circuit (dialogue between professionals in the area), and a Historical Culture that reaches a wider public, formed by women and men of different age groups, social classes, institutions (unions, clubs etc.), genders and ethnicities. Without forgetting the demands for historical knowledge that different groups and social movements can address to historians, as observed in the struggles for the rights of women, prejudiced ethnic groups and poor workers.

One type of knowledge does not exclude the other, good professionals can and should act in all of them, preserving critical zeal. The academic historian has responsibilities towards this more general Historical Culture, outside the university, which is often also produced by professionals from other areas (Journalism, Fiction, Politics, etc.), with very uneven results, occasionally distorting social experiences. Without forgetting, therefore, the Historical Culture that circulates in the media, in the speeches of politicians and businessmen, in the daily life of different sectors of the population, which can also benefit from the dialogue with History professionals, in addition to contributing to it with questions and hypotheses , exchanges of experiences.

This multiple presence of the History professional emphasizes his performance in the public scene, either as a producer of interpretative innovations in the academic space, or as a guarantee of rigor in Historical Culture aimed at people of different age groups, professional occupations and schooling, interference in the social that goes as well as providing professional interpretations. There is no point in preventing any citizen from speaking and being attentive to what is said about History. This public interest in History, as a consumer public and a thinking citizen, deserves the collaboration of professionals in the field, holders of methodologically consolidated knowledge.

Formal education, at the basic, fundamental and secondary levels, is carried out by professionals with specific studies in History, who establish bridges between specialized knowledge and the wider public. It should be noted that, in this teaching, there is the possible last minimum contact of children and young people with academic History, translated by their Teachers.

In the Periodical Press, in museums and in other spaces, it is important to guarantee the critical presence of History professionals, inviting the public and dissemination specialists to contact academic erudition, ensuring that Public History does not detach itself from erudite rigor.

The various genres of Historical Knowledge compete for memories in the public space. Extended debates on social, political and cultural issues are of strategic importance for everyone and the fight against Denialism and Exclusions needs to count on the participation of academic specialists, in dialogue with different social demands. Discussing Nazism and Racism, for example, is a political task that receives important contributions from erudite historical studies on these serious social problems, in their first manifestations, connections with Capitalism and later developments.

Such public discussions are significant parts of everyday wars fought in different countries and times, including here and now. No less important is the debate, supported by erudite Historical Knowledge, about dictatorial experiences, prejudices, sexism, privileges, powers, democratic conquests, inventions of new liberating sociability. The Historian's voice, with its documentary and interpretive care, can and should play a major role in this scenario.

Historians and History Teachers, we are workers. We have the privilege, in the world of work, of preserving the authorship of texts and classes, identified by our names, which highlights a personality that most other workers are denied in their daily lives, as if they could be reduced by employers and government agencies to the condition of disposable things.

We cannot delude ourselves with this apparent privilege: also in universities, some managers talk about a policy of discarding researchers and professors, not to mention elementary and secondary schools, which dismiss their professors at an accelerated pace in a capitalist policy of opting for the hand cheaper labor; Publishers also exclude certain Historians from their catalogs for political reasons.

More recently, in Brazil, we had the profession regulated, which means some guarantees (presence in certain fields of activity, salary levels) and social responsibilities. Just as it is inadmissible and criminal to see doctors prescribe innocuous or even harmful remedies for certain diseases, it is equally unacceptable for historians to endorse Negationism and other practices of social exclusion and domination over exploited sectors of the population.

Surviving as an employee in Capitalism is difficult for everyone, the workers' response to this is union organization and expanded political action. A great Brazilian writer, Lima Barreto (1881/1922), was excluded from important newspapers in his lifetime, either as a collaborator or as a simple mention of his writings, he paid to publish his books, even though he was a poor man, but he produced excellent works, made canonical posthumously.

Thinking, writing and teaching are our great weapons.

In these wars, it is worth remembering a Brazilian song by Cazuza (1958/1990), Denise Barroso (1956/1993) and Roberto Frejat (1962/…): “Our guns are in the streets / It's a miracle / They don't kill anyone”.[xv]

Which weapons? Beauty, Thought, Criticism.

For each Historian, now is yesterday and tomorrow is done in different ways.

The important Brazilian historian Sergio Buarque de Hollanda, when he retired in 1969 as a protest against the removal of other USP professors by the dictatorship of 1964/1985, used a weapon within his reach: solidarity with those who had been removed and rejection of the dictatorship . And he continued to think, write, lecture. Another important Brazilian historian, Nelson Werneck Sodré, was arrested during the same dictatorship for political reasons and suffered difficulties in publishing new texts, opted to collaborate with small neighborhood newspapers and released new books by publishers that agreed to do so, circumventing such barriers and scored more goals. Without forgetting the great Historian Marc Bloch, expelled from his chair at the Sorbonne by the Nazi invaders of France, since he was a Jew, who joined the Resistance to these genocides, was arrested and shot.

Our weapons, in these wars, are those of the beautiful critical thinking that History can generate, in dialogue with other fields of knowledge, including Arts, Songs, Poems and Cia.

such weapons “(…) they don’t kill anyone”, even contribute to saving the lives of many people, against denialism and other forms of extermination.

* Mark Silva is professor of methodology at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP.

This is a revised version of the Inaugural Lecture of the History Course at FFLCH-USP, on April 13, 2021.


[I] BUARQUE, Chico. "Welcome". Welcome – Chico Buarque – YouTube› watch.

[ii] BRECHT, Bertolt. “To those who will come after us”. Translation by Manuel Bandeira.

LOBO, Edu and GUARNIERI, Gianfrancesco. “I live in a time of war”. The best-known recording of this song is by Maria Bethânia: Eu Vivo Num Tempo De Guerra –

[iii] PLATO. Republic. Translation by Maria Helena da Rocha. São Paulo: April Culture, 1983.

[iv] LYRA, Carlos and MORAIS, Vinicius de. "Ash Wednesday March". The best-known recording of the song is by Nara Leão: Ash Wednesday March | Nara Leão – LETRAS › … › nara Leão

[v] ARISTOTLE. “Poetics”, in: Aristotle II. Translation by Eudoro de Souza. São Paulo: April Cultural, 1991, pp 245/376 (Os Pensadores).

BENJAMIN, Walter. “On the Concept of History”, in: Magic and technique, art and politics. Translation by Sérgio Paulo Rouanet. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985, pp 222/232.

[vi] HOMER. Iliad. Translation by Odorico Mendes. › eLibris › iliadap –.

BAUDELAIRE, Charles. The Flowers of Evil. Bilingual edition. Translation, introduction and notes by Ivan Junqueira. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1985.

[vii] DIEGUES, Cacá. When the carnival arrives. Rio de Janeiro: 1972. Producer: MAPA. Argument: Cacá Diegues, Chico Buarque and Hugo Carvana. Screenplay: Cacá Diegues. Photography: Dib Lufti. Cast: Ana Maria Magalhães, Antonio Pitanga, Chico Buarque, Hugo Carvana, Maria Bethânia, Nara Leão and others. 100 minutes. Colorful.

[viii] THUCIDIDES. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translation by Mário da Gama Kury. Brasília: EdUnB / São Paulo: Official Press of the State of São Paulo, 2001.

HERODOTUS. History. Translation by Mário da Gama Kury. Brasilia, 1988.

MACHIAVELLI, Nicholas. The prince. Translation by Lívio Xavier. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1987, pp 1/114 (Os Pensadores).

MARX, Carl. “The Eighteenth Brumaire”. In: The Eighteenth Brumaire and Letters to Kugelman. Translation by Leandro Konder and Renato Guimarães. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1997, pp 9/159.

[ix] SILVA, Mark. “Between the mirror and the window – Elementary Education and the Right to History”. History Project. São Paulo: PUC/SP, 54: 139/161, Sep/Dec 2015.

[X] LACOUTURE, Jean. “Immediate history”, in: LE GOFF, Jacques (org.). The New Story. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1998, pp 215/240.

[xi] Paul Veyne even states that History, as a unit, does not exist, we have Histories before us.

VEYNE, Paul.

[xii] CHESNEAUX, Jean. “The pitfalls of historic quadripartism”, in: Shall we make a tabula rasa of the past? About History and Historians. Translated by Marcos Silva. São Paulo: Ática, 1995, pp 92/99.

[xiii] BLOCH, Marc. “The idol of the origins”, in: Apologia da História or The craft of the historian. Translation by André Telles. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2002, pp 56/60.

Bloch lived between 1886 and 1944, he was shot by the Nazis after fighting in the French Resistance against these genocides and invaders of his country.

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

[xv] CAZUZA, BARROSO, Denise and FREJAT. “Milagres”, The best known recording of this song is: Cazuza and Elza Soares – Milagres (Official Clip) – YouTube › watch – Accessed on March 29, 2021.


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