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Centenarian and reinvigorated

São Paulo Historical and Geographic Institute completes 110 years with renewal

The São Paulo Historical and Geographic Institute (IHGSP) is arriving at its 110th year with an excellent life expectancy. The owner of unique documents that recount and illustrate the history of São Paulo with an enormous wealth, in recent times its collection was on the verge of total abandonment, without the maintenance necessary for its preservation and with extremely little security.The institute was born on the initiative of physician Domingos José Nogueira Jaguaribe Filho, engineer Antônio de Toledo Pisa and lawyer Estevão Leão Bourroul, in 1894. The three published an announcement in the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper in which they invited “all men of letters” of the capital to a meeting at the Law School of São Francisco square, to deal with the creation of the IHGSP. Sixty six personalities heeded the invitations and became founders of the enterprise, together with the three pioneers.

The entity’s mission, according to article 1 of its bylaws, is to “promote the study and the development of history and geography of Brazil and, in particular, of the state of São Paulo as well as to occupy itself with literary, scientific, artistic and industrial issues and subjects that might interest the country from any point of view”. The people of São Paulo were not pioneers. The Brazilian Historical and Geographic Institute was the first to be founded, in 1838, on the initiative of Dom Pedro II, inspired on the Institut Historique, of Paris (of 1834). Those in Pernambuco (1862), Alagoas (1869) and Ceará (1887) came next – the one in Bahia is also from 1894. Today, this kind of institution has become common in all the main cities of the country, as depositaries of documents that do not always find shelter in the municipal bodies. They are also a meeting point for scientific and literary societies.

In São Paulo, for example, back in 1898, Euclides da Cunha (one of the members of the IHGSP) gave a public reading of his work Climatologia dos Sertões da Bahia – Climatology in the backlands of Bahia. This was a presentation of a part of Os sertões [Rebellion in the backlands], launched in book format four years afterwards.

Little by little, the institute transformed itself into the guardian of part of the memory of São Paulo and of the nation, due to the donations of personal archives and libraries. The collection holds documentation from the painter Benedito Calixto, about the private life of former president Washington Luís, subjects relating to the history of cities from the interior and from the coast of São Paulo, a collection of letter from the leaders of the Revolution of 1924, music albums with hymns, marches, concertos and opera excerpts from maestro Alexandre Levy and dozens of other collections.

There are rare pieces from the Imperial Navy in the Paraguay War, objects that belonged to Santos Dumont, notes and letters from Dom Pedro II, Princess Isabel and Count d’Eu. The room dedicated to the Constitutionalist Revolution of 32 has a great variety of original items from that period. This will be the first sector to be revitalized. Installed today on the fourth floor of the IHGSP’s main building, the collection is held under precarious conditions, and there needs to be refurbishment and work by researchers to reorganize the material and to put it in a condition to be consulted, without the risk of even further deterioration of the rare documents. The family of José Celestino Bourroul, a member of the institute who died recently, donated his library with over 4,000 books about the Revolution of 32.

“Furthermore, the family offered to carry out the refurbishment for the books to be properly installed, along with the collection already existing at the institute”, explains Nelly Martins Ferreira Candeias, the institute’s president since 2002, one of those responsible for bringing fresh air to the institution, and the first woman to preside it. The São Paulo Philately Federation is to install there its Philatelic Memory Center, with part of the history of Brazilian communication. Furthermore, the institute is getting new members, with diversified interests.

“We invited researchers, writers and various personalities to reinvigorate the institution”, Nelly says. Amongst them are Jorge Caldeira, the author of Mauá – O empresário do Império [Mauá – The entrepreneur of the Empire], who now collaborates with the institute, Adriana Florence, a researcher and plastic artist descended from naturalist and draftsman Hercule Florence, Maria Adelaide do Amaral and Alcides Nogueira, writers and authors of the television miniseries Just one heart. “With the rebirth of the institute, we want to attract students from the colleges and schools in the downtown São Paulo and turn it into an irradiator of knowledge.”