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São Paulo now has its history in its hands

Portuguese colonial documentation referring to the Captaincy of São Paulo is handed over to the universities

In Portugal’s Overseas Historical Archives, the recovery has been concluded of all the documentation referring to the colonial administration of the Captaincy of São Paulo (which came to include Minas Gerais and the whole of the south of Brazil). Partly financed by FAPESP under the Barão do Rio Branco Recovery Project, coordinated by the Ministry of Culture, aimed at the recovery of some 300,000 documents referring to the colonial period of the country, which was divided into captaincies in those days -, this documentation is now available on microfilm and CD-ROMs, and will soon reach the Internet.

The material was handed over on September 25th last, in the Foundation’s auditorium, at the opening of the Recovery Project and Millennium Agenda Congress, which joined the Brazilians and the Portuguese involved in the research (please see the following article).

At the time, FAPESP’s acting president, Paulo Eduardo de Abreu Machado, stressed the “effort to compile this documentation”, and said that the project means “the recovery of even our citizenship, as we become acquainted with our roots”. He revealed that “the next challenge is to make this data available to the international community through the Internet”: the Recovery Project should be on SciEL site (Scientific Electronic Library on line), which, by  electronically formatting the main Brazilian scientific publications, ensures visibility for the whole national scientific production.

Historian José Jobson de Andrade Arruda, a member of FAPESP’s Senior Board and a coordinator of the São Paulo part of the Recovery Project, celebrated the conclusion of this phase, which resulted in over one thousand hitherto unknown documents (besides the 5,100 that were already known, but which were cataloged again), 11 CDs and 103 rolls of microfilms, now deposited in the State Archives and in the university libraries. He stressed that, with the storage of this great volume of primary sources – the most important in historiography – , the researchers are receiving “a guideline, a mapping out of the territory where history treads on”.

Fernando de Souza, the representative of Portugal’s Ministry of Science and Technology, revealed that “at the end of the year, we will be gathering opinions to define a policy for cooperation in common projects” between Portugal and Brazil.

Recovery of citizenship
After personally handing over the material of the São Paulo Recovery Project to the representatives of the universities, the Minister of Culture, Francisco Weffort, emphasized the participation of the Brazilian coordinators of the project, Ambassador Wladimir Murtinho and Professor Esther Bertoletti.  “If we had three important projects for the commemoration of Brazil’s 500 years and of Portugal’s Great Discoveries, this was one of them”, he said. He considered that the project “recovers the sense of citizenship with regard to Portugal”, and praised the “extraordinary cooperation of the Portuguese”.

Talking about the progress of the “enormous effort” made with the Recovery Project, and mentioning the states where it has been finished and those where it is still under way, Weffort stressed the idea of putting the documents within the reach of the public on the Internet: “This has enormous intellectual significance on the international level”. He made it known that the stage of recovering colonial documentation in the Dutch archives has already begun, and that this year the project will be moving towards the archives of Spain, Italy and France.  And he warned: “Be prepared: new requests for funding will come, because this will multiply research projects all over Brazil”.

According to José Fernando Perez, FAPESP’s scientific director, the Recovery Project, coordinated by the Ministry, like the Foundation’s Genome and Biota programs, are mobilizers, because they not only generate hefty collections of information, they also transform this data into knowledge.

During the reception that followed, Ambassador Murtinho revealed that two thirds of the project have been concluded, the documentation for the captaincy of Bahia (the seat of the General Government for two and a half centuries) is in the final stages, and that Rio de Janeiro (no less than the capital of the kingdom) would still call for some work, being the biggest. “We have already learned a lot”, says the ambassador, for whom the most important achievement is “the view of the whole”. He also points out the format of the research material provided by the project: “The CD-ROM has made access to the documents more democratic. Microfilm viewers are few, and computers are many”.

Guardian of the treasure
Maria Luísa Abrantes, from Portugal, points out, more than the easiness of access, the abundance of documents that she patiently helped to survey, as a director of the Overseas Historical Archives. To get an idea, she says, “50% of the Archive’s documents on all the former Portuguese colonies refer to Brazil”. And she adds that, if we consider that Brazilian independence, at the beginning of the 19th century, stopped the flow of documents, while the documents from the other colonies kept coming until the 70s, Brazil’s participation becomes even more important.

The Portuguese side has also profited. “The Archives”, says Maria Luísa, “are much in demand, and, to benefit those who researched into the 19th and 20th centuries, we did not have the time to organize everything”. Once it was stirred up by the presence of around 50 Brazilians, it was possible to make progress in the 15 kilometers (measured as the length of the shelves) of documentation that was still awaiting proper organization.  As to Brazil, says Maria Luísa, “we succeeded in organizing the whole of the documentation”.