Imprimir Republish

international relations

The Empire of innovation

Science hidden in the Itamaraty archives

Fulviusbsas / Wikimedia Commons Formal room in the Itamaraty Palace in Rio de JaneiroFulviusbsas / Wikimedia Commons

There is nothing more modern and up-to-date than the discussion on technological innovation and R&D as a means of diminishing Brazil’s external dependence and putting it on an equal footing with the major developed nations. Oddly enough, as a recent study reveals, there is also nothing older than thinking about such issues. In Inovações tecnológicas e transferências tecnocientíficas: a experiência do Império brasileiro [Technological innovations and techno-scientific transfers: the experience of the Brazilian Empire], the researchers Sabrina Marques Parracho Sant?Anna and Rafael de Almeida Daltro Bosisio, based on a project of the CHDD (Center for Diplomatic History and Documentation) conducted in the archives of Itamaraty [the Brazilian Foreign Ministry], discovered documents that reveal the activity of the Brazilian State and of its diplomatic agents, from 1822 to 1889, in the pursuit of technological innovation and science as a means of creating a nation, civilizing Brazil and putting the young country in sync with the European territories which served as an example for the First and the Second Reigns.

“The Foreign Ministry’s actions designed to transfer technology, by moving people, goods and information, were very important as an attempt to create conditions for the establishment and maintenance of the imperial state, aiming at its admission to the group of civilized nations and reducing the gap that, it was believed, separated the nation from that group. While alternately wanting to get closer to Europe or seeking a civilization suitable for the tropics (a “possible” Europe), a national identity was constructed based on territory and a sense of exclusion,- the researchers explain. According to Sabrina, the research?s coordinator, “the discussion on the formation of the idea of a nation in Brazil is protracted and controversial, but the material indicates that multiple social actors actually engaged in building elements to distinguish the metropolis, based on overcoming the stigma of a wilderness, meanwhile turning themselves into the protagonists of a state that was independent, by constructing an image of culture and civilization within the specificity of the tropics.”

Reproduction from the book O Brasil by Marc Ferrez Planting coffee: consuls engaged in shipping seedsReproduction from the book O Brasil by Marc Ferrez

The universe of the research material comprised the documentation available at the Historical Archive of Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. In total, 297 packets of documents were read and about 5,500 documents were surveyed and catalogued, which resulted in selecting and bringing together the 2,621 documents, summarized and classified by topic, to be found in the catalog, which is now ready. No date has been set for it to be published, despite the amount of valuable research information it contains. The documents have a precise location in the archives. “The role of the Foreign Ministry as a mediator of the relations between Brazil and other countries, in an attempt to overcome inequalities and make the country join the group of nations considered civilized, emphasized the circulation of science and technology that was directly connected with movement of bringing into the country the knowledge available elsewhere in the world. The process sought to identify in such transfers the foundation for building a nation aligned with its peers,” the researchers note.

One of the earliest and most constant concerns was the education of the workforce, either through importing jobs to be done in Brazil, or by sending qualified personnel abroad to improve their skills. “The large flow of letters and orders on public education in the pursuit of educational methods and in the purchase of books and equipment for schools stands out. The materials range from guides for the introduction of gymnastics classes to various books on the development of specialized courses, reflecting a thirst for civilization. The documents indicate efforts to make knowledge widespread that are comparable with European models and they also reflect a desire to establish an elite to control the state and of forging a population capable of building the nation,” the researchers write. At the expense of widespread education, however, courses for the training of skilled labor appear to have been emphasized. It was no coincidence that there was a concern about creating libraries for law courses in Olinda and São Paulo: from 1822 to 1841, over one third of the documents concern this subject. After all, this course held pride of place in shaping the national state and was of concern to the ruling elite.

“The fact is revealing in that it laid the path for a politically independent state. It therefore became inconsistent to draw this knowledge from the University of Coimbra, as had previously been the case. The country needed to begin training its own graduates. Doctors, engineers, technicians and the military government technicians would continue to be sent abroad to complete their education. These professionals were to become pensioners of the state.” Part of the catalog addresses grants for foreign travel for training purposes, since it was not unusual during the Empire to send Brazilian students abroad for qualification and to train an elite capable of meeting the needs for technical personnel to run the country. The grants were meant to solve short-term problems identified by the Empire and to train personnel who, besides the main purpose of their trip, should keep their eyes open to learning in the world. “The commissioned travels and study trips, often requiring half-yearly reports were, in fact, training,” the researchers say.

However, gradually, commissioned travel dictated by the interests of the state gained prominence vs. long study trips. “As from 1827, the government started treating individual instruction abroad as something that was of interest to the student himself and stopped funding full training periods abroad, leaving the titles of doctor or bachelor to be acquired at the expense of the wealthy imperial elite. The funding of educational travel was to become limited to what we would now call specialization courses, covering only those areas that were of immediate interest to the national state.” Sometimes seen as a means of individual social ascension and sometimes as an instrument fundamental to the civilization of the Empire, educational policy was created in a movement to standardize access to civilizing qualifications in the hinterland of the country and to develop a technical elite to fulfill specific purposes of the state bureaucracy. “Thus, the decline of study trips in favor of learning trips connected with commissioned positions appears to have been concomitant with the processes of internalizing professional training and  pursuing more widespread access to primary and secondary education.”

Reproduction from the book O Brasil by Marc Ferrez Pedro II: patronReproduction from the book O Brasil by Marc Ferrez

The exception, after 1841, involved pensions for students of fine arts, given that the creation of a body of professionals trained abroad with universal values was urgent by the time Pedro II began building his image as a patron and man of the arts and when, in the field of imagery, painters, musicians and architects seem to have helped forge a sense of national belonging. “Thus, if engineering and medicine, agriculture and other branches of knowledge were presented as a fundamental focus of the state, fluctuating between training personnel abroad and training them within the country, law and the fine arts appear here as borderline cases: the former, a larger symbol of what should be exclusively national, the administrative format of the State that was being built; the latter, a symbol of what should have been based on foreign models, in a universal and civilized form, to align the nation with the canons of the international standards of beauty.”

Between 1822 and 1834, the Foreign Ministry launched its earliest efforts to promote the exchange of plants and seeds with other areas of the world, acting mainly as an intermediary in the exchanges between agriculture-related Brazilians and their counterparts abroad. “Looking at the procedure for sending seeds, everything seems to point to the emergence of the earliest state efforts to implement agricultural innovation by diversifying production and contributing to domestic progress, given that the farming of crops for export was regarded as a source of civilization,” the researchers say. Categories such as routine, laziness and lack of culture were used to designate the state of the country’s agricultural production, while the techniques drawn from the advanced nations were seen as innovations that were needed to eliminate this backwardness. Initially, up until 1834, the ministry played a secondary role in the purchase and shipment of seeds, but gradually it became active through its diplomatic corps, which began to participate actively in obtaining scientific information and in the purchase and shipment of new species. “A clear change in the behavior of the Brazilian representatives abroad can be seen and several letters were dispatched describing new species that were useful for the development of domestic agriculture. Seeds and seedlings were sent with detailed information on planting, appropriate soil, the right time for cultivation and harvesting, and the climate zone suitable for each species. The plants began to be described by their scientific names and according to the Linnaeus classification.”

“Consuls and other diplomatic agents began to engage personally in the consignments of seeds, even without any formal request from the imperial government. Often, the diplomats themselves took the initiative to select and send scientific information that might further the acclimation of new species and the rationalization of agriculture,” the researchers evaluate. Agents hired to handle immigration issues were also involved in doing work that might further the development of the country’s industry and trade, and focused on the acquisition and shipment of seeds and plants such as cotton, tobacco, coffee, mulberry, ash, cinchona, guaco, verbena, oak, vanilla, cinnamon, pine, indigo, saffron, and a host of other seeds that could be acclimated to be useful in building the imperial nation-state. “In addition to sending seeds and seedlings, a growing exchange of publications between Brazilian scientific institutions and their counterparts overseas came into being. Brazilian diplomats themselves selected and sent papers that might aid the acclimation of new species and the rationalization of agriculture,” they tell us. “In their letters and correspondence, there were reports about the experiments of contemporary scientists and the new machines used for certain crops; in short, news about the agricultural technology of the time. After the seeds had been sent, these agents asked for results of such planting so that empirical observation might guide them when it came to new shipments.”

Reproduction from Barão do Rio Branco - Uma biografia fotográficaBrazil at the International Exposition of St. PetersburgReproduction from Barão do Rio Branco - Uma biografia fotográfica

During a third period, between 1865 and 1889, there was a slowdown in the trading activity of inputs and an increase in the participation of the Brazilian government in exhibitions throughout the world, which turned Brazil into a supplier of exotic products that were useful for international trade. From 1870 onwards, one can observe in the documentation, according to the researchers, an increase in other governments’ requests for seeds and seedlings native to the country, such as palm, carnauba, tayuya vine, and textile fibers, as well as for species that had been improved in the country, such as coffee, tobacco and sugarcane. “With the emphasis on exhibitions, seed exchanges started to be handled, once again, by scientific institutions that, though linked to the government, gained autonomy,” say the researchers. The few species that arrived in Brazil did not come, as before, with information on their cultivation and planting, but in keeping with the times, with trade statistics and notes about their profitability. This was the case of coffee, given that from 1876 to 1877, samples of Brazilian coffee had been shipped to France for analysis of the product and improvement of its quality in order to increase the selling price abroad. “Throughout the nineteenth century, alongside the construction of the Brazilian state, an export-oriented agricultural policy was designed. Thus, the administration of agriculture by the government set aside the natural sciences such as botany, chemistry and geology, resorting instead to economics as a means of developing this agricultural activity. This new paradigm began to bring together the dissemination of science previously undertaken by diplomatic agents.”

Throughout the period studied, there were many diplomats who engaged in individual initiatives, besides complying with state requests. There was also receptiveness to the numerous offers made abroad for technological innovations that might be of use in connection with the wish to civilize the empire, proof of the importance of the ministry in the fulfillment of the “civilizing task” that had been indirectly delegated to it by the State. “It is interesting to see that the role of the Foreign Ministry as a mediator of relations between Brazil and other States forged self-images and images of the others that sought to overcome inequalities and make the country join the group of nations perceived as civilized. The diagnoses of a lack of civilization and of territorial power were now overtaken by the diagnosis of an inadequate state apparatus, which defined, in that period, a national identity and the myth of origin: a cosmogony indefinitely impacting a state that was eternally being formed,” the researchers add. A task for science, through diplomacy.

Documents of nerves and blood
CHDD publicizes one of the country’s largest diplomatic archives 

Reproduction from Barão do Rio Branco - a photographic biography “Documents are a printout of history and of its measure. They are the blood and nerves of history.” It was with this vision that, in the year 2000, Ambassador Alvaro da Costa Franco became director of the Center for History and Diplomatic Documentation (CHDD). “It wasn’t my primary concern at first and the center at that time existed only on paper. However, I’m very involved in the conservation program of the collection of the Historical Archives of the Foreign Ministry (AHI) and could sense the wealth of what was here. I could also see that there was much to be done here. I became the director to be able to lend a hand to the Foreign Ministry, since the main function there, after all, is to engage in diplomacy rather than to conserve documents. They needed someone to do this over here,” says Costa Franco. The ambassador had just retired and was then heading the Alexandre Gusmão Foundation / MRE, to which CHDD is connected. For a year, he headed a theoretical organization that analyzed papers, until in 2001 the center came into being officially at the Itamaraty Palace, in the same corridor as AHI, one of the richest collections on Brazilian diplomatic history. Three miles of documents with all the diplomatic correspondence of the ministry and varied documentation, from before 1822 until 1960, when Brasília was inaugurated. The newer part of the archives was taken there. “The CHDD exists to encourage research into the history of the international relations and diplomacy of Brazil and it creates and disseminates research tools, publishes books on diplomatic history, and conducts research and exhibitions on this subject.”

The center has a young and modest team: there are nine college interns plus two high-school interns, a history researcher, a manager and two archivists. “As there was nothing before, I have acheived something. However, there were times when the sponsorships were dropping and this wasn´t an activity that generated wide publicity. I decided then to ensure dissemination to historians and to those interested in the field through the Cadernos do CHDD [CHDD Notebooks] in order to create something that was solid, based on lasting commitment,” says the ambassador. Cadernos do CHDD is a magazine, “almost a book”, with some 400 pages, released every six months. It was first launched in 2002 and is now in its fifteenth issue. It focuses on publishing documents and studies on the history of international relations. In this publication, one can find material ranging from circulars from the Foreign Ministry in the controversial years of 1930 to 1939 and the original texts of the Baron of Rio Branco, writing under a pseudonym in his youth, to such gems as the memoires of the diplomat Sérgio Teixeira de Macedo, recollecting his privileged childhood, which nevertheless did not enable him to escape from the most miserable education. The magazine is distributed free to universities, libraries, academic organizations, and geographical institutes, among others institutions, and it can also be read online at the site “By publishing on the Internet, we have made a big impact; suffice it to recall that we should be reaching the roughly 20 thousand international relations students that exist in the country today,” recalled the diplomat. The crucial detail is that the entire edition is produced by the same young team from the center, although printing is under the charge of Funag, the Alexandre Gusmão Foundation in Brasilia. “Little by little, the interns and I turned ourselves into editors in order to cover the material. After all, these are old texts that require a lot of correcting and careful reading in order to get to the end impeccably. The issues are modest, but they have a fair amount of repercussion in the community, because they reach an audience that is interested in the history of international relations directly,” he states. “Furthermore, we also produced several editions organized by university professors, who propose topics and work together with the center, an example of the CHDD’s potential for linking the Foreign Ministry and universities.” Besides the magazine, the CHDD also has published over 20 books, some of which have more than one volume.

ReproductionThe CHDD has also conducted research on image and diplomacy since the Second Empire and surveyed a large number of images from the illustrated magazines published in Rio de Janeiro during the Empire and during the term of the Baron of Rio Branco, who was a voracious collector of newspaper clippings, which encompassed cartoons, including those of himself. Those that portray the Baron are being catalogued, with a view to their publication, possibly in 2012, the centennial of his death. In 2000, the center also organized the exhibition “The Baron and caricature,” shown in Brasilia, Curitiba, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo, and that this year should be taken to Manaus. The center’s future projects include the publication of the correspondence between Domicio Gama and Rio Branco, the special mission of the Viscount of Rio Branco to Prata, the correspondence of Nabuco from Washington, the Havana Conference, and the correspondence of Oliveira Lima from Tokyo, among other materials. Also awaiting publication, there is a research study, Technological innovations and techno-scientific transfers: the experience of the Brazilian Empire.

“Everything about the intellectual life of Brazil vis-a-vis foreign countries can be studied in these files, in addition to diplomatic and political relations,” says Costa Franco. “A diplomat has a career that can include many professions and thanks to this work at the center I had contact and worked with historians, teachers, and students and became a little like them. In part, I think I got what I wanted, but there is still much to be done,” he says. “Oral history, for example, is something we must do urgently to collect the testimonies of former diplomats. We should also organize seminars and provide awards for work,” he laments. According to the ambassador, however, it will take more time and money. “How can one produce the history of international relations if we are only working on one part? What we ended up developing is a one-sided view here because of the lack of opportunity to go out and see what other archives hold on Brazil. For example: we have strong clues indicating that in the Prata region there was a notion that the Brazilian Empire was weak because of separatism and of slavery. In other words, if we were attacked from the south there would soon be a separatist movement along with a slave uprising and, presto, the Brazilian monarchy would topple over, all of which would explain the Paraguayan aggression. This, however, dictates that we consult more archives in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, right?” According to him, it is necessary to establish scholarships so that foreign archives can be visited. “This is something I should have liked to have done during my term at the head of CHDD, which is now coming to an end, in order to learn the other side’s point of view,” he says. “Still, I think I managed to leave my message with the young people at the center, namely, that we have a commitment to the highest possible intellectual honesty and great respect for the documents.” Which, after all, are made of nerves and blood.