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The rebirth of the Patriarch

A project publishes, on-line, documents, books and images brought together about José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva

ASSEMBLÉIA LEGISLATIVA DO RIO DE JANEIROBonifácio designing the Brazilian flag (painting by Eduardo Sá): various races, one only countryASSEMBLÉIA LEGISLATIVA DO RIO DE JANEIRO

José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva is not resting in peace. Almost 170 years after his death, there is a lot to know about who was this crucial personality of the Empire and an indispensable player for Independence. This is only to speak of the best known part of his life.

If his long years as a scientist, administrator, thinker, poet and politician in other countries as well as Brazil are computed, it would be a case for almost giving up seriously researching the Patriarch of Independence. “This is an enormous problem for the Brazilian researcher: José Bonifácio spent 40 of his 70 years abroad”, says Jorge Caldeira, a doctorate in social science and a journalist. “To bring together information about him is also a drama in Brazil, where all of the material is very fragmented.”

Caldeira has founded and directs the José Bonifácio Project: the complete work, an ambitious study of the union of all of that produced by Andrada e Silva and the documents that have any bearing upon him. The objective is to photograph documents, manuscripts and images and make them available for consultation on the website:

Today the site has the equivalent of 35 books, each of 300 pages, which classifies it as the largest collection about José Bonifácio (1763-1838) brought together in Brazil. Caldeira began to think about the project when he organized the collection Formadores do Brasil for the Editora 34. “I discovered that the most recent biography about him had been published in 1943 by Otávio Tarquínio de Souza”, he says. The difficulty in finding available material had turned whatever master’s degree or doctorate very complicated and expensive, which explains the small number of studies specific to Bonifácio.

Starting from this verification, Caldeira believed that he could use one of the internet properties, universality, to divulge on a site, for free, the information that had still not been brought together. All of the images and documents found here or abroad are photographed and made available on the site. In order to transform this idea into reality, Caldeira managed to gain sponsorship from Cosipa and Rio Negro, companies in the Usiminas group, by means of the Rounet Law. He formed a Board of Directors with competent names from history and Brazilian political science: Boris Fausto, Alberto da Costa e Silva, Celso Lafer, José Murilo de Carvalho and Esther Caldas Bertoletti. “They’re the ones who indicated where the items about and pertaining to Bonifácio were located”, he explains. In order to deal with the project on a day to day basis, there is a team that has already reached 27 historians, among graduates and doctorates. A technical team adapts the tools existing on the internet to the practice of historical research and the needs of the internet users. What is already on the air today is the result of work by 60 people.

On these two pages there are two good examples of what is found in the on-line collection. One is the decree of 3rd of June 1822 in which Bonifácio calls together the Constitutional Assembly of Brazil, laid down around three months before the 7th of September – is the first sign of the preparations for the Proclamation of Independence. Another is the Letter of Clemency conceded to him by Dom João VI, in 1820, when he received the title of Royal Counselor. Both are available on the website.

The project began in 2005 and should go on until 2008 – there still exist thousands of pieces of information to be found and transported to the virtual media. Up until now R$2 million have been consumed. And there is still the need to visit Paris, Lisbon, Coimbra and Freiberg where Bonifácio lived, and archives and libraries in Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Hungry where he spent time as a student of mineralogy or worked. One characteristic of the project is that it allows for wide research not only about the Patriarch, but also about the Empire or any of the other important personalities that had lived with him, such as Dom Pedro I. The scholar Bonifácio would be very happy with such information.