Katie Holt, Assistant Professor of History, The College of Wooster

“Teaching Brazilian Social History with a Bahian Household Census: Santiago do Iguape, Bahia 1835”

LASA 2007 Workshop: Teaching the Latin American 19th Century

All too frequently, professors teaching the modern half of Latin American survey courses leap from the wars of independence (1810-24) to the consolidation of modern nations at the end of the nineteenth century, only paying cursory attention to the “chaotic” events that define the rest of the century. This is in part because of the time constraints faced by all of us as we organize a survey course, but also because of the pedagogical obstacles the era presents: the major historical topics of the period, from the daily lives of slaves and indigenous peasants and the questions of emerging identity that arise with the evolution of the nation state, to the debates over overcoming “colonial legacies” and who will rule these “imagined communities” are thought of as less accessible to modern students. Some of these questions of accessibility are repeated in course evaluations by the students themselves, who for a variety of reasons feel a greater connection to and empathy for twentieth-century peoples and historical events. What’s more, there is always the question of how to fit Brazil’s comparatively peaceful transition to independence and political consolidation into the larger continental narrative. The dearth of primary and secondary sources available in English further complicates matters.

This tendency to rush through the nineteenth century is too bad because this was a historical moment when debates crucial to our understanding of modern Latin America were consolidated. Students can gain a more sophisticated grasp of the questions of the nature of popular governance and access to the full rights of citizenship when they are presented in a fuller historical context. As a Brazilianist, it is perhaps not surprising that I want to argue for the importance of not omitting Brazil’s continuation under monarchical rule within our treatment of political consolidation. Despite Brazil’s relatively stable transition, this is nonetheless a time when social and economic relationships established during the colonial period were in flux. Brazil can be used to show how local elites were more cohesive – or at least, extremely conscious of the potential costs of open armed conflicts – in a slave society.

In this presentation, I’d like to addresses these challenges and suggests a few pedagogical techniques for making the social history of ordinary Brazilians, and the Brazilian state’s anxieties over governing a highly heterogeneous society, more accessible to students. I want to share with you an excerpt from an 1835 household census as a window into what a close study of a parish where large sugar plantations dominated the social and economic structure can reveal about these questions. Now the idea of presenting students with such an apparently dry source may appear counterintuitive when the goal is increased student engagement with the mid-century. However, once students let down their guards, they are drawn in by the numerous historical questions they can analyze using this type of source. In addition to a document record of the contradictions of participatory democracy, students can also explore the structure of families, the importance placed on racial categories, ideas of gender, and the structure of a society dominated by large sugar plantations.

Learning goals:

My goals when I teach this document include:

1. Students acquiring an understanding of the diversities of cultures and the varieties of historical experience.

2. Students analyzing the point of view, bias, and intent of primary sources.

3. Students formulating historical questions about the sources.

4. Students making more sophisticated links between Brazilian history and that of the rest of the region.

5. Students placing the debates that shape 20th century Latin American history into a deeper historical perspective.

6. Students communicating the results of their analysis to their wider peer cohort.

In short, this lesson centers on getting students to engage in active learning by putting primary sources in their hands and getting them to analyze them as historians, drawing links between the individual source and the wider historical debates of the period.

Analyzing the 1835 Santiago do Iguape, Bahia Household Census

The household census for Santiago do Iguape, Bahia is a rich source and has been employed by historians like B.J. Barickman, but question is how to make it accessible to students. I like to start with an overview of the economic and social history of Santiago do Iguape, then give them some information about why the census was created and what information it contains. I then divide them into small groups to critically analyze the census, and present their conclusions to the class.

Background Information about Santiago do Iguape:

The parish of Santiago do Iguape is located in the heart of the sugar producing Bahian Recôncavo. This was one of the most intensive sites for Brazilian plantation agriculture, and in fact has been the site of ongoing sugar production since the 16th century. By 1835, a majority of the parish’s population (53.7%) was enslaved, 8.1% branco (or European descent), 27.6% free or freed pardo (of both European and African descent), and 10.7% free or freed preto (African descent). The high mortality rate on sugar plantations meant that most of Santiago do Igaupe’s slaves were African born.

Although slaves comprised the majority of the local population, slaveholding was extremely concentrated: in 1835, only 21.6 percent of Iguape heads of households owned slaves. A further 15.2 percent of households contained agregados, free dependents linked to landholders by ties of patronage and protection, coercion and necessity.

Censuses as Historical Documents:

Although a census is by nature formulaic, the infinite variations in the categorization of information and the ways in which individuals are distilled to their most “important” characteristics are deeply personal. One of my first tasks is getting student to think about how censuses are a reflection of both the organization that designed and paid for the census, the individual census taker, and the wider society’s priorities. Why did the Brazilian state order the compilation of this enormous volume of information – a bureaucratic task requiring considerable effort and expense – in the 1830s? How does a census serve the needs of the newly consolidated Brazilian state?

If household is the basis of society, what do they really look like?

Created by local justices-of-the-peace by request of the provincial governments, these documents recreate households by parish, identifying the name, relationship to the head of household, “qualidade,” age, marital status, civil status (free, freed, or slave), place of birth, and occupation of all the individuals united in a fogo, literarily hearth, or household. Qualidade, the “quality” or status of an individual, represented a combined assessment of color, social position, and economic status.

Because they were created by hundreds of individual inspectors, the level of detail varies greatly. In general, the most complete information is given for the household head; occupations, for example, are often omitted for adult sons, women, and slaves, suggesting a conflation between “occupation” and categories that demonstrate household member’s subservient relationship with the household head. Some inspectors divided slaves into family units, indicating, as in the excerpt I give students that in Ignacio Xavier Barradas’s household (#2) his daughter’s Brazilian-born slave Luiza had five children ranging from 4 months to sixteen years of age living with her; other entries in this same census (like the entry for the Brandão Sugar mill, houshold 115) listed all of the adult male slaves ranked by age, followed by the female slaves paired with children with no explicit indication of kinship.

In Santiago do Iguape, clear distinctions are made between freed slaves and those born free.

The Census and Racial Categories:

We tell them again and again that race is a social construction, but any exercise that highlights a society with conceptions of race different than their own makes this abstract notion come to life. I think that keeping the terms for skin color in Portuguese (branco for people of European appearance, preto for people with African appearance and pardo for lighter-skinned people of African descent) help keep them from assuming they “know” what these labels mean. Any degree of separation from the concept of race in the twenty-first century U.S. is helpful. I think that keeping the Portuguese terms can also get them to think about why officials in 19th century Brazil are so interested in cataloging racial categories. Why is this information important to record? What does it explain? It also allows me to tap into recent reconsiderations of the transition from a system of identity based on differentiating Portuguese from Brazilians to highlighting diversity native-born Brazilians. Who does it benefit to keep these classifications distinct?

Small Group Exercise:

After I present the background information about Santiago do Iguape, and we facilitate a class wide discussion of the national priorities revealed by design and creation of the census, I divide them into small groups to analyze a census excerpt. I ask each group to consider a particular theme in their analysis: using this document, what can be revealed about social relationships between free and enslaved individuals, the significance of racial classifications, labor, family composition, the role of religion, gender, and marriage. After working in small groups for about twenty minutes, they then present their findings to the class.

After the group reports, I ask them to consider what kinds of sources they’d need to move forward with their research What historical questions remain for them? What kinds of documents might let them get at their interests? This encourages them to think about how historians use primary sources to build a larger interpretive argument.

At the end of the class session, we return to our initial questions about participatory democracy, and the question about why the newly independent Brazilian state might devote resources to the census. Students emerge from their work with a more critical eye for hierarchies of power and their functions, as well as a greater appreciation of the relationship between the social and political experiences of 19th century Latin Americans and their own lives.

Concluding Remarks:

Like my colleagues on this panel, I hope that sharing these materials and approaches will also be useful courses with wider geographic focuses, more fully integrating Latin American history within that of the age of revolution, and the abolition struggle that consumed the Americas throughout the century. I think that by emphasizing both the lived experiences of Brazilians and Africans as revealed in the census, and the Brazilian state’s anxieties over the consolidation of its rule and the contradictions of political liberalism in a slave society, this material is more accessible to students.

Works Cited:

Barickman, B. J. “Reading the 1835 Parish Censuses from Bahia: Citizenship, Kinship, Slavery, and Household in Early Nineteenth-Century Brazil.” The Americas 59 (2003): 287-324.

Paiva, Clotilde Andrade, and Luiz Arnaut. “Fontes para o estudo de Minas oitocentista: listas normativas.” In V Seminário sobre a Economia Mineira, Anais, 85-106. Belo Horizonte: CEDEPLAR, 1990.