Author Archives: Abby Blinka

What I learned:

The three most important things I learned, or continued to learn, throughout this semester are an increased understanding of Brazilian history and culture, the limits of isolated scholarship, and the importance of collaborative work. I came into this class with an extremely limited understanding of Brazil. As a student with a research focus in the United States, finally taking a history course neither in the U.S. nor Europe broadened my knowledge of Brazil specifically, but also increased my interest in non-U.S. topics generally. Throughout the class, we referenced multiple forms of academic writing from different fields. This was especially apparent in the book presentations whose authors ranged everywhere from political scientists, to sociologists, anthropologists, and historians. The methods and questions of each discipline were often critiqued by scholars of similar topics or locations, but different fields. For example, in my book Zero Hunger, an ethnography by an anthropologist, one of the main critiques was that the author failed to account for writings in Brazilian labor history. This critique was made by a historian. My critique of the author was that the evidence to ‘prove’ his claim that certain components of these social programs worked was insufficient as he used primarily anecdotal evidence rather than any statistically significant data. However, that data could not provide the detailed personal accounts that drive this author’s argument. The books in this class emphasized the benefits as well as the limitations of different disciplines and highlighted the importance of consulting multiple fields for different types of information. Collaborative work was also critical in this class. Whether it was the group book project, peer editing, or Wikipedia this class developed the idea that scholarship only improves with input and feedback from multiple people.

IS Symposium

Happy Symposium Day!
I attended Danica’s poster presentation on the effects of LGBTQIA+ legislators on public perceptions of same-sex rights. Her results show that while all aspects of an individual’s identity factor into levels of approval for same-sex rights, having an out LGBTQIA+ member of the legislature does have an additional impact on public perception. She portrayed the Latin American countries in her study as significantly more progressive on the issue of same-sex rights than what many US and European focused scholars/publics might expect.
I also attended Sarah Vonck’s G&IS/Spanish poster presentation on the connection between Ecuadorian environmental policy and the treatment of Ecuador’s indigenous population. Her project emphasized the tension between the demands of political structures and humanitarian concerns of indigenous populations. In discussing part of her data, Sarah focused on her interpretation of primary reports of oil extraction, arguing it is skewed lower than the numbers suggest as the Ecuadorian government wanted to appear to be making environmental progress regardless of the real state of extraction.

Wasteland Discussion Questions

(1) How do class distinctions between Vik Muniz and the pickers manifest in the film? To what extent does Vik attempt to relate to the pickers and/or create divisions between them?
Preliminary Response: While Muniz comes from a background of poverty, he had opportunities that many of the people in this film never did. The film tries to connect Muniz to the pickers through shared backgrounds and his desire to ‘give back.’ However Muniz distances himself from the pickers spatially, by standing and directing their labor from a platform, and through a rather condescending manner of speaking both about and to them.

(2) Is art an activist medium? That is, is art a useful tool to bring about social or political change? If so, to what degree and if not, why?
Preliminary Response: Art can assist in activism and awareness building, but does not function by itself. That is, art itself does not bring about social change, but it can contribute to an activist cause. The product’s suitability for use in activist pursuits depend on factors such as funding, sales, who gets credit for the art, labor, and power dynamics within the creative process, as they all influence the art’s social, political, and economic implications. Due to the power dynamics related to class and labor in the art this film highlights, I am hesitant to include Muniz’s work in any category more engaged than awareness building.

Class Notes, April 5

Assignment Reminders:

Due Friday, April 6: Post a complete draft of your iMovie script/storyboard to Moodle by noon. Be sure to upload your document as a pdf. If you finish the draft and have questions for reviewers, include that information at the top of the script. Please be sure to post on time!

Due Monday, April 9: Review two of your peer’s scripts and post comments on each by noon.

Class Announcements:

  1. Sunday 7pm in Scheide: Pop Opera performance (25-30 min) Spoon is catering the reception afterwards
  2. Saturday 3:30-5:30: Pride Fest in Babcock formal lounge, there will be a food and performers
  3. WGSS Edit-a-thon next Thursday

Historical Question of the Day:

How do historians use popular culture and artistic production to better understand a political moment?

Presentations and Class Discussion:

Class began today with a Brazil history and culture blog presentation about soccer and politics. The presentation was based on an ESPN article which focused on the political implications for low numbers of Brazilian players on the 2018 World Cup team. This article brought up discussions in class on playing style, the use of sport as a tool for social and political control, modernization, money, and notoriety. Class continued with a presentation on Andrew J. Kirkendall’s book, Paulo Freire & the Cold War Politics of Literacy (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010). The book, broadly speaking, is about how literacy was an important political issue during the Cold War. It focused on Paulo Freire’s role in literacy programs in Central America with themes on consciousness raising (the need to teach political awareness) and the influence of the Cold War. Professor Holt expanded on the presentation by introducing Freire’s work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This opened up discussion on the idea that a student should have ownership of what they learn as a vehicle for empowerment and links from literacy to suffrage. For the rest of class, Marina presented her IS on women’s political activism and Brazilians’ political expression through gender. The presentation began with the 1964 Military Coup, focusing on civilian support by Catholic, white, and middle-class women who were charged with protecting the country’s morals and values. This theme of protection continues after the establishment of the regime and AI-5 in the creation of martyr (Edson Luis) and Mother Courage to facilitate maternalist arguments for political amnesty. The mentality here follows the logic of “my child could get swept up in this,” and creates a political image of a woman trying to save her country by saving her son. The argument is ultimately that these women, while political activists, were not feminist because of the emphasis on highly masculine qualities. This presentation led to a discussion on populism and anxiety about who is being represented in the political sphere.

Application of the Readings:

Marina’s presentation complemented the reading from the Brown online textbook on student movements. The Brown reading went into AI-5 and the establishment of the regime in 1986, providing a foundation for the student protests that was helpful for understanding the presentation. Marina expanded on the Brown reading, adding an example from the University of Brasilia, which was completely taken over with undercover soldiers planted in classrooms monitoring discussions and taking students who opposed the regime. In the Brazil history and culture blog, soccer was discussed as a political act. This connects to Dunn’s “The Tropicalist Movement” as it shows that not only music and art, but also sport can also be politicized. Expanding on the discussion of politicized acts, Dunn writes on the political implications of music written in and about struggles of urban citizens saying, “for artists and intellectuals situated on the periphery of global political and economic power, the dialectic between sense of place and cosmopolitan affinities is often simultaneously a source of anxiety and inspiration.”  In Dunn’s chapter, it is clear that people absorb inspiration and motivations from their experiences, which appears, albeit sometimes subtly, in their work. Today’s class showed some of the different ways that politics enter other social and cultural spheres. As historians, this means we can (and should) question why and in what contexts artists produce their craft, and what implications those answers have for politics and culture.

Key Terms:

  1. “Samba Soccer” is a focus on the skills of individual players.
  2. Mysticism has a complicated definition, but broadly speaking refers to an experience of uniting with a divinity and can be spiritual and/or material.
  3. Another complicated concept, maternalism centers around the normative conception of women’s concern for children, motherhood, and morality.

Potential exam questions:

  1. How is “cannibalism” used as a political statement in Brazil? Consider Patricia Seed’s chapter “Cannibals: Iberia’s Partial Truth” and Christopher Dunn’s “The Tropicalist Moment” in your answer.
  2. Why do the class, race, and gender matter for the “face” of a social movement?
  3. What are the social and political implications of a Brazilian soccer team that is predominantly comprised of players from non-Brazilian leagues?

Additional Reading:

  1. This is an NPR article from the 2014 World Cup on the Germany v. Brazil game that was mentioned in class. It also includes some ties to political themes and actors.
  2. For coverage of the game that is a bit more raw, here are the goals. Watch at your own risk.
  3. Below are two book reviews of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. For anyone interested in reading Freire directly, the book is available through the library. ;
  4. There was a lecture series on mysticism this past fall at Wooster. Below is a pamphlet from the series and an interesting NYT article on mysticism and democratization in the United States. ;

Brazil History and Culture: Michel Temer

The current President of Brazil, Michel Temer, suggested that he plans on running for a new term in this October’s election. Temer originally entered the office of the Presidency in 2016 after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. To this point, much of his presidency involves straddling corruption charges and attempting to pass economic reforms to fix, to use Temer’s words, “a country that was broken” from the heavy public spending of his predecessors. On corruption charges, Temer has avoided trial in the Supreme Court thus far. If he wins the election and continues in the office of the presidency, it may allow him to continue avoiding trial due to special legal privileges for high-ranking government officials.

Michel Temer responding to allegations of bribery in the Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha on May 20, 2017 in Brasilia, Brazil

In an interview with the newsmagazine Istoé, Temer claimed that he seeks to protect the legacy of his presidency, highlight his successes and the advancements of his administration, and to continue in the pursuit of economic reform. However, the same interview carries threads of the desire for a maintenance of power to protect himself from potential persecution by the other candidates and political opponents. Temer’s opposition is large, which is readily apparent in his single-digit polling numbers. Also, his opponents mainly lie on the left, as center-right Temer’s attempts at economic reform have changed labor laws and weakened the political power of unions and their members. Because of these polling numbers and Temer’s rampant unpopularity, running for office is a relatively safe option for him. That is, his approval is so low that his candidacy will not significantly damage those numbers, and if he, or one of his allies does win, he is likely to have some level of protection from previous charges of corruption.

This decision to run also occurs about a month after his decision to allow the military to control security in Rio de Janeiro, which was a calculated strategy to attempt to secure some political favorability. However, the effectiveness of this decision is debatable, as Temer’s approval rating is still extremely low and violence in Rio remains.

Vampire in Carnival 2018

Brazilian politics in this New York Times article are portrayed as consisting of corrupt politicians who use their positions and the tools of those offices (ie. the military) to pursue personal and political gains. It also shows the Brazilian public, at large, as dissenting and politically engaged, especially in art forms such as graffiti and samba. The article is suspicious of Temer’s motivations, not only due to corruption charges, but also because there is a disconnect between the rationale of decisions and the reality of their consequences. This disconnect is demonstrated in the author’s disapproval of the recent decision to allow the military to run Rio’s security due, in part, to the assassination of Marielle Franco. In discussing elections and presidents, this article relates to class conversations on political leadership and transfers of power in Brazil.

Main Article for the Blog Post:

Michel Temer, Brazil’s Deeply Unpopular President, Signals Run for a New Term

Articles for context and/or further reading:

Brazil’s Military Is Put in Charge of Security in Rio de Janeiro

President Temer of Brazil Faces New Corruption Charges

Killing of Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Critical of Police Rattles Brazil

Upending Brazil’s Presidential Race, Court Upholds Ex-Leader’s Conviction

Photo: Carnival

Photo: Michel Temer May 20, 2017 in Brasilia, Brazil

The Hour of the Star Discussion Question

Question: How does Lispector show masculinity in the character of Olímpico?

Ultimately, the need for power is woven through all of Olímpico’s desires and actions. He seeks to increase his power over others, be them women (Macabéa and Glória) or men above his social and economic standing. To do this with the former, he constantly puts down Macabéa to inflate his own ego, reducing her power in their relationship to increase his own. His approach with Glória is different, but still hinges on proving his superiority and demanding her submission. This is seen in the scene where he eats a hot pepper to impress Glória, as Lispector writes, “the nearly unbearable pain nevertheless toughened him, not to mention that Glória terrified started to obey him. He thought: didn’t I say I was a conqueror?” (56) Lispector continues, noting his desire to improve his social standing, wealth, and physical strength. With the latter, that is men above Olímpico’s social and economic standing, he attempts to make himself appear more prosperous than he actually is, donning a watch, calling himself a “metallurgist” (36), and showing possession of the right woman.

Wikipedia Article: Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (Ouro Preto)

For my Wikipedia entry, I hope to expand upon the current “Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (Ouro Preto)” article. While completing my research proposal on the sculptor and architect Aleijadinho, I found the page for this church which was one of his primary works. Sadly, the current page just exists. Wikipedia is questioning its notability based on a lack of secondary sources, as the entire article is based on only one source. There is nothing more than a brief outline of where the church is, who it was built by, and its major features. Note, none of these components are detailed sections, but mere mentions of each as the whole page is only five sentences long. At the very least, I would like to add sections on the architect, Aleijadinho; the baroque style of the church; and the most prominent architectural features, statues, paintings, and carvings.

Ouro Preto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for primarily due to its baroque architecture. It also has a rich history as a major mining town in colonial Brazil, which played an important role in the colonial economy. This church is important to Brazilian history and culture because it is a well preserved example of colonial Portuguese architecture. It, along with the artwork inside, are examples of the baroque revival style (also known as rococo or late baroque) which draws from the wealth gained from gold mining in the eighteenth century. This church is evidence of the colonial economy and importance of the Church in Brazil and, therefore, is worthy of a Wikipedia page that outlines its historical and architectural significance.

There is significant scholarship on Ouro Preto, the baroque revival style, Aleijadinho, and this specific church, all of which will contribute to this article. The only content on the talk page of the article is a correction to the one and only external link last August (2017). So, there is currently not any published plan to update or expand the article. It is currently considered a stub-article by Wikipedia which means that it provides some information but is wholly incomplete and far from sufficient coverage of the topic, but has potential for expansion. With my preliminary research, there appear to be enough secondary sources to produce a significantly more developed and complete article with enough verifiable information to merit its own space on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Link:

UNESCO classification:

Secondary Sources:

Bury, J. B. “The ‘Borrominesque’ Churches of Colonial Brazil.” The Art Bulletin 37, no. 1 (1955): 27-53. 

Castriota, Leonardo. “Living in a World Heritage Site: Preservation Policies and Local History in Ouro Preto, Brazil.” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 10, no. 2 (1999): 7-19. 

Luiz Gonzaga Teixeira. “Ouro Preto: Brazil’s Monument Town.” Ambio 12, no. 3/4 (1983): 213-15.

Reily, Suzel Ana. “Remembering the Baroque Era: Historical Consciousness, Local Identity and the Holy Week Celebrations in a Former Mining Town in Brazil.” Ethnomusicology Forum 15, no. 1 (2006): 39-62.

Smith, Robert C. “The Colonial Architecture of Minas Gerais in Brazil.” The Art Bulletin 21, no. 2 (1939): 110–59.

Research Project Blog Post: The Work of Aleijadinho

For my research project, I wish to examine the sculpture and architecture of Antônio Francisco Lisboa (Aleijadinho). The motivation for this project comes from my general interest in religion and its relationship with identity, society, and politics. This project would attempt to answer the question of what Aleijadinho and his work reveal about Brazilian identity and culture. Aleijadinho’s work has overwhelming religious themes and are all incredibly intricate. This project would seek to explain why such large amounts of resources and care were used in these creations. Additionally, it would unpack the implications of these structures in an attempt to discover broader social values and power structures in Brazil during their creations.

The primary works I would consider are the Church of São Francisco de Assis and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. The Church of São Francisco de Assis is located in Ouro Preto, Brazil. It is known particularly for its front alter, which is covered in intricate carvings of religious scenes and symbols, and its towers. There are two primary focuses within the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. The first are the sculptures of the stations of the cross and the twelve prophets. The second is an image of the crucifixion above the altar, which is located inside the structure. Images, videos, and interactive websites that show these buildings and sculptures are digitally accessible.

As we have already established as a class, Catholicism is an essential component to the understanding of Brazilian history. It is used in varying forms, from a tool of colonizers for the justification of slavery, to an embraced and cherished faith of many (and everywhere in-between). Catholicism is significant not only as a prominent religious tradition, but also as a way to understand power dynamics and social hierarchies in Brazilian culture and society.

This topic, or generally the study of religious architecture and sculpture, is historically significant because buildings and sculptures are physical creations that represent broader social and political concepts. The addition of the Church to these social and political implications complicates the narrative and adds religion, specifically Catholicism, to the list of factors that influence Brazilian culture. The implications of  these structures, their preservation, and continued significance, suggest a certain level of continuity in Brazilians’ collective understanding of these structures as historically important and physical components of Brazilian identity.

Primary Sources:

De Lio, Arthur. “Caminhos da Arte – Documentário sobre Aleijadinho.” YouTube. September 28, 2016. Accessed February 12, 2018.

Lisboa, Antônio Francisco, 1730-1814. 1800-5. Church of Congonhas do Campo and the Prophet’s Atrium Sculpture: det.: Ezekiel: ninth figure from left.

Lisboa, Antônio Francisco, 1730-1814. 1772-94. Main Chapel and Altar of St. Francis of Assisi’s.

Lisboa, Antônio Francisco, 1730-1814. Ouro Preto, Brazil: Church of Our Lady of Carmo: facade.

Lisboa, Antônio Francisco, 1730-1814. 1772-1794. Ouro Preto, Brazil: St. Francis of Assisi facade – Monumental portal & Medallion.

Secondary Sources:

Bald, Sunil. “In Aleijadinho’s Shadow: Writing National Origins in Brazilian Architecture.” Thresholds, no. 23 (2001): 74–81.

Bury, J. B. “The ‘Borrominesque’ Churches of Colonial Brazil.” The Art Bulletin 37, no. 1 (1955): 27–53.

Hogan, James E. “Antonio Francisco Lisboa, ‘O Aleijadinho’: An Annotated Bibliography.” Latin American Research Review 9, no. 2 (1974): 83–94.

Maddox, John. “The Aleijadinho at Home and Abroad: ‘Discovering’ Race and Nation in Brazil.” CR: The New Centennial Review 12, no. 2 (2012): 183–216.

Smith, Robert C. “The Colonial Architecture of Minas Gerais in Brazil.” The Art Bulletin 21, no. 2 (1939): 110–59.

Critiquing Wikipedia’s “Race and ethnicity in Brazil”

“Race and ethnicity in Brazil” is a fairly well developed Wikipedia page, but is by no means complete or without fault. There is irregularity in the quality of both citations and writing. Also, the content is heavily skewed toward topics that are easily supported with numerical data. The majority of the page discusses the figures surrounding immigration, genetic studies, and regional ethnicities with little emphasis on native nations or lived experiences.

The quality of citations in this Wikipedia article are highly variable. Some link directly to credible secondary sources, primarily books, where at least the abstract or introduction are available without the requirement of further access through a paywall. Those that do require further access still provide the book’s title, author, publisher, and other relevant information. Some citations also link to primary sources, such as census reports, where the cited information is easily confirmable. However, there are many links that do not work properly and lead to 404-error messages. There is little consistency in the accessibility of cited source material which provides a barrier to straightforward confirmation of claimed facts and access to further research on the topic. Also, there are sections where claims are made that should have citations but do not. This includes both statements that are assumed to be factual and general trends or ideas that are attributed to “some” or “others” but with no indication as to who those generalized groups may be. There is also a language barrier to checking the accuracy and relevance of cited sources. An individual without reading comprehension of the languages relevant to Brazil would find it difficult to assess the validity of sources to the claims made in the Wikipedia article.

The quality of writing is also highly variable. Some sections are well developed, include plenty of relevant information, are devoid of unsubstantiated claims, and are stylistically appropriate. However, other sections are disjointed, unsupported, and do not read like an encyclopedia. There are grammatical errors and sections with questionable word choice that distract from the article and could be edited to contribute to its flow and accuracy, rather than detract from it. The single largest section where these problems arise is “Race and class.” This section is filled with half-developed thoughts and what appears to be poorly synthesized material, which does little to contribute to a clear, fact-based, and unbiased understanding of the topic.

The content in this Wikipedia article is concentrated on statistics and heavily focuses on topics that can be supported with information from a census or other government markers. This is apparent in the extensive sections on the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and the controversy surrounding racial categories as well as the sections on DNA studies and regional ethnicities. These sections are significantly more complete than sections such as “Racial and ethnic theories,” which has room to expand. While there are other full Wikipedia pages on racism in Brazil and racial democracy, topics along those lines should have a space, however brief, on this page. There should be a condensed version of the topic with a link to the full page for more information. It would also be interesting to see the inclusion of lived experiences with regards to race in Brazil on this page. Finally, the overview section of the “Race and ethnicity in Brazil” page should also include a more comprehensive synopsis of the topic as many readers are most likely not going to finish the article in its entirety.