Three Important Things

Before taking this course, I knew very little about Brazil. My FYS was Latin America through the Arts, and we had spent time learning about capoeira and feijoada. I had also heard about Carmen Miranda but did not know a lot about her. Some of the most important things I have learned are:

  • It was interesting to learn about cannibalism and the views of Europeans/Portuguese/Spanish towards it. This may not be exceedingly important but as I love precolonial and postcolonial history, it was very interesting to learn. It shows how history can be skewed and how opinions differ for various cultural and historical difference and how people can be affected in similar cultures very differently.
  • I think it was important to learn different race theories. In the U.S., we learn mostly about the theory that if someone has a single African American relative, they will be identified as black. It’s very important to learn different race theories, like Brazil’s mestizo theory, because it helps us to understand how people in other countries are oppressed, especially if the oppression is different from what we experience/witness.
  • Finally, I learned a lot about Wikipedia which is very important. Growing up, we are taught to never use Wikipedia because it is something easily manipulated and is full of incorrect facts. By being trained on Wiki, I learn what a reputable article looks like and how I can use and understand Wiki to help me on future projects.

Three things I learned this semester.

  1. I have learned important skills that have allowed me to better my research, presentation and writing skills. From writing about events from an unbiased perspective, to writing about events with a thesis and backed up with evidence and claims.
  2. I have learned to view social and economic issues like national identity, gender, discrimination, poverty, et al from different perspectives and to dive deeper into the reasons and viewpoints behind these issues.
  3. I have learned time management skills for projects (which I am still improving on) with working on multiple projects simultaneously.

What I learned

I learned a lot about the importance of race in Brazil and the different ways in which Brazilians view race. I thought that it was particularity interesting that race is often defined based on appearance and wealth, which is different than in the United States where it is more based on ancestry. It was also interesting to learn about how racism in Brazil historical took a different form than in the United States, being perpetuated more by society rather than by laws. The “racial democracy” was also a distinct aspect of race in Brazil and was sometimes used to justify racism.

I learned that the history of Brazil was much more complex than I had thought. Before taking this class, I had assumed that Brazil had simply gained independence and installed the democratic government it has today. However, I learned that the truth is much more complex.  Brazil has been governed by a wide variety of systems, ranging from democracy to the military dictatorship and even an Empire. I also found it interesting that the royal court of Portugal was located in Brazil at one point, making Brazil a relatively equal member of the Portuguese empire rather than a colony.

I also learned a lot about Brazil’s culture and national identity. I thought that importance of soccer politically and socially, as well as Brazilian pride in their own style of soccer, was very interesting. It was also enlightening to learn how the sport developed to cater to different segments of society as it developed, thus reflecting social divisions within the country. We also learned about a constant search for a Brazilian national identity, which reached its peak during the Vargas era. In addition to these things, I learned that events such as Carnival often have important political meaning in part because of their significance to Brazilian identity and culture.

Three things I learned this semester:

I learned a ton this semester on a variety of different topics. I would say that the most important things that I learned were:

  1. Cultural differences between ideas of race and how they shape society.  I really enjoyed our discussions about Anita and the Brazilian music industry.
  2. I learned about plastic surgery and its significance in society. I really enjoyed learning about plastic surgery because it is a contrast within our society and provides an interesting look into cultural norms and how they differ.
  3. I also enjoyed learning about class differences and their effects within society. This came through a low through the study of favelas and provided an interesting view of cities that are commonly portrayed and shown in the US.

The three most important things I learned this semester

I took this class with little to no pre-existing knowledge of Brazil’s history or its modern-day situation. Thus, I stood to gain a lot of knowledge from this class.

  1. I learned a great deal about race in Brazil. Learning about the complex ways in which race is constructed both historically and in modern Brazil has opened my eyes to the struggles people of color face in Brazil. Additionally, learning about race in Brazil in the context of American race relations helped me make fine grained comparisons that increased my understanding of the issues faced by people of color in Brazil and in the United States. Furthermore, learning about how the idea of race is not directly linked to skin color in Brazil made me think critically about how we perceive race in modern day America
  2. I learned a great deal about the Brazilian political situation that helped contextualize American politics and gave me an eye into the complexities of Brazilian politics. For instance, learning about the complex relationship the people of Brazil have with Lula gave insight into how class motivates people in Brazil and how it affects political decisions. On the other hand, the rise of Bolsonaro shows that Brazil is not immune to the trend towards right leaning populism affecting many Western countries today.
  3. I think getting to dig into the complex histories of the favelas has also been an enlightening experience because it shows again how class, gender and race intersect in unique ways, and how they all contribute to the unique social environment of the favelas. Furthermore, getting to better understand the citizen’s view of favelas, in that they are not necessarily looking to leave them or radically reshape them but secure them to make them safe and pleasant places to live.

Three Things I Learned in this Class

One of the most important things I learned this semester is how abolition occurred in Brazil with informal segregation to follow. Coming into this class, I knew that Brazil had one of the largest slave population. However, I did not know how abolition came about nor how Afro-Brazilians were incorporated into society after abolition. In the United States, a civil war was needed to end slavery and formal segregation was implemented to continue discrimination against blacks. Interestingly, in Brazil no war was needed to end slavery and abolition occurred through signing a law. However, slaves and freed slaves along with other abolitionists played a big role in Brazil for this to occur.  After abolition was passed through law, no assistance was given to freed slaves. Thus, informal segregation and systematic racism were both able to engrain themselves in Brazilian society.


Another important thing I learned in class is the concept of a racial democracy in Brazil and how it does not accurately portray race relations in Brazil. Since Brazil did not have formal segregation, some argue that Brazil is a racial democracy and were able to escape racism and racial discrimination. However, racism is still very much evident in Brazil, which was made very clear to me after I read the book The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families by E. H. Freeman for class. Black features are stigmatized heavily and looked at negatively, while white features are considered pretty. In addition, the book revealed that there are informal black and white spaces that families must teach their children to either go to or avoid. Thus, not only does informal discrimination exist in Brazilian society, but it also exists within families. This debunks the concept of racial democracy in Brazil.

The third most important thing I learned about is the importance of Brazilian national identity and what constitutes Brazilian national identity. Prior to this course, I was unaware of the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship that pushed to create a Brazilian national identity. The use of samba to create a national identity was especially interesting to me, as it came from African roots. Additionally, it was also surprising that soccer did not become popular until the Vargas era when it became the nation’s national support. Lastly, the popularity of capoeira is also interesting because it also came from African roots like samba. Even though Afro-Brazilians are still discriminated against in Brazilian society, Brazil accepts African tradition such as samba and capoeira.


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.

What I learned this semester

Since I have learned a lot about Brazil throughout the semester, limiting this to three things will be hard, but here goes!

  1. How race is constructed in Brazil: I thought the conversations and readings that we did regarding the way that race is understood in Brazil was the most eyeopening topic in this class. As an American, learning about a different racial construct and how race is understood by Brazilians was informative and exposed me to how different racial constructs can effect a country.
  2.  Better skills at making an iMovie: I have used iMovie only once before our iMovie assignment so I would still consider myself a rookie at it. Learning how to do a voiceover, pull clips and place them in my iMovie, use music, and other small skills will help me in the future when I use iMovie. 
  3.  How plastic surgery is perceived in Brazil: I thought the reading for this week as well as the student book presentation followed with discussion raised a lot of points about how vanity for men and women are perceived by certain cultures. Given my more Brazilian approach to plastic surgery, I enjoyed reading and learning more about something I am not only interested in but also something that some people think differently about. 

Class Notes: 5/1

Today, we started out by reflecting on I.S symposium. There were a lot of good presentations that people went to, and it was good to hear that people were able to experience I.S presentations inside and outside their majors. The bulk of the class discussion revolved around the reading of two chapters from, Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela, by Ben Penglase.

Discussion of Reading + Main Questions:

Drug Trafficking discussion: Who is receiving the profits? what effect are they having on the community? Drugs more often than not can become a “stand-in” for something else (race, class, gender) easy way to attack certain communities.

Q1: What was the author’s goal?

A: To provide and perhaps stoke a further conversation about people who live in the favelas

Q2: What about the question of violence?

A: Violence, just like any other issue is deeply complex. It can extensively shape a community and become a part of the day to day life. Just because individual lives in an area that is consumed by violence, does not mean that they or the rest of their community is inherently violent.

Differences between what was described in the article vs the documentary “Wasteland”

The sense of pride exuded in Wasteland was big difference identified by the class. Those who were interviewed saw drug dealing and prostitution as “caving in” and that even though they knew they stunk and weren’t making money, there was some pride in the fact that they were doing “honest” work.Penglase is less performative than Vik was in the documentary. Penglase is more invested in the actual people and their conditions, more than Vik appeared to be.

Major Themes: 

Police/Drug Trafficking/ Police Tactics/

Customs, culture, attitude: race + social class (interpersonal relationships)

Penglase’s Overall Research Question: What are the sources of insecurity in the favela? (Religiosity Masculinity)

Term: Religiosity Masculinity: Refer’s to how men in the favelas have to constantly try to find ways to hold onto their masculinity, particularly when police invade their homes, which is considered highly disrespectful for men specifically, due to the prevalent link between a man’s honor and his control over his home.


Concluding Thoughts: What I thought was really interesting was how at the end we could relate what is going on in Brazil to similar problems that exist in the United States, particularly our discussion about ways one can “move up the social latter” in the United States.


Additionally Sources:

Here is a link to a review written by Erika Robb Larkins on the book

Below is a link detailing a recent crime wave in Rio, I think it’s worth to look at the language being used to describe what is currently going on



What I learned this semester:

I have learned a fair amount this semester, but if we are limiting to three, first I would have to say the differences in how race is seen and categorized in Brazil compared to the United States. Before this class I had only thought about race in the context of the US and it is very eyeopening that how different it can be. Secondly, I learned about different ways that historians can discuss their research, in a book, journal article, documentary, wikipedia, and paper. Lastly I learned that in Brazil art is political. I had always thought that art can be symbolic of a social or political movement but not as direct as it is in Brazil. For example, the carnival acts that we acts that we watched in class were very direct in their concerns/protests of the the government. This direct protesting via art is not something that you would see in the US under the context of art.