Growing up in the United States, Fernando Guimaraes ’18 was never able to connect with U.S. history like his peers, many of whom had personal and familial ties to America’s past.
Born in Brazil, “I could never find that emotional connection to what I was studying,” Guimaraes said. Yet Brazilian studies, especially with Professor of Modern Latin American History and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies James Green, “allowed me to develop that connection and … passion for my work.”
Guimaraes’ experience is one of the Brazilian Studies program’s many success stories, as Brown was named the best place in the United States or Canada to study Brazil at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association that took place in Lima, Peru, last summer, according to a press release from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
At the same conference, Green, director of the Brazil Initiative, was voted the United States’ leading scholar of Brazilian studies, according to the press release.
The Brazil Initiative is “an interdisciplinary effort to bring together scholars and students who work on Brazil across the different departments of the University … (to) create a dialogue … about the complexities of Brazil and the ways people can understand (them),” Green said.
“We have excellent scholars in key departments,” including sociology, literature, history, public health and Africana studies, Green said. “A person who wants to study Brazil in a holistic way can come to Brown and get that.”
The Brazil Initiative organizes weekly lecture series, film festivals and international conferences to promote understanding of Brazilian issues, he added.
“It’s always a good thing to go to the events to see what people are studying,” said Mateus Lima Gomes ’18.
But the Brazilian Studies program has not only received domestic recognition. After the two former Brazilian presidents Dilma Rousseff and Fernando Henrique Cardoso visited Brown, major Brazilian newspapers printed stories which Andre Pagliarini GS said bolstered Brown’s reputation. Cardoso even served as a visiting professor for five years after serving two terms as Brazil’s president, Green said.
The Opening the Archives project, a collaborative effort between Brown and the Universidade Estadual de Maringá in Brazil, also garnered attention in Brazil. The project has digitized 10,000 U.S. State Department documents relating to Brazil from the 1960s and 70s and made them available to everyone online, according to its website. When Pagliarini was in Brazil, the project was “all that people would talk about,” he said.
The strength of the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, which focuses on language and literature, also contributes to the University’s recognition.
“We were able, through the years, to develop a strong unit made up of people who are recognized not only as teachers but also as researchers in the field of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies. We were able to attract very good students, both as concentrators and later on as doctoral candidates,” said Luiz Valente, professor of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and comparative literature.
According to Valente, the main reason the department is so strong is that its “modus operandi has always been collaborative. … We (have) always worked well for the benefit of the unit.”
Patricia Sobral, senior lecturer in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies also emphasized the department’s unity. “This collaborative piece to … our pedagogy really allows everybody to feel as though they’re part of a larger community.”
The University’s location also enhances its ability to promote Brazilian Studies. “We’re located in an area where there’s a lot of Brazilians and a lot of Portuguese-speaking people,” Guimaraes said, noting Providence’s plethora of Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants and supermarkets.
Green thinks the future of Brazilian studies at Brown is tied to Brazil’s current political climate. “Brazil is passing through, I think, the worst moment in its history,” due to a severe economic crisis, revelations of corruption amongst politicians, low presidential popularity and a general cynicism among Brazilians, he said.
Green said he sees the University serving as a platform for debates about Brazil’s future.