Author Archives: marciosiwi

Sixth and Final Week in Brazil

For my last few weeks in Sao Paulo I decided to explore other archives around the city as see if I could find new and different kinds of sources that spoke to Robert Moses 1950 “Program” for the city of Sao Paulo and how local paulistas reacted to it.  I spend a few days at two different archives: Arquivo Publico do Estado de Sao Paulo and the Arquivo Histórico de São Paulo.  At the Arquivo Publico I found a good amount internal communications by the organizations like the Sao Paulo Transit Authority (CMTC).  Especially interesting were the communications provided by informants that the administration had implanted to monitor the actions of the labor union, particularly communist members of the unions who were seen as organizer of labor strikes and other subversive activities in the late 1940s.  I am not sure if I will be able to use this material in my dissertation but I certainly hope to.  Reforming the transportation system was a key component of Moses’s “Program”, thou Moses never directly mentioned labor issues or communist infiltration for that matter.  At the Public Archive I also looked at their extensive collection of newspapers.  However, newspaper research strikes me as extremely time consuming and potentially frustrating.   There is just so much material to cover, most of which is irrelevant to my research topic.  Anyone doing research using newspapers I would appreciate some guidance.  At the Arquivo Historico I found out that they hold most of the institutional documents related to the events that the government of Sao Paulo sponsored to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city.  Unfortunately, this was also the most unwelcoming of all the archives I visited in Brazil.  Unlike most other places where photographing is not only permitted but also free of charge, the Arquivo Historico charges quite a bit of money to photograph documents in their collection.  And when I say quite a bit I actually mean quite a lot.  It costs an academic researcher $25.00 Reais (about $15.00 dollars) to take a single photograph with his or her own camera.  If you are a regular citizen (i.e. not an academic) the price tag is $50.00 Reais (about 30.00 dollars) per photograph.  By way of comparison, earlier this summer I had the New York Public Library scan 51 pages worth of documents from the Robert Moses Papers for me.  The dossier cost me $31.50 cents, which I gladly paid since I know it took staff time and equipment to make those scans possible – neither of which are the case in the Arquivo Municipal in Sao Paulo.  I was so disheartened by the price tag (not to mention the sheer disincentive to research) that I did some research on the issue.  As it turns out, the current prefect of Sao Paulo is the responsible party.  By approving decree 52.040 the prefect made it possible for municipal archives to charge that much money for individuals interested in getting a closer look of what is essentially public information.  To make a long story short I contacted someone who writes for one of the main newspapers in Sao Paulo (Folha de Sao Paulo) and on Sunday, Aug. 2011 a short op-ed piece on this very issue was published.  Hopefully others will also be outraged.  Despite this particularly unpleasant experience, I had a very productive time in Brazil this summer largely because of the wonderful  librarians and archivists I met along the way.

Marcio Siwi — PhD Candidate in Latin American History at NYU


Week Three in São Paulo

The last couple of weeks were spent doing research in two different locations: one week at the Universidade de Sao Paulo’s School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) and the other week at the Biblioteca Mario de Andrade.  In both places I looked at specialized journals and magazines published in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  These magazines and journals – all of them dedicated to modern architecture and urbanism – included titles such as Acropole, Pilotis, Habitat, Modulo, Enhenharia e Decoracao and Arquitetura e Engenharia.  Most of these magazines were unknown to me, making them that much more important to my work.  I was able to find a number of very good articles written by prominent architects and engineers – most of them Brazil – about the challenges that Sao Paulo was facing in the 1940s and 1950s.  Interestingly, direct references to Robert Moses and his Program of Improvements for Sao Paulo were very scarce.  However, there is no doubt that interest in urban planning – particularly the desire to produce a master plan for the city of Sao Paulo – grew exponentially after Moses’ 1950 Program.  Luckily both library’s have extremely generous policies when it comes to photographing the material – basically a researcher is able to photograph everything and anything she or he needs.  Needless to say I have been able to collect a vast amount of photos.  The only draw back is that thanks to this policy I have given the materials a cursory look.  The idea is that I will be able to get back to the photos I have taken in the near future and read the material more carefully.

One other item of interest that I was able to locate is another urban plan for the city of Sao Paulo, this one published in 1969. Although Robert Moses did not participate in this later plan, many other Americans, including the U.S. Government.   The 1969 plan was partially financed by USAID.  I need to find out if Nelson Rockefeller was also associated with the 1969 plan.

Posted by Marcio Siwi — PhD Candidate in Latin American History at NYU

Week One in Sao Paulo

It’s been a busy week in Sao Paulo. My arrival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian Association of Historians (ANPUH). To commemorate their anniversary ANPUH is hosting a mega-symposium at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) with some 7000 participants – grad students, professors, archivists, bibliographers, etc. It’s a week-long symposium with over 100 concurrent panels everyday covering every possible subject matter. To make things more manageable I decided to narrow my options to three general topic areas: slavery, urban history and U.S. Studies (yes, Brazilian Scholars who study the United States). The discussions have been very stimulating. Some of the issues that have come up include the benefits and challenges of oral history as well as inter-disciplinary approaches to Urban History. Interestingly, there has been a new found interest among historians on the origins and consequences of the 1831 law that officially made the African slave trade to Brazil illegal. Traditionally the 1831 law has been treated as a quintessential example of the “para ingles ver” – for the English to see – whereby slavery was officially outlawed but never actually enforced by the Brazilian authorities. Scholars are now looking both at the local impact of the illegal slave trade – for the enslaved as well as the formation of the new Brazilian independent State – as well as its Atlantic dynamic. Finally, I have been struck by the truly national scope of ANPUH – there are scholars from all over Brazil at the symposium!

As for my archival research, due to the symposium I only spent one day at the Archivo Publico do Estado de Sao Paulo. It was my first experience working in a public archive in Brazil, and despite the fact the building where the archives are located is not in the best shape (its been under construction – “reforma” – for over three years) the experience was a very positive one. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful! I am researching the urban renewal program that the U.S. born urban planner – Robert Moses – did for the city of Sao Paulo in 1950. I spend my first day at the archives looking at magazines (particularly one called O Cruzeiro) from the late 1940s and early 1950s looking for articles related to Robert Moses’ trip to Sao Paulo. Since O Cruzeiro was owned by Assis Chateaubriand, a pro-American media mogul, I though I would find some reference to Robert Moses’ Program for Sao Paulo. I have yet to find anything so far!

Posted by Marcio Siwi — PhD Candidate in Latin American History at NYU