Author Archives: Wendi

What a Difference a City Makes: Conducting Research in São Paulo

Muse - Brazil - Metro

Art in the Sumaré Metro Station

I have always considered São Paulo my home away from home when in Brazil, though most of the time I’ve spent here has been for personal enjoyment or work purposes. I had never experienced the city as a researcher. Though after short exploratory research trip to “Sampa” in June, and now a week’s worth of recent study, I can safely say that when it comes to conducting archival research in Brazil, my goodness what a difference a city makes.

Ironically, I had never considered São Paulo (city) as a location for my research. On the other hand, Campinas, a city just a short drive from Sampa, had always been on my list. It’s known for UNICAMP, one of the highest ranked universities in Brazil and home to one of the best historical research facilities in the region: Arquivo Edgard Leuenroth. My initial plan to work exclusively in Rio and then Campinas. However, during one of my first weeks in Rio, I visited the Arquivo Nacional, where one of the librarians pointed out that the best source for documents related to my research were housed at the State Arquive of São Paulo. Though a point of frustration at the time, I’m glad that she suggested that I visit Sampa for research purposes. If it hadn’t been for that moment, I most likely may not have ended up here having the best research experience in Brazil to date. Continue reading

Em Greve / On Strike

Muse - Brasil - Computer

my partner in crime and her registration forms

As I write this, the Biblioteca Nacional is rounding out its third (and hopefully final) day of “Cultura em Greve,” or “Culture on Strike.” Since Monday, its doors and gates have been firmly locked to the outside public, with only a few security guards milling around the premises, often simply to answer questions of the curious public. I included myself in the latter category as I found myself hesitantly walking to the side entrance early Tuesday afternoon to inquire with regard to exactly what was going on. After all the previous accounts of drama with the library, the strike did not come as a surprise, but it was a definite disappointment. My days in Rio are numbered; there is only one full week remaining in my time here. So these additional setbacks become all the more grave considering I have only found one valuable piece to add to my research in an entire two months.

“What’s going on?” I asked the guard with caution, expecting him to tell me to leave the premises (the gate I had entered through was only ajar for the passing of one of the other guards).

“The library workers are on strike for a few days. They’re still in talks, but things should be back to normal on Thursday or Friday”

Just a typical day in my attempt to actually get any work done. Continue reading

What’s Old Is New Again

muse - brazil - glasses

fica de olho, literalmente, nas feiras de antiguidades!

In the past decade, Brazil has undergone drastic economic transformations that have led to an increase in the size of its middle class. This segment of Brazil’s population has used its buying power as a means of self-definition, with mass consumerism as evidence of not only their existence, but also their success. Though new name-brand electronics, homewares, and clothing are high on the wish lists of Brazil’s nouveaux riches, old items have emerged as the signs of true taste.

Labels remain a marker of one’s class status, as many imported goods and clothing brands such as Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, LG, and Apple remain inaccessible to a large majority of Brazilians. The Brazilian government insists on high import taxes to keep demand for foreign goods relatively low and protect its domestic market, though in recent years it has steadily encouraged its population to experience the world with both their eyes and their wallets. Subsequently, foreign marcas (labels) have lost a degree of their exclusivity among the pre-existing middle to upper classes. Additionally, the emergent avante-garde of college-educated, city-dwelling young people have contributed greatly to this process as they have sought to challenge the style status quo by establishing their own alternative.

muse - brazil - purses

the booth for Godoy Arte e Antiguidades

Style, in today’s terms, does not lie in an item’s newness, label, or location of origin. Instead, in large cities like Rio and  São Paulo, alternative youth subcultures and the “old” middle class have come to valorize vintage wares and antique furnishings over the often cheaply made newer options. This taste, however, has a high price-tag of its own, with many of the items costing well above their foreign counterparts, a reality that antiques specialist André notes is only somewhat eased by the internet. “You can go on the internet now and find an item sold somewhere else for less,” he noted. “Sometimes when we do pricing, we have to keep this in mind.” I met Andre at São Paulo’s famous Feira de Antiguidades (Antiques Fair) in Praça Benedito Calixto. His booth stood out among many of the others as it contained countless collectibles connected to one of my favorite subjects: music. He had record players and grammaphones in excellent condition for their age, all of which he restored himself.  Continue reading

Desordem e Atraso? Challenges in Conducting Research in Rio

Muse - Brazil - Archive

O Arquivo Nacional (courtyard) – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

In Portuguese, the word “atrapalhação” means disorder, confusion, and disruption that can pose an impediment to accomplishing something. Unfortunately, it is also the word that most perfectly embodies my experiences in conducting research in Rio thus far. I am not working on a particularly controversial topic, nor am I attempting to study anything that occurred in the past decade. I am conducting research on popular discourse within the 1950s Brazilian press on the African and Asian territories of the Portuguese Ultramar. Despite this, I continue to experience moments of atrapalhação that make me certain there is a hidden camera installed somewhere in the ceilings of Rio libraries, and that I am at the center of a massive practical joke!

A Visit to the Arquivo Nacional (National Archive)

Rio’s Arquivo Nacional is home to hundreds of original documents on the history of Brazil. Unfortunately, it was difficult to determine which documents could be helpful for my project via their website. Searching by keywords seemed to yield either zero or hundreds of results, so I decided to go to the archive and speak to one of its librarians. Before entering the research room, I had to check in with my passport, sign a visitor’s list, and put all of my personal belongings in a locker. No cell phones, cameras, mp3 players, or even computers (unless approved by one of the staff members) were allowed. Once in the research room, I waited in line to speak to a librarian who, though helpful, told me that most of the documents that would be relevant for my topic were held in São Paulo. The others, she proceeded to note, were part of a set of documents that just recently received government clearance for public viewing and that they had not yet arrived. Strike One. She suggested instead that I check out their photo collection from the now defunct Correio de Manhã, a Rio-based daily newspaper published from 1901 to 1974.

I followed her advice and spent the next two hours looking through paper-based catalogues of all the paper’s photos listed by keywords and themes. After making a list of thirty-six files I wanted to see, another librarian told me that I would need to fill out a request form for each of the files. Though I thought it would be a quick process, I was sadly mistaken. The paper request forms asked for my printed name, signature, full address, email, phone number, document number, research number, and the date. After filling out all this information thirty-six times with my borrowed pencil (they do not allow pens), I submitted the forms with a smile on my face, relieved that I could now get down to business. I was wrong. Strike Two.

Continue reading