Bridging the island: Brazilian elite views of Spanish America and themselves, 1888--1912

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Steve J. Stein, Committee Chair


My dissertation explores a theme in Brazilian historiography that has been largely overlooked: the cultural dimension of the relations between the Portuguese-speaking giant and the surrounding Spanish-speaking countries. A standard claim made by historians is that Spanish America has always occupied a very limited and negative space in the consciousness of the Brazilian elite. My research shows, however, that toward the end of the nineteenth century, key Brazilian men of state and letters made numerous, significant and complex references to Latin America and Brazil's place within it. An examination of these references demonstrates that Spanish America---and not just Europe and the U.S., as scholars usually suggest---was an important Other in the self-definition process of the Brazil. Thus, by studying the changing attitudes of Brazilian elite members toward the neighboring peoples, I arrive at a new understanding of Brazil's national identity.I contend that imperial Brazil's perception and portrayal of their country as a monarchical island of political stability and civilization in a republican sea of Spanish American anarchy and barbarism begins to lose credibility from around 1870. As the principal neighboring countries achieved new levels of political stability and modernization, Brazilian views of Spanish America became more complex. Gradually, new and surprisingly favorable judgments appeared alongside the standard negative stereotypes. By the 1900s Brazilian elite members had come to perceive themselves, and their nation, as a part of Latin America that was neither entirely anarchical, weak and barbaric, nor fully ordered, vigorous and advanced. This shared consciousness, infused with varying degrees of pessimism and optimism, was translated by leading statesmen of letters into different ideological formulas: Americanism, Latin Americanism, and Luso Americanism. These formulas represented a high point in the opening trend of the contours of Brazil's national identity following the collapse of its double slaveholding-imperial wall. My work argues in favor of the eventual dominance of the new-old Luso-American formula which expressed a regained and secure national identity of an island, but an island with bridges, one that, unlike in the imperial past, took the Spanish American Other into account instead of rejecting it.


History, Latin American

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