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A Republic of Scientists I n February 1933, the front page of Rio de Janeiro’s newspaper A Noite fea­­ tured an interview with the zoologist Cândido de Mello Leitão (1886–1948), one of the authors of a bill to regulate hunting and fishing in Brazil. The Ministry of Education and Public Health (MESP) had assigned this task to a committee comprising Mello Leitão and two other members of the Na­­­ tional Museum: the botanist Alberto José de Sampaio (1881–1946) and the an­ thropologist Edgard Roquette-Pinto (1884–1954), the museum’s director.1 As Mello Leitão explained in his interview, “all cultured peoples” had made the defense of fauna and other natural riches a priority, and Brazil would be taking the same path by following through on this government initiative. Of course, the zoologist admitted, the proposed measures would displease those who “exterminated birds”and the merchants who put their “own,limited interests ahead of the name and interests of Brazil.” But it was a time of “patriotic re­ construction,” as he saw it, and everyone had to think first of his country and only second of himself.While the law could not completely disregard economic interests, its chief concern had to lie with protecting fauna—“the nation’s heri­­ tage”and the “charm of its landscape.” The 1920s had been years of major upheaval and great expectations in Bra­­ zil, with its oligarchic republic suffering serious blows.Coffee prices fell,opposition 1 Activist Biology Today we breathe easier. The laboratory has given us the argument we so eagerly sought. Grounded in it, we shall counter Le Bon’s sociological condemnation with the higher voice of biology. —Monteiro Lobato, Problema vital, 1918 Activist Biology 17 groups formed among both the military and the urban middle classes,and there were pockets of more militant social unrest. At the close of the decade, a politi­ cal and military movement that proclaimed itself the Revolution of 1930 swept Getúlio Vargas into power. The Vargas Provisional Government was quick to promise deep change,even while grappling with the ideological differences that arose among its backers.The regime fed hopes for national construction and for the settlement and true conquest of Brazil in all its immensity; it vowed to work for the benefit of those living in urban and rural Brazil alike,and to afford those in the farthest reaches of the land a healthy life of labor and civic par­ ticipation—all orchestrated by a strong, central, organizing state.The new gov­ ernment won the support of intellectual groups long critical of the oligar­ chic republic and its failure to cure the woes of the ailing, illiterate people spread across Brazil’s untrodden sertões (hinterlands), strangers to the lavish life of Rio de Janeiro,then the nation’s capital.Furthermore,the republic had failed to steer urban workers away from the dangers of communism.2 The state set its sights on organizing Brazil’s citizens, its land, and everything it held: peo­­­ ple, land­­ scapes, soil, water, flora, and fauna. This was the “patriotic”backdrop to which Mello Leitão was alluding in the newspaper interview when he highlighted two key benefits of the bill submit­ ted by the National Museum committee. In the first place, the bill itself would stimulate the production of scientific and zoogeographic knowledge, which could be used to guide future improvements to the law. In the second place, the bill valorized Brazil’s national scientific institutions by assigning them a pri­ mary role in the collection of the country’s fauna treasures and by controlling the activities of foreign scientists. After all, Brazilian researchers were tired of having to travel abroad to study their own country’s fauna, gathered by foreign naturalists and then unceremoniously hauled off to Europe’s great museums.3 The interviewee also advocated the urgent adoption of other measures in ad­ dition to hunting regulations, in step with the example set by other countries where fauna was protected in nature parks. The MESP had asked the National Museum to draw up the bill in Au­ gust 1932. Roquette-Pinto submitted the draft two months later, prefaced by a twenty-four-page document laying out the presuppositions of the three scien­ tists. In their prologue, they argued that hunting laws were indispensable and that Brazil was among the most backward of the major countries in this area. They warned that merely handing down decrees would not suffice; implemen...


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