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I n January 2015—summer vacation and high tourist season in Brazil— patrons found the doors of the National Museum closed. The museum usu­ ally receives some seven thousand visitors a week during this time of year, but its funds had been abruptly cut off as a consequence of a nationwide po­­ litical and economic crisis. There was no money to pay for either cleaning or security services, and exhibits were suspended for several weeks. In a widely distributed press release explaining the situation, the museum board decried the fact that such was the fate of Brazil’s oldest science institution—just three short years from commemorating its bicentennial, in 2018. Today, the National Museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Ja­ neiro, in turn under the aegis of the Ministry of Education. Nestled in the midst of nearly eleven acres of botanical gardens, the museum is home to historical archives, libraries, research laboratories, and graduate courses, as well as host to public exhibits on biological anthropology, archaeology, ethnology, geology, pa­ leontology, and zoology. Since 1927, one of its extension projects, the Assistance Service for the Teaching of Natural History, has been designing and sponsor­ ing educational initiatives,advising teachers,and stimulating the minds of young students. The National Museum has long been a privileged locus for scholarly reflec­ tion on Brazil. In the nineteenth century, it sheltered the dreams of the newly independent nation’s intellectual elites, who wanted to join Europe as part of Conclusion 158 Conclusion the civilized world.In the early twentieth century,the museum served as a point of departure for the conquest and rediscovery of Brazil, as its members turned their attention to the interior of the nation and its sertões and thick forests. Flora and fauna, minerals, indigenes, and people of mixed descent were viewed as hieroglyphics waiting to be deciphered in the hope that they would reveal the path to nation building.The National Museum’s current mission is to be a stew­ ard of Brazil’s scientific memory and produce innovative knowledge applicable to environmental protection and social transformation. Its limitations and ac­ complishments mirror the educational, cultural, and research challenges pecu­ liar to Brazil. When I heard it had closed its doors for lack of funding, I found myself asking how Edgard Roquette-Pinto, Alberto José de Sampaio, and Cân­ dido de Mello Leitão would react to the news if they were alive today and could see the museum continuing on shaky ground, vulnerable to the prevailing po­ litical and economic winds—a status quo reminiscent of their times and always the source of great consternation. This book has explored the history of the National Museum from 1926 to 1945, focusing on the union of scientific practice and political life, the emer­ gence of scientific specializations and initiatives in science communication,and the careers of three of the museum’s most active members. In Brazil, the time frame of this study witnessed the formation of biology as a field in its own right—a historical transformation all the more meaningful because many of the activities taken up by this nascent science displayed an inherent political con­ tent.The excitement and creativity of these researchers as they set about model­ ing new ways of producing and communicating knowledge must be understood in the broader context of the political battles and social confrontations then underway in Brazilian society. Yet much more than simply echoing or stem­ ming from a particular context, the scientific practices that were forged in the hallways, laboratories, and workshops of the National Museum were an integral part of the making of history during those years. Writing at the juncture of political history and the history of science, I have tried to steer away from any dualistic criticism of these scientists. A critique of reason as the only possible form of knowledge should not lead us to discredit reason out of hand, for that would bear the mark of intolerance. Scientists are condemned neither to authoritarian postures nor to blind rationalism. Their relations with the powers that be do not always put them in conflict with a population that is the victim of their attentions and interventions. When sci­ ence and power work hand in hand,the purpose is not necessarily to refine new Conclusion 159 strategies for domination and social heteronomy. Knowledge in any form— be it scientific, folk, traditional, artistic, or historical—involves the exercise of power, and the relations between...


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