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  • Industrial Forests and Mechanical Marvels: Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Brazil by Teresa Cribelli
  • Celso Thomas Castilho
Industrial Forests and Mechanical Marvels: Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Brazil. By Teresa Cribelli. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. 254. $99.99 cloth. doi:10.1017/tam.2017.167

In this innovative study of modernization and technological change in nineteenth-century Brazil, Teresa Cribelli breaks new ground in demonstrating the extent to which Brazilians shaped the terms and impacts of these multifaceted processes. Indeed, her book furnishes a broad and much-needed cultural interpretation of the histories of science, industry, and technology in Brazil. She establishes at the outset that nation-building and scientific innovation went hand in hand; that Brazilian engineers, industrialists, and coffee planters moved international discussions forward on topics ranging from patents to agricultural machinery to railroad building; and that these reckonings with modernization played out quite publicly, also bearing on the interactions between newspapers, associations, and the state. In connecting the histories of science and technology to the histories of the Brazilian press and public life, Cribelli is in effect expanding our understanding of a topic—modernization—that has most often been considered through the prism of political economy, focusing on debates about either the material impact of such developments, or on the nature of the imperatives, whether external or internal, that drove the process.

The author's probing analysis of the language and attitudes of modernization emerge from a careful reading of the public opinion section of Rio de Janeiro's most important newspaper, the Jornal do Commercio, and is complemented by insights derived from association records, scientific journals, national and international exhibition records, and state documents. Transparent about the fact that the Brazilian sources examined reflected "literate white males with connections to Rio" (11), the author has also located and made extensive use of selected "publicaçöes a pedido" columns, or pay-to-publish letters, that treated subjects related to modernization. Overall, the volume of these letters "grew steadily from an average of 74.3 submissions per month consulted in 1850 to 751 per month by 1889" (12).

Analyzing the publicaçöes a pedido published between 1850 and 1889, Cribelli found that railroads, roads, machinery, navigation, and national industry ranked as the top five topics they addressed (13–14). She also found, and detailed in Chapter 2, that Brazilian discussions of progress, civilization, and improvement were nonetheless shaped by the realities of slavery. Thus, when using the verb aperfeiçoar, "Brazilian elites were not trying to 'liberate' their society, but to improve upon it, to make it more efficient and profitable" (75, italics in original). In this respect, Brazil's industrializing process resembled the cautious approach taken in postrevolutionary France, where, as Cribelli explains, concern with social upheaval also informed gradualist state policies. In this, and at other key junctures of the book, Cribelli ably situates Brazilian developments in relation to broader Latin American and Atlantic contexts. In so doing, she enables a further critique of the extant narratives that take for granted Brazil's (and Latin America's) historical "underdevelopment." [End Page 430]

In fact, the phrase "industrial forests" in the book's title (explained in Chapter 3), illuminates the array of state projects aimed at fostering self-sufficiency. These drew on a longer history of scientific discovery in the Lusophone world and regarded Brazil's abundant natural resources as the potential engines for economic activity. The famous engineering brothers, André and Antonio Rebouças (Afro-descendants), saw great potential in developing a Brazilian lumber industry, and made strong arguments that wood worked better for building railroad tracks than imported iron (96–99). Interestingly, the expansion of rail travel in the 1870s was another topic that sparked widespread discussion in the illustrated press.

In a provocative final chapter, Cribelli turns to the growth of the illustrated press to analyze how representations of trolley riders both questioned and reinforced codes of social hierarchy. Her research brings forth the complex ways that this type of visual language captured the rise of new social groups, from conductors to urban workers (including women), to the ever more visible free Afro-descendant population. Beyond this unique vantage point on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6247
Print ISSN
0003-1615
Pages
pp. 430-431
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-02
Open Access
No
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