Tracing Brazil’s legal history

Four years ago the world championship for soccer in South Africa gave me a perfect occasion to look at some online resources for the legal history of South Africa and other African countries. Looking beyond the lines of soccer proved to be interesting indeed. Only after watching many games of this year’s championship in Brazil the idea of writing about Brazil’s legal history surfaced at long last. In this post I will present a number of online resources for Brazilian legal history, and I will comment on some existing online guides for the history of Brasil. The result is a research guide which at turns can seem too long and at other points too compact.

For everybody interested in contemporary Brasil there are several excellent online guides. I would place the Brazilian page of the Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC) at the University of Texas at Austin first. The LANIC offers a separate page on Brasil’s government, law and politics. The Library of Congress has a splendid webpage on Brazilian law and resources for research, and also a compact overview of legal resources concerning the República Federativa do Brasil. The World Legal Information Institute, too, has a very detailed overview of Brazilian legal resources. Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute offers on the page for Latin America a useful standardized links list to legal and judicial institutions, including those for Brasil. The very detailed page for Brasil at Globalex (New York University) has not been updated since 2008. The Latin American Collection of Yale University Library provides a very generous general online guide to Latin American Studies. I would recommend in particular the online guide Pesquisa no Brasil / Researching Brazil, a project of the University of Indiana, Bloomington.

Brasiliana online

Where to start for finding digital resources for Brazil’s legal history? For this post I could start with the websites I put together during the past years on the page with digital libraries of my own legal history portal Rechtshistorie. The challenge for me when creating this page was to offer not just a few websites easily found by using the world’s major search engines. Instead of just a links list I add to every link concise information about content and scope of a website. It can be a considerable effort to find relevant resources for a particular country. Some Latin American countries still do not figure at all on this page. The lacunae are made somewhat smaller by including also a number of websites and projects dealing with Latin America in general. It is useful to start with them here.

The best starting point for looking at Brazil’s legal history might be the impressive Portal Euroamericano de Historia y Antropología Jurídica, an initiative at the Universidad de Girona. This portal to legal history for the Iberian peninsula and Latin America has interfaces in Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese and English. However, the digital library at this portal has only four titles concerning Brazil, and with just two links to university departments in Brasil the links selection is distinctly meagre. The University of Maryland has created the Early Americas Digital Archive, with both its own archive of digitized texts and a gateway to online texts by authors writing about North and South America from 1492 to 1820.

The historical constitutions of many Latin American countries can conveniently be found at Constituciones Hispanoamericanas, a part of the Spanish portal Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, with also a section devoted to legal history and jurisprudence. However, Belize, Brasil, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana are excluded at this portal for Latin American constitutions. If you prefer reading the English translations of these constitutions you can quickly find the major portals for online constitutions using the same page of my website, The Constitution Finder of the University of Richmond Law School has not only the Brazilian constitutions of 1824, 1891, 1934, 1946, 1967 and 1988, most of them in Portuguese, but also the current constitutions of the estados that form the Federal Republic of Brasil. At Verfassungen der Welt you can also find the 1822 constitution of the united kingdoms of Portugal and Brasil (1815-1822). The portal Legislación Histórica de España created by the Ministério de Cultura, Madrid offers a database with digitized Iberian and Latin-American legislation, but countries outside the Spanish empire are excluded. At Bicentenario de las Independencias Iberoamericanas, a website created by the portal for Spanish archives for the bicentennials of the independence of several Latin American countries, Brasil has been included. For nearly ninety institutions information is provided about their archives and the resources concerning the Brazilian independence (1822).

Let’s not be deterred by some projects which were only less useful for this specific subject, and continue this overview. The Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano is a project of the Biblioteca Nacional de España and several national libraries in Latin America, with mainly manuscripts, drawings and old maps; Brasil’s Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro contributes some 19,000 items. This portal can be viewed in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The German gateway Cibera, Virtual Library Latin-America/Spain/Portugal, is very useful for any research on Latin American subjects; here, too, you can choose your language, German, English, Spanish or Portuguese. Its subdomain Iberolinks offers a guide to relevant websites, with some 260 websites for Brasil. The Latin American Pamphlet Digital Collection of the Widener Library, Harvard University, is one of the few digital collections presenting digitized pamphlets from this region.

With the portal Memórias de África e do Oriente we are finally sailing directly into the history of the former Portuguese colonial empire. Alas the project team could not get a specialist for Brazil, which clearly led to a rather thin Brazilian presence. Africa is the focus of this project at the Universidade de Aveiro. At this portal you will have to search for Brasil among the more general resources. A notable exception are the five volumes of the Monumenta Brasiliae, Serafim Leite (ed.) (5 vol., Rome 1956-1968), a source edition for the history of the Jesuits in sixteenth-century Brazil. Of course the Biblioteca Nacional Digital of the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal in Lisbon should not be forgotten, if only already for the digitized maps and images. Among the several Portuguese digital libraries the website Ius Lusitaniae of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa offers a relatively small but useful selection of historical legislation and other legal works which also touch the Portuguese overseas empire.

Digital collections in Brasil

Logo Biblioteca Nacional DigitalThe Brazilian Biblioteca Nacional has created a large Biblioteca Nacional Digital. Apart from digitized books you can also follow themes in a series of dossiers, in particular A França no Brasil / La France en Brésil. The cultural heritage portal Rede da Memória Virtual Brasileira is a general portal for digitized heritage, with initially only among the political items some subjects related to law and justice. As a Dutchman I was nicely surprised by the page on the Dutch period in Brasil centering on Pernambuco Holandes. You can find here a digitized copy of Caspar van Baerle ‘s (Barlaeus) illustrated book Rerum per octennium in Brasilia (…) gestarum (Amsterdam: Blaeu, 1647) about the Dutch presence in Brasil during the second quarter of the seventeenth century, one of the most important early historical accounts by a European author. Together with the Brazilian national library the Library of Congress has created the bilingual portal United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures / Brasil e Estados Unidos: Expandindo Fronteiras, Comparando Culturas which brings you to digitized books, maps, prints, and much more. Here, too, the Dutch period comes into view. The Universidade de São Paulo has created Brasiliana USP, a general digital library with some juridical works, but you can also use Obras Raras e Especiais, the digital library for rare and old books of this university. You can find here for instance the issues for 120 years (1893-2013) of the legal review Revista da Faculdade de Direito de São Paulo.

Several Brazilian parliamentary and judicial institutions have created digital libraries, too. The Câmara dos Deputados has got a Biblioteca Digital with a section for obras raras, rare books. The Suprema Tribunal Federal, the Brazilian constitutional court, has not only its own digital library, but also the Julgamentos Históricos, a selection of verdicts pronounced by this tribunal starting in 1891, and also for the Supremo Tribunal da Justiça (1829-1891) and the Casa da Suplicação (1808-1829). The Supremo Tribunal da Justiça is the supreme Brazilian court for non-constitutional matters, with again its own Biblioteca Digital. Another digital library, the Biblioteca Digital do Superior Tribunal de Justiça, contains also information from its own museum. The Senado Federal, Brazil’s senate, has a digital library and a digital collection of its debates; unfortunately the digitized series of the Anais do Senado Federal has got lacunae.

Header Códiigo Brasiliense

Outside Brasil some libraries offer very substantial digital collections concerning the history of Brazilian law and government. The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University has digitized its copy of the rare Código Brasiliense, a three-volume collection of Brazilian laws printed between 1811 and 1822. In the Internet Archive this library has placed some 1,600 titles of their Portugal and Brasil collection. The ordering at the Internet Archive of the collections from the John Carter Brown Library is very practical, only few libraries have followed this example. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago has created the collection Brasilian Government Documents, with provincial and presidential reports, presidential messages and the Almanak Laemmert, the yearly guide of the Brazilian government. The CRL has more materials for Brasil’s legal history. Within the LAMP project (formerly known as the Latin American Microform Project) materials concerning Brasil take a large place. The guide to LAMP collections mentions the Abdias Nascimento Collection. The archival collection of this artist, scholar and politician has been digitized at Ipeafro, the Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro-Brasileiro at Rio de Janeiro.

A grim note is struck by the project Brasil-Nunca Mais (Never Again) which documents in 538 microfilm reels court documents about the trials against civilians at the Superior Tribunal Militar, the Brazilian Military Supreme Court, between 1964 and 1979. During detention torture was used among other humiliating and inhuman forms of treatment which violated human rights. The project website gives access to a substantial number of digitized records about these trials and violations.

The Brazilian digital libraries mentioned until now are almost all present at my website. On the page for museums and legal history I included the Museo do Crime at the Academia de Policia in São Paulo. At the moment of creation of that page I could not find a functioning website for this museum. In fact there are both a Museo do Crime and a Museu de Policia Civil, with alas for both no website. However, the Museo do Crime is present at Facebook.

At this point it is wise to note that more than hundred Brazilian digital libraries and repositories are harvested by BASE, the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine with now well over 3000 contributing institutions. You will forgive me my smile when I visited a website with the proud title Guide to the legal history of Brasil, an offspring of Law of Brasil. The guide with just one page gives only an overview of the distinct periods of Brasil’s history since the Independence of 1822, without any reference to sources in print or online. The mobile app LookHistória gives you nearly more. The constitutional changes in Brasil, starting with the constitution of 1824, are very important. Brasil changed from an empire into a republic, followed by a military dictatorship after the 1964 coup, and again a republic.

Online guidance for pesquisadores no Brasil

Header Nuevo Mundo

From an earlier post here I remembered an online guide for doing Latin American research in Paris. The online journal Nuevo Mundo / Mundos Nuevos exists since 2001. On its website, accessible in four languages, much more is offered than just a regular online journal. The Guia del investigador americanista, the section with online guides started in 2006. Here I will focus on those guides directly relevant for Brasil. Of course it is wise to look also at guides to resources in major European and American cities, but including them here would take too much space. When you choose the guide for research in Amsterdam (2009) you should remember that you can find much at Leiden, too. After the first guide for Brasil in 2009, Fuentes para la historia colonial de Brasil en los archivos españoles by María Belén García López, a second guide edited by a team of authors, the Guia do pesquisador americanista no Brasil appeared in 2011.

NuevoMundo’s guide to resources for Brazilian history in Spanish archives is all that you can wish for such a guide. It offers lots of information about the fondos of a great number of archives, with an additional bibliography of guides and archival inventories. The links to the websites of these archives are not included, but you can find these and much more rapidly at the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES). PARES offers also online access to digitized archival records held at a number of major Spanish archives.

Logo Centro de Memória Amazônia

The 2011 guide at NuevoMundo gives a full treatment of a wide variety of cultural institutions and their holdings, including information about their virtual presence. A quick scan of its contents leads you to a small number of digital libraries and archival collections. The Centro do Memória de Amazônia in Belém has digitized documents from some 130 inquisitorial procesos held between 1536 and 1821. The second digital library with historical resources has been created by the Biblioteca Octávio Ianni of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). The section Obras Raras of the Biblioteca Digital da UNICAMP contains 44 titles of travel accounts and historical works, among them Barlaeus’ book from 1647.

A third guide at NuevoMundo focuses on research facilities in Rio de Janeiro. In 2012 Sílvia Capanema P. de Almeida and Anaïs Fléchet published their online guide in French, Guide du chercheur américanista à Rio de Janeiro. A single example should show the merits of this guide: the Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa focuses on the Brazilian lawyer, politician and author Rui Barbosa (1849-1923); a number of his manuscripts is kept at the Academia Brasileira de Letras. The foundation’s website has a section with the Obras Completas of Rui Barbosa, but you can find here much more.

Logo Memórias Reveladas

NuevoMundo puts you even more in debt with their Americanist Links selection, with a generous variety of archives, libraries, research institutions, journals, blogs and other websites. Here I spotted the website Memórias Reveladas (Memories revealed) documenting political strife in Brasil between 1964 and 1985. Its database is hosted by the Arquivo Nacional. The Brazilian national archive has also created the base de dados Acervo Judiciário do Arquivo Nacional. The Dutch period in Brazilian history will eventually be covered by the Arquivo Nacional in an online Guia de fontes para a história da Holanda e dos holandeses no Brasil, which you can consult in five languages, including Dutch. Alas this project seems not yet to have left its infancy. Anyway, the website of the Arquivo Nacional brings you at least to many other relevant links. Among the links listed at Nuevo Mundo I would like to mention the virtual exhibition Os Índios na Historia do Brasil and the REDIAL (Red Europea de Información y Documentación sobre América Latina). At the website of The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record (University of Virginia Library) you can find numerous images of slavery in Brasil.

Looking for more resources

How wide can you cast your net to find anything relevant and useful? The results of further searches for digital resources concerning Brasil surely do not fit in this post. The journal NuevoMundo has a companion blog, Nuevo Mundo Radar, with regular alerts to new projects and websites. An example to make you curious: at the Vanderbilt University the portal site Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies covers four countries. It has a substantial section with documents and maps from Brasil, and of course links to more projects, for instance within the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library.

Nuevo Mundo Radar gives me a welcome metaphor to describe the way it is possible to detect new digital resources. By the way, legal historians should know another radarlike web harvester, the Criminocorpus Radar for French criminal history. Actually both websites contain posts written by scholars. Only in sections with continous updates some automated functions (“bots”) bring you the latest information. By combining forces and by breaking through linguistic barriers it becomes possible to have a more global view of matters on a local, regional and national scale. Brasil is not far away anymore. Its history is in many ways connected to and influenced by Europe. The largest country of Latin America has a history and importance that deserves more attention.

A postscript

I received some nice reactons to this post. Some of them brought me back to soccer. The German law portal Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Recht at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz send out a tweet – @vifarecht – with the witty description weltmeisterisch for my words! During the championship Germany and my country triumphed over the Brazilian eleven. The Dutch proverbial saying goes that soccer is a play of eleven against eleven, and in the end Germany wins. I should honour German scholars by pointing to the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt and their graduate school for Ibero-American legal history, with its own newsletter, list community, and to start a webpage available in five languages. In the graduate school the institute works together with scholars from Argentina and Brazil. This year’s summerschool of the International School of Ius Commune at Erice (September 30-October 4, 2014), organized by the Università di Catania, has as its theme Spanish and Italian jurists and their work in the New World.

Research into the history of the Dutch in Brazil is much helped by the series Mauritiana, named after Maurits of Oranje, Governor General of Dutch Brazil. Each bilingual volume has as it main title Brazilië in de Nederlandse archieven (1624-1654) and O Brasil em arquivos neerlandeses  (1624-1654)[Brazil in Dutch archives, 1624-1654], and until now Marianne Wiesebron was the author or co-author of all volumes. The first volume was published in 2004 by the Leiden Research School CNWS, following volumes by Leiden University Press.

If I had found it in 2014 I would have sent you immediately to the online exhibition Brazil: Five Centuries of Change created by the Brown University as a companion website to the 2010 edition of the textbook on Brazilian history by Thomas Skidmore. On the website of the Arquivo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro you can find at least three other interesting virtual exhibitions, Brasil: o Império nos TrópicosNação Brasílica: 180 anos de Independência and 190 anos do Ministério da Justiça. In the Archive of Early American Images of the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, Providence, RI, there are some 800 images concerning Brazil.

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