Brazil for Beginners

Learn Interesting facts about Brazil and how Brazil emerges on the world stage.

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  • Lectures 17
  • Video 5 hours
  • Skill Level All Levels
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 2/2012 English

Course Description

A Faculty Project Course - Best Professors Teaching the World

Long described as the "country of the future", Brazil has arrived. The fifth largest country in the world in land mass and population, the third largest democracy, and the sixth economy on the planet, Brazil has emerged as a power in the early twenty-first century. This course offers a concise overview of intersting facts about Brazil history and culture from the 15th century to the present. It concludes with a look at the dynamic nation that has taken shape in the last generation.

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(Video and editing credit: Rachel Abeshouse)

Section 1: Overview

In this introductory lecture I provide an overview of the lectures in the course, and then briefly sketch a series of reasons explaining "why Brazil matters".  As I emphasize, Brazil has emerged as a power in the early twentieth-first century as the largest country in the world in land mass and population, the third largest democracy, and the sixth economy on the planet.

Key Terms:

Antonio Carlos Jobim


Getúlio Vargas

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva

Suggested Reading:

Marshall C. Eakin, Brazil:  The Once and Future Country (New York:  St. Martin's Press, 1997)

Riordan Roett, The New Brazil (Washington, DC:  The Brookings Institution Press, 2010)


This lecture surveys the five major regions of Brazil and provides an introduction to the major features of Brazilian culture.

Key Terms:

Salvador da Bahia (baiano)

Rio de Janeiro (carioca)

Minas Gerais (mineiro)

São Paulo (paulista)

Belo Horizonte


Santa Catarina

Rio Grande do Sul (gaúcho)


Euclides da Cunha





Mato Grosso

Suggested Reading:

Eakin, Brazil:  The Once and Future Country, Chapter 2, "The Brazilian Archipelago"

Section 2: Part I

A look at the native peoples of eastern South America, the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, and the implantation of the first permanent Portuguese settlements.


The construction of the first great plantation complex in the Americas on the Northeastern coast of Brazil built on cane sugar and African slave labor.


The first great gold rush in the Americas took shape in Brazil in the eighteenth century. This lecture discusses the "Golden Age of Brazil," the acceleration of the Brazilian slave trade, and the creation of a new heartland in the southeast of Brazil.

Key Terms:

Minas Gerais



War of the Emboabas

Vila Rica de Ouro Preto

Chica da Silva

João V

Suggested Reading:

Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2009)


This lecture examines the late eighteenth century in the Portuguese empire, the failed uprising in Minas Gerais, the transfer of the Portuguese royal family to Brazil and the process of independence in the early nineteenth century.

Key Terms:

Charles III (1759-88) of Spain

Marquis of Pombal (1750-77)

Inconfidência Mineira (1789)


Napoleon Bonaparte

João VI

Pedro I

fico - "I am staying."

Suggested Reading:

Kenneth Maxwell, Conflicts and Conspiracies:  Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808 (New York:  Routledge, 2004)

Neill Macaulay, Dom Pedro:  The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portual, 1798-1834 (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 1986)


This lecture is an overview of the largest slave society in the Americas and it decline from the abolition of the slave trade in 1850 to the abolition of slavery in 1888.

Key Terms:

Bight of Benin








St. Domingue

Golden Law (13 May 1888)

Suggested Readings:

Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1992)

Carl Degler, Neither Black nor White:  Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 1986)

Katia M. de Queiros Mattoso, To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550-1888, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press, 1986)


Overview of political history of the last years of the Brazilian Empire, its overthrow in 1889, and the creation of a Brazilian republic.

Key Terms:

Princess Isabel


Deodoro da Fonseca

Floriano Peixoto

Pedro II

Suggested Reading:

Roderick Barman, Citizen Emperor:  Pedro II and the Making of Brazil, 1825-1891 (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2002)

Section 3: Part II

In the early twentieth century a series of political, economic, social, and cultural movements converge to produce the beginnings of a modern nation constructed around an identity built on racial and cultural mixture.

Key Terms:




Luso-tropical civilization

José de Alencar (1829-77)

Aluísio de Azevedo (1857-1913)

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908)

Modern Art Week (1922)

Mário de Andrade (1893-1945)

Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954)

Cannibalist Manifesto

Gilberto Freyre (1900-87)

Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909)

Suggested Reading:

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro, trans. Helen Caldwell (New York:  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009)

Euclides da Cunha, Backlands:  The Canudos Campaign, trans. Elizabeth Lowe (New York:  Penguin, 2010)

Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves, trans. Samuel Putnam (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1987)

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, Spectacle of Races: Scientists, Institutions, and the Race Question in Brazil, 1870-1930, trans. Lilia Guyer (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1999)


From the 1930s to the 1950s the dominant political figure in Brazil, Getulio Vargas, played the principal role in the emergence of a country in the early stages of industrialization, urbanization, social reorganization, and the consolidation of a national community.  This lecture looks at the collapse of the First Republic (1889-1930), the rise of Vargas and the imposition his dictatorship (1937-45).

Key Terms:

Washington Luís (1926-30)

Getúlio Vargas (1883-1954)

João Pessoa



Import Substititution Industrialization (ISI)

Suggested Reading:

Robert M. Levine, Father of the Poor?:  Vargas and His Era (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Thomas E. Skidmore, Politics in Brazil, 1930-64:  An Experiment in Democracy (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1967)


From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s Brazil, for the first time, experimented with mass democratic politics and political mobilization, a period that ended with a military coup in 1964.  In this lecture, we look at the fall of Vargas, and the emergence of mass politics up through the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-61).

Key Terms: 

Getúlio Vargas

Eurico Dutra (1946-51)



Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-61)

João Goulart


Suggested Reading:

Thomas E. Skidmore, Politics in Brazil, 1930-64:  An Experiment in Democracy (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1967)


From 1964 to 1985, the armed forces imposed a dictatorship with the twin goals of eliminating what they saw as the threat of leftist revolutionaries and rapidly modernizing the economy through state-directed industrialization.

Key Terms:

Jânio Quadros

João Goulart

National Security Doctrine

General Humberto Castelo Branco (1964-67)

General Artur Costa e Silva (1967-69)

General Emílio Médici (1969-74)

"ano de chumbo" (years of lead)

Suggested Reading:

Thomas E. Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964-85 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1988)

Torture in Brazil: A Shocking Report on the Pervasive Use of Torture by Brazilian Military Governments, 1964-1979.  translated by Jaime Wright. Edited with a new preface by Joan Dassin  (Austin:  Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, 1998)


In the 1980s the military gradually stepped back from power and Brazil entered into the most democratic and open politics in its history as the third largest democracy in the world.

Key Terms:

General Ernest Geisel (1974-79)
Distensão and abertura (detente and opening)
General João Baptista Figueiredo (1979-85)
Tancredo Neves
José Sarney (1985-90)
Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-92)
Luís Inácio "Lula" da Silva
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003)
Suggested Reading:
Bryan McCann, The Throes of Democracy, Brazil since 1989 (New York:  Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008)
Riordan Roett, The New Brazil (Washington, DC:  Brookings Institution Press, 2010)

The principal architects of the new Brazil have been two presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva (2003-2011).

Key Terms:

Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI)


Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003)

Luís Inácio "Lula" da Silva (2003-11)

Bolsa Família (Family Stipend)

Dilma Rousseff (2011- )

Suggested Reading:

Albert Fishlow, Starting Over:  Brazil Since 1985 (Washington, DC:  Brookings Institution Press, 2011)

Section 4: Wrap Up

Over the last decade, Brazil has become the world's sixth largest economy, third largest democracy, and one of the key players on the global stage.  This lecture summarizes the course and looks to the future.

Key Terms:

Getúlio Vargas

growth and development

income inequality

Suggested Reading:

Marshall C. Eakin, Brazil:  The Once and Future Country (New York:  St. Martin's Press, 1997)

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Brazilian history in less than five hours!  As I noted at the beginning of the course, I hope these lectures have enlightened you about this extraordinary country and people, and that you are provoked and stimulated to learn more about Brazil and the Brazilians.…

Instructor Biography

Marshall C. Eakin, Professor of History - Vanderbilt University

Marshall C. Eakin is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University.  A native Texan, he received his B.A. in history and anthropology from the University of Kansas in 1975, and his M.A. in Latin American history in 1977. He did his doctoral work in Latin American history at UCLA completing his Ph.D. in 1981.  Eakin taught at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for two years before coming to Vanderbilt in 1983. He served as Executive Director of the Brazilian Studies Association from 2004-2011.

A historian of Latin America, Eakin specializes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Brazilian history.  His major publications have concentrated on economic and business history, industrialization, and the processes of nationalism and nation-building—primarily in the twentieth century.

He has co-edited four books and is the author of four more: British Enterprise in Brazil: The St. John d’el Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho Gold Mine, 1830-1960 (Duke, 1989), Brazil: The Once and Future Country (St. Martin’s, 1997), Tropical Capitalism: The Industrialization of Belo Horizonte, Brazil (Palgrave, 2001), and The History of Latin America:  Collision of Cultures (Palgrave, 2007). Eakin has also created two video courses with the Teaching Company: Conquest of the Americas and The Americas in a Revolutionary Era. He has been awarded grants from Fulbright-Hays, the Tinker Foundation, the American Historical Association, the Corporation for National Service, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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