Brazil's Era of Epidemics: How Disease Transformed a Nation


LAC Burkhardt


International Studies


For residence at the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley during academic year 2016-2017


Brazil was transformed by an unusual and terrifying wave of epidemic diseases during the second half of the nineteenth century. Why did these scourges arrive, how were they understood, and what were their consequences? This project argues that Brazil’s “era of epidemics” was the result of its changing relationship with the Atlantic World. Without putting nature or culture first, historians can interpret deep interconnections among (1) a shifting epidemiological environment; (2) new modes of thinking about governance, religion, and race; and (3) the unraveling of a slave system. Not until more powerful state governments were created by the new Republic in 1889 could Brazil’s wealthiest states adopt more effective (and surveillant) public health intuitions. Epidemic disease had a more profound influence than historians have realized and helped shape the more populated, urban, and regionally unequal country Brazil became.