Contributions to Theory and Comparative History of Historiography

German and Brazilian Perspectives

by Luiz Estevam de Oliveira Fernandes (Volume editor) Luísa Rauter Pereira (Volume editor) Sérgio da Mata (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 208 Pages


This book bears witness to the tightening of bonds that has been taking place among the Brazilian and the German historiographical communities in the last years. It presents a wide array of historiographical issues by various scholars: the role played by history writing in modern processes of nation-building, Alexander von Humboldt’s indirect Brazilian experience, the humanistic and methodical legacies of 19th century German historical thinking, current perspectives in the history of concepts, and the potentials and limits of history as a means for political education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abstracts
  • Introduction: Historiographies in Dialogue
  • Brazil, Germany: Historiographies and Identities
  • “Aesthetical Representation of Natural History Objects”: Narrative Strategies in A. v. Humboldt’s Ansichten der Natur
  • Facts and Fictions: Alexander von Humboldt in Brazil
  • Humboldt and the Writing of New Spain’s History
  • Schemes of Historical Method in the Late 19th Century: Cross-References between Langlois and Seignobos, Bernheim, and Droysen
  • Erich Auerbach – Conditio humana
  • What is Conceptual History and to What End Do We Use It?
  • The History of Concepts and the History of Historiography: a Brazilian Trajectory
  • History as an Instrument Use and Misuse of German History – An Israeli Perspective

← 6 | 7 Abstracts


O diálogo entre alemães e brasileiros no campo do conhecimento histórico se iniciou relativamente cedo. Em 1845 era publicada a dissertação do naturalista Carl Friedrich von Martius Como se deve escrever a história do Brasil. Não muito tempo depois, em 1860, vem a lume a História do Brasil de Heinrich Handelmann, então catedrático em Kiel. Da Escola de Recife a Capistrano de Abreu, de Sérgio Buarque de Holanda à enorme influência de que desfrutou o marxismo ao longo da segunda metade do século XX, a historiografia brasileira sempre se manteve em contato, ora maior, ora menor, com o pensamento histórico alemão. Mas se até relativamente pouco tempo se podia falar em algo como „trocas desiguais no mercado historiográfico“ (Carlo Ginzburg), a última década mostra um desenvolvimento diferente. De um lado, o interesse pela tradição e pela língua alemã readquiriu força nos meios historiográficos brasileiros. De outro, os desenvolvimentos recentes da pesquisa histórica feita no Brasil têm sido acompanhados com curiosidade crescente na Alemanha. Multiplicam-se os sinais de que as duas comunidades historiográficas caminham atualmente no sentido de um crescente estreitamento de laços e de intensificação de projetos comuns.

Em 2013, por ocasião do Ano Brasil-Alemanha, o Simpósio Brasileiro de História da Historiografia (Universidade de Ouro Preto, 12 a 15 de agosto) teve por objetivo contribuir para a ampliação do contato e intercâmbio científico entre duas culturas históricas que sempre estiveram abertas uma aos estímulos da outra.

Fruto das discussões realizadas no Campus de Mariana, este livro pode também ser lido como o mais novo capítulo dessa longa história.


Der deutsch-brasilianische Dialog im Bereich der historischen Forschung begann relativ früh. 1845 veröffentlichte der Naturforscher Carl Friedrich von Martius seine Dissertation Bemerkungen über die Verfassung einer Geschichte Brasiliens. Kurz danach, im Jahre 1860, erschien die Geschichte Brasiliens von Heinrich Handelmann, damals Professor in Kiel. Von der sogenannten Recife-Schule bis zur Capistrano de Abreu, von Sérgio Buarque de Holanda bis hinein in die zweite Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, als der Marxismus weltweit eine große Verbreitung erlebte, blieb die brasilianische Geschichtsschreibung, manchmal ← 7 | 8 mehr, manchmal weniger, mit dem deutschen historischen Denken in engem Kontakt. Diese Situation war bis vor relativ kurzer Zeit von einer „Ungleichheit des Austausches im historiographischen Ideenmarkt“ (Carlo Ginzburg) gekennzeichnet, was sich seit Beginn des letzten Jahrzehnts jedoch änderte. Auf der einen Seite, in der brasilianischen Historikerzunft, verstärkt sich wieder das Interesse an der deutschen Tradition und an der deutschen Sprache. Auf der anderen Seite, in Deutschland, werden die neuesten Entwicklungen in der brasilianischen historischen Forschung mit zunehmender Aufmerksamkeit verfolgt. Es vermehren sich die Zeichen dafür, dass die beiden historiographischen Gemeinschaften auf dem Weg der Erneuerung ihrer Beziehungen und der Intensivierung gemeinsamer Projekte sind.

Im Jahr 2013, dem Deutsch-Brasilianischen Jahr der Wissenschaft, Technologie und Innovation, war es die Absicht des Brasilianischen Symposiums für Historiographiegeschichte (Universität Ouro Preto, vom 12. bis 15. August), zur Ausweitung des Kontaktes und des wissenschaftlichen Austausches zwischen den beiden historischen Kulturen, die schon immer offen für gegenseitige Anregungen gewesen sind, beizutragen.

Diese Publikation führt nicht nur die Ergebnisse der Diskussionen vom Campus de Mariana zusammen, sie stellt zugleich das neueste Kapitel des langen deutsch-brasilianischen Austausches dar.

← 8 | 9 Luiz Estevam de Oliveira Fernandes, Luísa Rauter Pereira & Sérgio da Mata1

Introduction: Historiographies in Dialogue

In the second half of the 19th century, faced with the extraordinary conquests made by the experimental sciences, the strategy adopted by the humanities to legitimize themselves as systematic forms of knowledge was to insist on their own “singularity”. In spite of the fact that this important effort directed at differentiation led to some excesses, it cannot be denied that in the humanities, unlike the hard sciences, the use of adjectivation that obeys the criteria of belonging to a national or linguistic community is quite common. Thus, if on the one hand a Brazilian physics does not exist, nobody can deny that a Brazilian historiography does; one that answers specific questions posed by the society that produces it; a historiography that mirrors its society’s own thought style and history.

As a result, it becomes legitimate to inquire into the dynamics of the relationships which over time different historiographic traditions establish with one another. One gets the impression that what, thirty years ago, Carlo Ginzburg dubbed as “unequal exchange” in the historiographic market of ideas is more the rule than the exception. Not that we would defend here a kind of analogue of the dependency theory or seek for an “authentic” Brazilian writing of history. Romanticism had its period in the history of historiography and it is not appropriate to wish to revive it in today’s conditions. The exchange regime that Ginzburg refers to may be unequal, but appropriation almost always implies a process of translation, of creative reconfiguration. That is true for Brazil and also for the European historiographies. None of them can be considered entirely autochthonous or completely self-contained. All of them at one time or another in their development mutually stimulated and enriched one another.

What we call the historical science constitutes itself at this crossroads of local knowledge and investigative protocols recognized by an international community of researchers; between the Sitz im Leben that presides over the formulation ← 9 | 10 of an historical question and the methodic innovations, not uncommonly originated in entirely different contexts, that make it possible to answer it.

It would be ingenuous, to say the least, to believe that the dialogues among different historiographic communities come into being spontaneously or idiosyncratically. The choice of intellectual partners obeys different criteria such as the existence of previously established cultural links, elective affinities of all sorts (linguistic, and even ideological), reasons of prestige, and eventually, for reasons of State. Needless to say those relations also have their own history; they become institutionalized and acquire stability by means of circles of disciples, of the constant translation and dissemination of works, of the joint holding of scientific events and common research programs, of the greater or lesser social capital acquired at their cost and of their capacity to propel the emergence of new, innovative investigations. Such relations are liable to suddenly themselves in crises in the light of the sudden ascension of other historiographic paradigms or competing traditions – because it is clear that nothing is more inconvenient to the scholar of the past than to feel himself part of the past of his own discipline. It could perhaps be said that the vanishing point of this process, insofar as a community of historians attains its majority from the intellectual standpoint, is the gradual pluralization of references, traditions, “paradigms”.

In that sense the history of the relations between Brazilian historiography and German historiography has a few surprises in store for us and it is a pity that it has not been considered worthy of detailed investigation in either of the countries. We will limit ourselves here to some brief observations in that regard, but which, nevertheless, justify the fact that in its 2013 edition, the Brazilian National Symposium on History and Historiography dedicated itself to debating the theme “Theory of History and History of Historiography: Brazil-Germany Dialogues” (Teoria da História e História da Historiografia: Diálogos Brasil-Alemanha).

It is well known that German historical thinking never actually threatened the preeminence of the French intellectual tradition in Brazil. In 1882, Tobias Barreto remarked that “among us, philosophy and science continue to be a kind of clothing made in Paris”, a diagnosis reaffirmed by Caio Prado Junior half a century later: “Everything written in Brazil in the last quarter of the 18th century, which was when something actually began to be written among us, bears the stamp of French thinking”.2

← 10 | 11 While French ascendency cannot be denied, the influences from beyond the Rhine have never been completely absent. Beginning with the programmatic essay written by the naturalist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868), which became known in Brazil with the title “How the History of Brazil should be written” (The original was less normative in its pretensions and bore the title Bemerkungen über die Verfassung einer Geschichte Brasiliens “Notes for writing a history of Brazil”). The significance of Von Martius’s essay has already been the object of an ample discussion among the Brazilian specialists and its importance has been widely recognized by classic figures of Brazilian historiography like Francisco Adolfo de Varnhagen, Silvio Romero and Capistrano de Abreu. Von Martius was the first to systematize the thesis that the great civilizational originality of Brazil lies in the synthesis of three great ethnic and cultural trunks – the European, the Indigenous and the African.

Naturally, his Notes for writing a History of Brazil did not encounter the same resonance among those in Germany who took an interest in the trajectory of the young Latin American nation. At the end of the 1820s, guided by entirely different premises, Eduard Lebrecht’s Geschichte von Brasilien (1827) and Ernst Hermann Münch’s Geschichte von Brasilien (1829-1829) appeared. Both books were part of large collections of universal history and can be classified as popular historiography.3 They narrate the discovery of Brazil, the construction of the administrative apparatus, the foreign invasions and, of course, the arrival of the royal family and the process of independence. What struck Lebrecht and Münch most as being our outstandingly unique feature was not so much the ethnic-cultural hybridization as Brazil’s maintenance of its territorial unity. In spite of that, they were still careful to make the ethnographic registrations that were so typical of the late enlightenment’s historiography in Germany.4 Those histories of Brazil do not begin with the arrival of the Portuguese but rather with a careful description of the indigenous tribes. The famous quilombo of Palmares, a huge community of escaped slaves in what is today the state of Alagoas, was also granted generous space in Lebrecht and Münch’s books.

In the second half of the 19th century, the kind of valuation that is the premise of all historical interest had been displaced. That can be shown by considering the first great history of Brazil to be published in Germany, the one by Heinrich Handelmann. In the eyes of Germans, Brazil had become a phenomenon of political ← 11 | 12 continuity in a Latin America that had almost entirely switched over to the Republican form of government. However, there was another reason that made it the target of interest: reports of the degrading conditions that many German immigrants in Brazil lived and worked in were beginning to multiply to the extent that, in 1859, the Prussian government prohibited the display of any kind of publicity in its territory of companies intermediating migration to Brazil. It is therefore not surprising that Handelmann, a professor at the University of Kiel, had dedicated the entire last section of his work to the perspectives of the German colonization. In spite of not having enjoyed the same prestige as his compatriot Von Martius, his references made their mark here. In his well known manual of Brazilian history of 1900, João Ribeiro admitted that he had partially based himself on “Handelmann’s excellent work”.5 Translated and published by the Review of the Brazilian Historical and Geographic Institute at the beginning of the 1930s, the Geschichte von Brasilien was to enjoy a long life, especially in the German Institutes of Latin American History where it was widely used as a manual up until the end of the 1990s.6


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
Theory of History Public History Historicism
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 208 pp., 1 coloured ill., 10 b/w ill., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Luiz Estevam de Oliveira Fernandes (Volume editor) Luísa Rauter Pereira (Volume editor) Sérgio da Mata (Volume editor)

Luiz Estevam de Oliveira Fernandes, Luísa Rauter Pereira, and Sérgio da Mata are Professors of History at the University of Ouro Preto, Brazil.


Title: Contributions to Theory and Comparative History of Historiography
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210 pages