Modules for History Lessons
Swiss Emigrants in 19th Century Brazil: Ambivalent Entanglements with Structures of Slavery
Introduction to the Module
Typically for most Latin American countries, Brazil in the 19th century was no longer a European colony in the formal sense of the term. It gained independence from Portugal in 1822. However, since the country’s fate remained in the hands of rulers of Portuguese descent and Brazil’s economy remained dependent on African slaves until the 1880s, colonial structures and culture continued to shape Brazilian history.1
Switzerland in the 19th century was undergoing rapid industrialisation and economic expansion. Swiss merchants and manufacturers imported silk, cotton and other raw materials from colonies in Asia as well as from the new countries in the Americas. They exported refined textiles, but also watches or cheese into the expanding markets overseas. Thus by 1845 around 50 % of Swiss export goods went to the Americas, while another 15–20 % went to Asia.2 This process of Swiss economic expansion sustained growing wealth as well as political power of a heterogeneous bourgeoisie in Switzerland. But it also sharpened social inequalities within Swiss society which led thousands of impoverished Swiss to emigrate. The Americas, and Brazil in particular, were among the main destinations of Swiss poverty migration in the 19th century. This led to the establishment of numerous “Swiss colonies” in North and South America. These settlements, consisting typically of agricultural labourers, were situated in the interior areas of these countries. The Swiss nation state had no direct political influence over these “Swiss colonies” Rather, the “Swiss...
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