November 15, 2017
At the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in Lima last summer, Brazil scholar Joseph Marques presented “State of the Discipline: Brazilian Studies in North America.” In it, he shared the results of a survey he and a colleague had sent to Brazil studies faculty across the United States and Canada. When asked to name the five best programs and the five leading academics, respondents placed both Brown and James Green, director of the Brazil Initiative, at the top of those respective lists.
Green, an expert in U.S-Brazil relations and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Chair of Latin American History, has long had a reputation as a scholar of distinction, and the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian studies has, over almost four decades, become known for its strengths in language and literature. So the high ranking is not entirely surprising. But the more recently formed Brazil Initiative, a small powerhouse of a center located in the Watson Institute, might be why Brown was topmost in people’s minds.
This comes as no surprise, according to Marques: “Brown offers a broad range of courses on Brazil and has a large number of faculty in many different departments doing work on Brazil. Jim has played a leadership role in many U.S.- and Brazil-based academic organizations. He is clearly an integral member of the core group of leading U.S.- based Brazilianists.”
Understanding Brazil is vital for several reasons, according to Green. It’s the largest country in Latin America, with a population of 200 million. That gives it political and economic—not to mention environmental—importance. But it also offers a way of learning more about the U.S.
“Brazil is a very interesting country to study because it has this diversity, richness, and complexity, and so does the U.S.,” Green says. The two countries share a history of slavery (Brazil is home to the largest Afro-descendant population outside of Africa), and, says Green, “we can study how slavery played out differently, how post-emancipation played out differently. We can also look at the different models of diversity. And both countries have very strong social movements.”
For Ramon Stern, who manages both the day-to-day operations and the jam-packed event programming, the Brazil Initiative’s two strengths are its focus on social inequality and race and the intellectual and cultural community it has created at Brown. “We are really generating certain kinds of discussions, especially around race, that are very urgent on university campuses. But at many universities, there aren’t the resources or commitment to these kinds of issues. The conversations that we’re having at Brown aren’t happening to the same degree elsewhere.”
Mateus Lima Gomes ’18 agrees. “Here at Brown we always have an opportunity to engage with research about Brazil,” he says. “The Brazil Initiative illustrates that very well. Considering that I am an electrical engineering concentrator, I did not expect that I would be doing research on the Brazilian military dictatorship today. I did not feel like an outsider and the community only grows stronger. I wanted to extend this model of collaboration and learning both outside of the classroom and across disciplines. That's what the Brazilian Science in Context Conference and the Brownzilians are all about.” The Brownzilians are a student group that will bring 14 Brazilian scientists to campus in March for a conference on science and Brazil. Lima Gomes is president. The group is also working to establish a Lusophone dormitory at Brown.
Another source of the Brazil Initiative’s vibrancy is its interdisciplinarity: it acts, according to Green, as “a vehicle to bring people across disciplines together.” During the first three years, a series of collaboration grants supported scientists and public health scholars studying Brazil and even spawned a reforestation pilot program in the Atlantic Forest. The CineBrasil film festival, now in its fourth year, highlights recent Brazilian cinema and consistently attracts a full house – of students and faculty, of course, but of community members as well.
If that weren’t enough to keep Green and Stern busy, Watson is now the home of the Secretariat of the Brazilian Studies Association, an international association of Brazil scholars from the United States, Latin America, and Europe. Last spring, some 500 scholars of Brazil traveled to Providence for BRASA’s biannual conference, hosted by Brown. And Stern and Green are already planning the 2018 conference, to take place in Rio de Janeiro July 25-28, 2018, at the Pontificate Catholic University, where Brown also has a study abroad program. More than a thousand papers have already been accepted.
“In partnership with the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, we are working on the goal of making Brown University the best place to study Brazil outside of Brazil,” Green says. “We’re certainly pleased to know that our peers think so highly of our efforts.”
-- Sarah C. Baldwin