Culture Wars in Brazil

The First Vargas Regime, 1930–1945

Culture Wars in Brazil

Book Pages: 372 Illustrations: 4 color plates, 47 b&w photos, 8 tables, 1 map Published: July 2001

Author: Daryle Williams

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil

In Culture Wars in Brazil Daryle Williams analyzes the contentious politicking over the administration, meaning, and look of Brazilian culture that marked the first regime of president-dictator Getúlio Vargas (1883–1954). Examining a series of interconnected battles waged among bureaucrats, artists, intellectuals, critics, and everyday citizens over the state’s power to regulate and consecrate the field of cultural production, Williams argues that the high-stakes struggles over cultural management fought between the Revolution of 1930 and the fall of the Estado Novo dictatorship centered on the bragging rights to brasilidade—an intangible yet highly coveted sense of Brazilianness.
Williams draws on a rich selection of textual, pictorial, and architectural sources in his exploration of the dynamic nature of educational film and radio, historical preservation, museum management, painting, public architecture, and national delegations organized for international expositions during the unsettled era in which modern Brazil’s cultural canon took definitive form. In his close reading of the tensions surrounding official policies of cultural management, Williams both updates the research of the pioneer generation of North American Brazilianists, who examined the politics of state building during the Vargas era, and engages today’s generation of Brazilianists, who locate the construction of national identity of modern Brazil in the Vargas era.
By integrating Brazil into a growing body of literature on the cultural dimensions of nations and nationalism, Culture Wars in Brazil will be important reading for students and scholars of Latin American history, state formation, modernist art and architecture, and cultural studies.


Culture Wars in Brazil draws the reader into an engaging crossroads in Brazilian history . . . . William’s transparent use of sources for cultural history, the clarity of his narrative, the depth of his characterization of the Vargas regime, and his caution in situating the narrative within broader currents of Brazilian history, all suit this book to undergraduate classroom use. . . . Culture Wars in Brazil fills a conspicuous gap in the English-language history of Brazil . . . . Williams’s thorough study of the ministry’s cultural policies will serve as a basic reference for future scholarship on Brazilian cultural policy.” — Jerry Dávila , Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] good book about an interesting but neglected topic. . . . This impressively researched study is filled with important and learned observations about an era when the ‘national and cultural canon and the institutions that managed it continued to blur the line between cultural and political power.’ It is a model for how to organize a complex argument clearly and effectively. . . . Daryle Williams has succeeded in writing a book that any of us would have been proud to write, and it will become mandatory reading for future generations of Brazilianists.” — Todd A. Diacon , H-Net Reviews

“[A] significant contribution to the political history of Brazilian culture. Culture Wars in Brazil undoubtedly will remain a work that will be consulted profitably by future historians. . . [and] will contribute to a broader understanding of the Vargas regime. The relationship between the nation-state and culture remains a contentious issue in Brazilian society, and one hopes that a Portuguese edition will follow. His book deserves a broader audience than one fears it will have in the United States.” — Andrew J. Kirkendall , South Eastern Latin Americanist

“[I]lluminating and creative . . . . Williams offers us a compelling and convincing account of the Vargas state at work. This is a book of great significance for students of Brazil, and for all those interested in the broader issues of cultural policy and the construction and representation of history.” — Bryan McCann , The Public Historian

“Daryle Williams’ Culture Wars in Brazil will engage historians, anthropologists, political scientists, art historians and architects alike. It will also be of use to anyone interested in the particular notion of brasilidade or in the relationship between the state and culture in general. . . . [F]or anyone dealing with the variety that is brasilidade, Williams’ book provides historical perspective, a useful theoretical language and a critical lens.” — Katya Wesolowski , Luso-Brazilian Review

“The book is beautifully printed and nicely illustrated with photographs and art (including a stunning set of four reproductions in color at the center of the book). It has much to offer for advanced undergraduate readers and above interested in 20th-century Brazilian history.” — R. M. Levine , Choice

“This brilliant book will be highly controversial in Brazil and a catalyst for much future research and debate.” — Foreign Affairs

“This is one of the most original books about Getúlio Vargas’s government to appear in many years. . . . Williams effectively analyzes the complex high politics of government and cultural elites. . . . In this well-written and effectively illustrated book, Williams has thus laid important groundwork for future scholarship on Brazilian culture in the second half of the twentieth century.” — Hendrik Kraay , History: Reviews of New Books

"Culture Wars in Brazil locate[s] itself well in relation to the accumulated political histories of the first Vargas regime, histories of literature and the arts in Brazil in the first decades of the twentieth century, and especially the many studies of Brazilian modernims. It will function as a valuable resources in that location." — Ronald W. Sousa , Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

"[A] carefully crafted and minutely documented history. . . . Especially compelling in William's work is the analysis of the elite cultural arbiters' shifting attitudes toward race and their interpretation of the Brazilian past as manifestation of the 'cultural war' between the traditional and modernizing currents. . . . Williams's work offers other researchers a clear theoretical framework and an excellent model of how to uncover the documentation necessary to analyze the key debates surrounding the relationship of cultural production to the state over the last hundred years." — James N. Green , Latin American Research Review

"In focusing on the cultural politics of the Vargas regime, Daryle Williams offers an important contribution to the discussion of this critical period. . . . Williams’s book certainly adds another layer of complexity to the political regime of twentieth –century Brazil’s most influential and controversial leader."
— Seth Garfield , American Historical Review

"Williams’ discussion is extremely thorough. . . . Williams’ thoughtful inquiry gives Brazilianists much to consider. The strength of Williams’ research is his ability to analyze historical events using a range of historical proofs. . . . Readers will find particularly useful the Biographical Appendix that gives concise information on the players in the cultural wars. The book documents a crucial phase in Brazilian history. . . . Williams’ book should be a part of any library that is concerned with constructions of Brazilian identity."

— Rhonda Michelle Collier , EIAL

Culture Wars in Brazil is an important book. Historians tend to neglect Brazilian cultural history, and Williams takes a significant step toward diminishing that lacunae. His writing is dramatic and exciting, his research wide-ranging and creative, and he has uncovered much fascinating material.” — Jeffrey Lesser, author of Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil

“A solid and memorable contribution to our understanding of Brazilian twentieth-century history.” — Robert M. Levine, author of Brazilian Legacies

“All the contradictory qualities of Vargas’s quasi-fascist state—activist, interventionist, nationalist, and conservative—vibrate in this fine analysis of cultural policy in the 1930s and 1940s.” — Dain Borges, University of California, San Diego


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daryle Williams is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Abreviations



Introduction: The Brazilian Republic, Getúlio Vargas, and Metaphors of War

1. The Vargas Era and Culture Wars

2. Cultural Management before 1930

3. Cultural Management, 1930–1945

4. “The Identity Documents of the Brazilian Nation”: The National Historical and Artistic Patrimony

5. Museums and Memory

6. Expositions and “Export Quality” Culture

Conclusion: Who Won? National Culture Under Vargas

Biographical Appendix



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2002 John Edwin Fagg Prize, American Historical Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2719-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2708-0
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