Stringing Together a Nation

Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon and the Construction of a Modern Brazil, 1906–1930

Stringing Together a Nation

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 23 illus., 3 maps Published: February 2004

Author: Todd A. Diacon

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil

Focusing on one of the most fascinating and debated figures in the history of modern Brazil, Stringing Together a Nation is the first full-length study of the life and career of Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon (1865–1958) to be published in English. In the early twentieth century, Rondon, a military engineer, led what became known as the Rondon Commission in a massive undertaking: the building of telegraph lines and roads connecting Brazil’s vast interior with its coast. Todd A. Diacon describes how, in stringing together a nation with telegraph wire, Rondon attempted to create a unified community of “Brazilians” from a population whose loyalties and identities were much more local and regional in scope. He reveals the work of the Rondon Commission as a crucial exemplar of the issues and intricacies involved in the expansion of central state authority in Brazil and in the construction of a particular kind of Brazilian nation.

Using an impressive array of archival and documentary sources, Diacon chronicles the Rondon Commission’s arduous construction of telegraph lines across more than eight hundred miles of the Amazon Basin; its exploration, surveying, and mapping of vast areas of northwest Brazil; and its implementation of policies governing relations between the Brazilian state and indigenous groups. He considers the importance of Positivist philosophy to Rondon’s thought, and he highlights the Rondon Commission’s significant public relations work on behalf of nation-building efforts. He reflects on the discussions—both contemporaneous and historiographical—that have made Rondon such a fundamental and controversial figure in Brazilian cultural history.


“[An] excellent biography…. Diacon treats this literature with respect but correctly shows that it projects contemporary theories onto an era that could not have understood, much less embraced, them.” — Michael L. Conniff , The Americas

“[E]xcellent and engaging. . . . In addition to these virtues, Diacon’s fluid prose sweeps the reader along through the geography of the vast Brazilian interior and the myriad difficulties Rondon and his workers faced as they built the line.” — Zephyr Frank , Hispanic American Historical Review

“[T]he sum of the book far outweighs its individual parts. In the end, Diacon convincingly argues that it is only through a subtle understanding of both sides of Rondon’s legacy that we can hope to analyse his life’s work, and its impact on Brazil . . . . It will appeal to a broad audience of readers, and is a valuable addition in both undergraduate and graduate teaching.” — Zachary R. Morgan, Journal of Latin American Studies

“The text is straightforward and illustrative of the role of positivism and the military in early efforts at developing Brazil’s economic potential …. Diacon has written accessibly for the classroom, effectively combining biography with an illuminating discussion of the principal themes of nation-building in early-twentieth-century Brazil.” — , British Bulletin of Publications

"Stringing Together a Nation is an excellent social history with a fascinating story to tell. It reveals a chapter of Brazilian history that deserves attention, and it addresses a number of issues that economic and business historians of Brazil (and Latin America, more generally) have overlooked. The book is well written and a pleasure to read, making this relatively unknown chapter of Brazilian history interesting and accessible to a wide audience." — Gail D. Triner, Business History Review

"Clearly-written, well illustrated (with three maps and twenty-three photographs), and well-documented." — Tamás Szmrecsányi, Enterprise & Society

"[T]his beautifully written work . . . will be accessible both to undergraduates and general readers. . . . With its account of the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition, its description of the human adventure the commission's work entailed, and its thoughtful judgments on Rondon himself, this book will be a key text in classes on Amazonian history for many years to come." — Shawn Smallman , American Historical Review

“This amazing story of dedication and persistence elucidates the life project of one of Brazil’s major figures of the early twentieth century. Rondon persevered against politicians in Rio as much as against the natural challenges of Brazil’s vast interior, stoically suffering the demands of safari-loving Theodore Roosevelt in the meantime. Ironically, the telegraph lines he built, like his Positivist ideological beacon, were both out of date by the time he completed his work.” — Thomas Holloway, University of California, Davis

“Stringing Together a Nation examines the life of one of the most fascinating, and debated, figures in modern Brazil, Cândido Rondon, by melding traditional and new research approaches into an informal and clear narrative style of history. It brings to the English-speaking academic public a welcome deconstruction of recent Brazilian historiography on nation building, indigenous people, and state action. The research forStringing Together a Nation is groundbreaking and brings to light archival materials that will change the way we understand how Brazilians discovered Brazil in the early decades of the twentieth century.” — Jeffrey Lesser, author of Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Todd A. Diacon is Head of the History Department of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the author of Millenarian Vision, Capitalist Reality: Brazil’s Contestado Rebellion, 1912–1916, published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Stringing Togeth a People and Place 9

2. Building the Lonely Line, 1907-1915 19

3. Working and Living on the Lonely Line 53

4. The Power of Positivism 79

5. Living with Others on the Lonely Line 101

6. Selling a Person and a Product: Public Relations and the Rondon Telegraph Commission 131

7. The Legacy of the Lonely Line 155

Notes 163

Bibliography 207

Index 225
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3249-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3210-7
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