Module Details

HR220-5-SP-CO: The Making Of Modern Brazil (Twentieth Century)

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Year: 2017/18
Department: History
Essex credit: 15
ECTS credit: 7.5
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: Yes

Supervisor: Professor Matthias Assuncao
Teaching Staff: Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Contact details: Belinda Waterman, Student Administrator, Department of History; email:

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

Although Brazil is the fifth biggest country of the world in terms of population and territory, the country and its history remain widely unknown to most Europeans. Brazil is part of the Western world since the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the Portuguese and other Europeans established their first colonies on the coast, but at the same time retains a strong African and Native American heritage. Extreme social inequality as well as the amazing capacity of integrating different cultures into an original new synthesis characterizes this 'land of contrasts'. Today Brazil is asserting itself as a key player in international politics alongside other emerging powerhouses of the world.

The module will provide a general introduction to the political and social history of the Brazilian Republic from the overthrow of the Empire (1889) to the democratic transition following the military dictatorship (1964-85). The main focus of lectures and seminars, however, will be on the social movements in this period. What kind of people supported them? What were their aims and actions? What type of organisations developed and how effective were they in reaching their goals? We will examine social unrest in the rural backlands, which often took the form of religious groups led by charismatic leaders or groups of bandits who ransomed wealthier landlords. In the rapidly growing cities urban riots against modernisation from above gave place to strikes organised by European anarchists, who had immigrated to Brazil since the end of the nineteenth century. As the case of fascist and communist movements during the 1930s shows, the country took part in broader, global developments although these assumed very Brazilian forms. The military dictatorship led to the radicalisation of the opposition, and the emergence of urban and rural guerrillas (1969-74), as well as the currently ruling Workers Party (PT), founded by trade-unionists and a wide range of grass-roots activists. Democratisation saw the development of a further wave of social movements in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as the Movement of the Landless and the Black Consciousness Movement. The overall aim of the module is to understand why and how Brazilian governments and forms of protest changed so much over the last century.

Learning and Teaching Methods

One-hour lecture and one-hour seminar per week.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


Coursework consists of one 4,000-word essay and one presentation of a primary source (1,000 words).

Further information