World History 2 126 - 8.4.3 Nineteenth-Century Eyes on Latin America

Latin American movements for independence sought to throw off the rule of mercantilist parent countries and an economic model that hindered the development of rapidly growing colonial states. The successful movements, led by well-educated elites, many times faced resistance from a majority race-mixed population that sided with the homeland. The lack of popular support forced the exploitive White creole minority, who feared the oppressed mixed-race majorities, to negotiate their successes at each step. Liberators like Bolívar, San Martín, Pedro I, and Iturbide received no significant assistance from outside sources and many times lacked a unified direction or strategy. They encountered problems of vast geographic distances and natural obstacles, as well as the economic and cultural isolation of the various regions they were trying to unite.

Brazil’s path to independence shows more continuity with its colonial legacy than that of any other Latin American country because, although it was free of Portuguese rule after 1822, it became not a republic but an independent empire. The first emperor, Pedro I, was a prince of the Portuguese royal house and still an heir to its throne. Moreover, Portuguese-born men continued to control trade and to hold positions of power in the bureaucracy, the army, and the church. The conservative-liberal division dominated political life in imperial Brazil and marked the conflicting interests and ideals of various economic groups. Independence did not provoke major changes in the area’s colonial socioeconomic structures. The new Brazilian constitutional monarchy simply regularized the status quo.

The movement for Latin American independence sparked great outside interest in the region, and this curiosity fostered both foreign travel and writing. It was often through such accounts that people in the United States and Europe learned about South America. Ordinarily, nineteenth-century European women did not travel for pleasure; tourism is a twentieth-century invention. When Maria Dundas Graham Calcott came to South America with her navy officer husband in the 1820s, she was governess to Pedro I’s daughter, the future queen of Portugal Princess Maria da Glória. Graham’s diaries from 1821 to 1823 therefore shed a unique light on the Brazilian court during the independence process. Her accounts also reveal her wide-ranging interest in people’s lives in both Brazil (Salvador and Rio de Janeiro) and Chile (Santiago). In Chile, Graham studied science and botany with her family’s friend, the former British navy officer Thomas Cochrane.

Though her reports were produced for the enlightenment and entertainment of her contemporaries, today they yield insights into gender relations in the newly independent South American nations as well as into Graham’s own elite circles in the early nineteenth century. Her interest was in “suitable” subjects like fashion and motherhood that related to the lives of Brazilian women. Public areas of activity were largely male, and her diaries show that female foreign observers like herself remained outsiders. Graham was an urban elite woman with a Protestant background whose discourse stressed civilized English customs and behaviors as a model for the world. But despite that bias, or perhaps even because of it, through her perception of private aspects of Brazilian women’s lives, her accounts reveal much about public events in South American society as well as her own models of femininity. Her travel narrative is a window into how she saw nineteenth-century Brazilian women shape their lives and their environment.

Link to Learning

Explore the life and works of Maria Graham that offer a rich window into the gender dynamic within private and public spaces in newly independent Chile and Brazil.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax