500 Years of Brazil
Divisão de Bibliotecas e Documentação

Hear further information on the work

As Obras

ABREU, J. Capistrano de. O descobrimento do Brasil.     Annuario do Brasil,1929.

João Capistrano de Abreu was born in the province of Ceará in 1853. Like many of his contemporaries from the "North" of the Empire, when still young he headed for Recife, where he failed to enter the traditional Law School. In 1875 he arrived at the Imperial Court, where personal contacts managed to engage him as a journalist. It was especially as editor of the Gazeta de Notícias that Capistrano de Abreu was able to dedicate himself to criticism and produce texts on the history of literature, taking part in the polemics that were the tonic of Rio de Janeiro's intellectual life. Appointed by merit to the staff of the National Library, he began to conduct systematic and constant historical research, lending form and content to the idea nourished since his Ceará days, to write the history of Brazil "in large letters and wide mesh." In 1883 he left the National Library for the Pedro II Imperial College, after a public examination that was to make him famous, attended by Emperor Dom Pedro II himself. His dissertation on the "Descobrimento do Brasil. Seu desenvolvimento no século XVI" concluded that the Spanish were the first to reach Brazil but that sociologically speaking, those who discovered Brazil were the Portuguese. It is with them that our history began, and through them continued for centruries, and it was chiefly their effort that produced a modern, civilized nation in a land that was formerly peopled by tribes of brutish nomands. 

For six years Capistrano taught at the model establishment, which he left in disagreement over the reform that annexed the history of Brazil to world history. From then on he devoted himself almost exclusively to researching and writing the history of Brazil. Published in 1907, the Capítulos de História Colonial consecrated him definitively as one of Brazil's foremost historians. As Ricardo Benzaquen de Araújo points out, Capistrano is the historian who perhaps incarnates better than anyone else the ideal of the "modern" search for the truth, as well as having always shown enormous interest in the work of French and English sociologists like Taine, Comte, Buckle and Spencer, an interest that later extended to authors associated with anthropology and geography, mainly those of the German school, a condition for what in his opinion should define the task of the historiographer, that is, interpreting in order to reveal meaning. 


In O descobrimento do Brasil – the 1929 edition of the Sociedade Capistrano de Abreu – there appear two papers on the same subject written at different times: the dissertation for the position at the Pedro II College, penned in 1883, and the "O Descobrimento do Brasil – Povoamento do Solo – Evolução Social", the text that opens the first volume of the Book of the Centenary, 1500-1900, published seventeen years later. Reading both texts allows one much more than simply to know how the writer from Ceará resolved most of the so-called "controversial points" of the Discovery of Brazil by practising the "critical method". Among other things, comparing both texts allows us to understand the two dimensions of the task of historiography in what is usually called the modern conception of history - critical method and meaningful narration - a task performed with such intensity by Capistrano de Abreu.