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Friday
May282010

Rio de Janeiro and Boston´s vaccination “revolts”

When the Brazilian congress approved the Mandatory Vaccination Law in 1904, public health officials and police were given the power to enter homes and vaccinate for smallpox by force.  Many Brazilians at this time, especially among the poorer classes, saw vaccine as either ineffective at best or deadly at worse.  In fact, smallpox vaccination still carries a small risk of illness or even death, so this worry was not entirely displaced. To many, the main problem was the intrusion by the state into homes and control over bodies, including those of wives and daughters.  During the second week of November, Rio de Janeiro spiraled into revolt over the compulsory vaccinations.  Cariocas (residents of Rio) overturned trams, barricaded streets, and fought police with sticks and rocks.  The revolt succeeded in the short run; the government was forced to temporarily suspend the vaccination program.  Despite this public upheaval, the program resumed and within a few years was showing successful results in lowering the incidence of smallpox in the Republican capital and other urban areas of Brazil.

Many Brazilians learn about the “Revolta da Vacina” as school children, but few know that similar events occurred elsewhere, including in Boston.  For example, when smallpox became epidemic in Boston in 1901, taking hundreds of lives, the Boston Board of Health sent “virus squads” that targeted mostly poor men living in tenement housing.  The Board met considerable resistance, like in Rio de Janeiro.  A reporter to the Boston Globe who accompanied one of these squads described a “fighting tramp,” who “went down in a heap on the floor” from the blow of a policeman's club.  This poor man received both vaccination and suturing of his scalp, according to this wonderful short article on the episode.  The resistance in Boston did not turn into violent mobs like in Rio de Janeiro, but vaccination opponents fought the efforts of the state on multiple levels, including in court.  One case went as far as the Supreme Court, which ruled in support of a state’s right to force vaccinations in order to protect the public during dangerous epidemics.   Today, it may be not unconstitutional for the U.S. government to force vaccinations in the face of an outbreak of a deadly and contagious disease.

The top illustration, published in the Revista da Semana in 1904, shows the Brazilian povo (people) begging mercy from the stern congresso (congress) wearing a Roman tunic.  Below, we see a various scenes from Boston's obligatory vaccination campaign published in the Boston Globe in 1902.  This includes a child “protecting mama” and a man who “strenuously objected.”

Monday
Mar082010

Cholera Epidemic of 1855-1856 Mapped Using Google Earth

This will need a few minutes to load, but once ready, this video animates the spread of cholera during the great epidemic of 1855-1856.  It focuses on the western seaboard, and shows how it struck the ports of Bahia (July, 1855) and Rio de Janeiro (Sept, 1855) moving into the interior, almost always along waterways.  I have animated these maps before, but this is the first time using Google Earth.  More information on the spatial movement of this epidemic can be found here

Saturday
Jan302010

New Database Offers Searchable Newspapers

I recently received an email from a company called Readex that helped digitize and OCR process millions of pages of Latin American newspapers.  Included in this set are  the Jornal do Commerico (Rio de Janeiro), 1884 - 1901 and Estado do São Paulo (São Paulo), 1875 - 1922.   This marks a big change in the availability of these two sources.  Previously, researchers in the U.S. could only get these sources at a few select research libraries.  In Brazil, they are available in the National Library and a few other places, such as the RJ and SP state archives. 

The site is fairly easy to use, offering browsing of each page and article directly through the website or through a .pdf.  I found the pdfs easier and faster to use, although the embedded window viewer highlights search words.

The above image shows the leading story from October 29, 1899, with the dreadful declaration that doctors had diagnosed bubonic plague in Santos.  The bubonic plague, fortunately, did not take on epidemic proportions, but it did spread up the coast, killing in Rio de Janeiro and other sea-board cities.   The plague also helped prompt the Republican, state, and municipal governments to create a series of overlapping urban disease eradication programs (including Rio de Janeiro's, famously directed by Oswaldo Cruz) that eventually contributed enormously to reducing the risk of several of the biggest risks of the day, including yellow fever and gastrointestinal diseases.

The company that offers this product to university libraries or departments gives a description of the collection here

Friday
Sep252009

One Day of Deaths in Rio de Janeiro

 

 "Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro Address Locator," Stanford Spatial History Lab and Cecult (UNICAMP), 2009.

This map shows the location of 18 men, women and children who died on October 1, 1884 in Rio de Janeiro.  These obits were reported by the Jornal do Comercio, on October 3.  The newspaper regularly printed lists of deaths in the city, collected from reports made by the public and private cemeteries in Rio. 

This map serves to showcase a neat new tool available on the web for spatial representation of nineteenth century data for Rio de Janeiro.  The tool was developed by a team headed by Zephyr Frank, who are part of the Stanford University Spatial History Lab.  They also collaborated with Cecult (UNICAMP) in Brazil.  It is available here.

Below, I've included a table with details about the 29 people who died on October 1, 1884.  The first column (“KEY”) refers to the numbers on the map.  There are more people in the table than points on the map because some people either died on locations outside of the map area or could not be located.

A single day creates an insufficient sample to say much about disease in this city.  We do see that this was not a period in which there was a major epidemic, such as yellow fever or smallpox. During the worst scourges, epidemic diseases killed more people than regularly occurring afflictions.  The top killer this day, tuberculosis was probably the most lethal disease in the nineteenth century.  There are no clusters or patterns that are immediately obvious.  I am surprised to see no deaths in the densely populated downtown area.  This may indicate that the newspaper was not reporting all deaths. 

 

 

Monday
Aug172009

Brazil's Era of Epidemics

This is from my final report, submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities.  To see the full report, click here.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, there is little evidence of major epidemic activity beyond smallpox, measles, and scarlet fever in Brazil. Indeed, much of South America appears to have been spared from the cholera and influenza pandemics that killed millions in Asia, Europe and North America. Brazilians and foreign visitors noticed the country’s apparent immunity to these diseases. In fact, Brazil’s reputation of salubrity was widespread and frequently repeated in government publications and travelers’ reports. In late 1849, however, a strange new disease appeared in Bahia before spreading to Rio de Janeiro and other large Brazilian seaboard cities. The malady was recognizable as yellow fever to foreign doctors who had seen similar symptoms elsewhere. But the Emperor hesitated for more than a year to officially declare yellow fever’s presence, probably because he and his ministers (correctly) feared the damage this would do to its international reputation.

Optimists predicted that Brazil would return to its previous good health after simple sanitary reforms, but they were soon proven terribly wrong. Once yellow fever gained a foothold on the shores of Brazil, it persisted and eventually worsened. In fact, epidemics of yellow fever struck during the wet seasons repeatedly in the 1850s. After a hiatus in the 1860s, it reappeared in the early 1870s and was a serious problem for residents of Brazilian cities and foreign sailors arriving in Brazilian harbors until the early 1900s. Not until Walter Reed confirmed Carlos Finley’s hypothesis that the aedis aegypti mosquito was the disease vector could notable Brazilians like Oswaldo Cruz, Adolpho Lutz, and Guilherme Alvaro initiate eradication campaigns. These campaigns successfully diminished the breeding populations of the mosquito, lessening the grip of this dangerous disease in urban areas.

Yellow fever was not the only destructive disease that made an appearance. Cholera and bubonic plague were also new and deadly arrivals during these six decades. Cholera struck first in 1855, creating one of Brazil’s most virulent epidemics in recorded history, matched only perhaps by the smallpox epidemics that desolated indigenous populations in the sixteenth century. It reappeared in a weaker form in the 1860s throughout Brazil and then in the Southeast in the 1890s. Added to this problem, the first officially diagnosed cases of bubonic plague were recorded in Santos, in 1899. During this year and the next, new cases of plague were diagnosed in Rio de Janeiro, Recife and other Brazilian cities creating a great tide of fear, spurring new energy and investment into sanitary reform programs. Bubonic plague killed many, but never became epidemic.

Read more...

Wednesday
Jul082009

Top Causes of Death in Porto Alegre, 1850s and 1870s

I am happy to see that the first results of my research on disease and health in nineteenth century Brazil has been published by The Americas here. In this article, I argue that enslaved and free people were largely killed by the same things. I make this claim using data from Santos, a coastal township in Southeastern Brazil. Slaves and free didn’t share every disease in the township. For example, yellow fever killed many more people of European descent, while I found smallpox to be proportionally worse among slaves.

In the Era of Epidemics project, I am attempting to look at disease and epidemics in Brazil. To do so, I have collected data and information from a number of locations, including the far southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. In its state capital, Porto Alegre, I was lucky to get my hands on an extraordinary run of cemetery data. The dataset, created by archivists in the Misericordia Hospital, includes more than 50 thousand names of slaves and free people who died between 1850 and 1896. Among many other bits of information, cause of death was usually reported

I still have a long way to go before I get this database in shape for analysis, but I was able to take a quick look at the top causes of death of enslaved and free people in the 1850s and 1870s. In the tables below, I list the afflictions that caused the most death and compare the two groups and decades. Compared to Santos, some of these diseases differed. Most notably, cholera took an enormous toll in the 1850s in Porto Alegre, especially among the slaves. This disease never became epidemic in Santos, but the 1855-56 epidemic in Porto Alegre was one of the worst urban epidemics in Brazilian history. Other diseases were shared between the two townships, including tuberculosis, smallpox, gastrointestinal diseases, and tetanus.

 

Top Causes of Death, Porto Alegre, 1850-1859

 

disease

Slave %

Rank

Free %

Rank

1

Cholera

16.0

1

12.7

1

2

Tuberculosis

6.4

2

11.0

2

3

Diarrhea

2.9

6

6.1

3

4

Dysentery

5.4

3

4.7

4

5

Gastroenteritis

4.2

4

4.0

5

6

Tetanus

4.1

5

3.0

6

7

Smallpox

2.0

10

2.8

7

8

Heart disease

2.4

9

2.5

8

9

“Dentition”

2.5

8

2.4

9

10

Pneumonia

2.5

7

2.1

10

11

Unknown

1.3

 

1.6

 

Note: There were a total of 3181 deaths of slaves and 9298 deaths of free people.

Source: Cemetery records, Arquivo de Santa Casa de Misericórdia de Porto Alegre

 

Top Causes of Death, Porto Alegre, 1870-1879

 

Disease

Slave %

Rank

Free %

Rank

1

Tuberculosis

11.7

1

11.1

1

2

Smallpox

7.1

2

5.6

3

3

Gastroenteritis

2.7

7

6.1

2

4

Heart disease

5.2

3

2.9

6

5

Bronchitis

1.0

10

3.3

5

6

Diarrhea

1.5

8

3.3

4

7

“Cerebral congestion”

3.2

6

2.7

7

8

Pneumonia

4.4

4

2.4

10

9

Tetanus

3.4

5

2.4

9

10

Birth problem

1.1

9

2.5

8

11

Unknown

3.3

 

9.8

 

Note: There were a total of 1236 deaths of slaves and 10,769 deaths of free people.

Source: Cemetery records, Arquivo de Santa Casa de Misericórdia de Porto Alegre

 

What I find interesting about these results is that while slaves and free people appear to have shared the top causes of death for the 1850s, there was greater divergence between the groups by the 1870s. I believe that this is due more to age differences than any differences in disease environments between the groups. The international slave trade ended for Brazil in 1850 and without new young slaves entering and without a capacity of this group to naturally reproduce at normal rates, slaves were part of an aging population. In contrast, the free population was expanding due to the arrival of thousands of European immigrants who were typcially single men of working age. Thus, we see that heart problems and pneumonia were proportionally worse for slaves by this decade.  

As more comes from this dataset, I will post...

Monday
Jun152009

The Archive of the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro in Rio

This week I am exploring the collection at the Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro (IHGB) in Rio de Janeiro.  This past month I have been busy with class preparations and a paper on the internal slave market for LASA, but I am finally back to the Era of Epidemics project.  Anyway, the IHGB was founded in 1838 and is one of the oldest research and document preservation institutions in Brazil. They have a website, but because their catalog isn’t online, you can only find out what they have by going up to their 10th floor reading room. As I had hoped, their collection of nineteenth century material is quite good. I came across a number of texts that I have not found elsewhere, including in Don Cooper’s enormous collection. I have compiled a list, available here, on documents and books relating to the history of medicine and health in the nineteenth century held by the IHGB.

The IHGB is in easy walking distance from the Biblioteca Nacional and I recommend that anyone doing serious research in the BN also stop by the IHGB to see what they might have that is not in the National Library. One drawback: they do not allow digitization. I asked Pedro Tórtima, one of their main librarians, if they have a reproduction service. He said that they will make a copy of a recent book but charge 25 reis ($13) per page! In other words, bring your notebook and leave your camera at home.

Para Português, clique aqui:

 

Monday
Mar232009

Yellow Fever's Evolution in the Western Hemisphere


Yellow Fever Outbreaks, 1800-1900 from Ian Read on Vimeo.

As far as I know, this is the first map to show regional yellow fever outbreaks during the nineteenth century, and certainly the first of its kind to be animated.  I recommend you enlarge the video to full screen for much better resolution.  Red dots indicate coastal infections, while the rarer inland infections are represented by yellow dots.  Infection location names are listed in the left column.

The area that yellow fever occupies shifts considerably, from most outbreaks before 1850 in the Caribbean, gulf region and American eastern seaboard.  After 1850, yellow fever remains active in the Caribbean, but there are many epidemics in South America, mainly Brazil while US outbreaks diminish noticeably.

The range of yellow fever changed when more and more ships brought African slaves, immigrants and California 49ers into Brazilian ports during the 1840s.  I believe these ships carried a dangerous stowaway that had disappeared from Brazilian shores for many decades:  the Aedis aegypti mosquito.  This mosquito is almost always the transmitter of the disease and it does best in urban areas where there are small collections of water and many non-immune human hosts.  Like the Asian Tiger Mosquito that is today partly blamed for the growing spread of West Nile virus in the US and Europe, the Aedis aegypti travel well in ship, trains and trucks, spreading the yellow fever virus when given the chance.

Friday
Mar202009

The History of Brazilian Health and Disease in Textbooks

Today I intend to look how the “era of epidemics” is represented by popular textbooks on Brazilian history that are available in the U.S. I find that what one might call the “popular authoritative history of Brazil” says far too little about health and commits factual errors. My purpose is not to criticize these books, but to show that there is still so much to be learned about a series of epidemics that killed hundreds of thousands and destabilized the country for decades and the efforts to fight them.

Just to be clear, what I am calling a "textbook" is a narrative that organizes a broad sweep of history into a thread devoted to the development of Brazil as a nation.  These books help guide classes from logical beginnings to the Brazilian nation as it "is" today.  There are a handful of textbooks in English available for a survey of modern Brazilian history, but only four are commonly used. Here is a list with today’s Amazon.com sales rank:

There are a series of related events that I think should be included in any textbook on Brazil because they exerted a lasting consequence on the development of Brazil as a nation and Brazilians within a defined sociocultural area.  Before 1849 Brazil was widely believed by foreigners and nationals to be healthy place, healthier in fact than North America or Europe.  This ended in 1849 when yellow fever took on a terrifying form as an urban epidemic. It reappeared many times after this, increasing in virulence and unexpectedly spreading into the interior by the 1870s. The cholera epidemic of 1855-56 was the most destructive epidemic Brazil had experienced up to that point (excluding, perhaps, the smallpox epidemics that decimated indigenous groups in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Finally, smallpox caused more deaths during the second half of the nineteenth century because more people crowded together in urban areas. Despite the attention of these epidemics, tuberculosis and neonatal tetanus killed far more Brazilians.  All of these deadly diseases became far less of threats by the 20th century.  In the early 1900s, mosquito campaigns eradicated yellow fever from most urban areas, vaccination campaigns immunized Brazilians against smallpox, and chlorinization and other sanitary measures greatly reduced cholera and gastrointestinal diseases from water and foods.  As a result, mortality levels dropped and the overall public health improved in the early 1900s, thus ending this unusual six-decade epidemiological period.  Although most historians credit Brazil's exponential growth between 1890 and 1920 to European immigration, a far more important driver of this growth was natural increases caused by better public health.

This is my broad narrative, backed up by evidence that I have listed in this journal and in the source gallery. Do the textbooks on Brazilian history paint a similar picture?

One author attributes epidemics as one of the causes for “the shift of support away from the Monarchy” and lists “smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, plague” as the main infectious diseases. He does not give any more details about these scourges. While I believe that disease did weaken the monarchy (but this remains to be proven), plague occurred for the first time in Santos in 1899, a decade after the monarchy was toppled.

Later in this same textbook, the author spends a good deal of time on the urban revolts in Rio de Janeiro in 1904 that were prompted, but only in part, by a compulsory vaccination program. Several other authors also write much more about this fairly minor urban revolt than enormous amount of hardship and grief that these diseases caused or the remarkable successes that public health officials had in the early twentieth-century.

One textbook sets the stage for the anti-vaccine revolt with several mistakes that should have been caught by the author or the reviewers.  He writes the Republican government “decreed that all residents must be vaccinated against yellow fever, under a program administered by Oswaldo Cruz of the Pasteur Institute.” First, the vaccination campaign of 1904 in Rio de Janeiro was for smallpox, not yellow fever. This is not a minor detail, since it is widely documented that the Brazilian government had supported and promoted a nation-wide variola (smallpox) vaccination program for more than a 100 years, often against a great deal of popular resistance. Furthermore, popular mistrust was justified: officials reported in the provincial reports that the smallpox vaccine sometimes killed recently immunized, while others who had been supposedly “immunized” were later killed by disease. Smallpox vaccination still presents a small risk today, and people had good reasons to be afraid of it in 1904.  The second, more trivial error is that while Oswaldo Cruz studied briefly under Pasteur, he never officially represented the Pasteur Institute.  The Instituto Pasteur was founded in São Paulo in 1903 to research rabies, but was not involved with the Sanitary Campaign in Rio.

Another commonly assigned textbook runs into mistakes. This author claims that the “Brazilian authorities were alarmed by the outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera in the 1840s. Medical researchers traced the source of these epidemic diseases to recently arrived African slaves, providing another powerful piece of self-interest for ending the trade.” Unfortunately, this author seems to have gotten his dates wrong, with some consequences for his claim. Yellow fever struck in the final months of 1849 and cholera in mid-1855. Yellow fever may have been a “piece of self-interest” for some opposed to the slave trade, but it was commonly believed that Africans, and thus imported slaves, had innate resistance to the fever (epidemiologists today believe that African born people have greater innate resistance to yellow fever relative to other groups). Did this author confuse yellow fever and smallpox?   In one little known but important study, Dauril Alden and Joseph C. Miller demonstrated that smallpox epidemics in Africa and Brazil coincided.  Either way, cholera was certainly not yet on the minds of officials who passed the decree ending the international slave trade to Brazil in 1850.

Other textbooks are more accurate, although none spend sufficient time on the diseases and their impact. Only one textbook avoids the temptation to overemphasize the vaccine revolts, choosing instead to give some evidence for the benefits of the sanitation campaign. He writes: “Oswaldo Cruz’s energetic and effective campaign made the capital [Rio de Janeiro] as healthy as any contemporary European city.” He then backs up this statement with figures showing that yellow fever disappeared in Rio de Janeiro between 1903 and 1906. According to government reports, mortality levels in Rio de Janeiro were indeed similar to European cities by 1906, but this may have excluded large parts of city, unrecognized by the government, where mostly poor people lived miserably, many who were former slaves or children of slaves.

Perhaps the best textbook in terms of history of disease and public health in Brazil is James Hufferd’s little known and self-published Cruzeiro do Sul. He gets dates and disease propensity right when talking about Bahia: “the year 1860 itself was a year of seca [drought]—what turned out to be the first of three severe ones in succession—and yellow fever, almost endemic since 1849, continued devastating the white, or almost-white, part of the population” (Vol. II, pg. 163). And this is the best textbook in describing the sanitary campaign in Rio: “The already eminent Dr. Osvaldo Cruz was appointed to head up the effort against this recurrent [smallpox] plague, which killed 584 city residents in 1903, the year the campaign began, and some 4000 during the concurrent years-long epidemic. Cruz adopted techniques employed by North American health officials in eradicating yellow fever first in Cuba, then in the canal area of Panama” (pg. 263). 

Tuesday
Mar172009

Epidemics and Economic Performance

 

What are the economic consequences of epidemics? More specifically, what was effect on the Brazilian economy when the yellow fever and cholera epidemics struck in the 1850s? These are important questions for this project because historians do not know the extent of damage that this period of epidemics caused Brazil.

The Brazilian government did not collect economic indicators like governments do today. I have to rely on a few, less than perfect, indicators of economic activity. This week I turned to shipping with the assumption that increasing shipping rates, and especially increasing tonnage rates, means that goods were being transported for a growing economy. I am also interested in the total number of ships and the number of seamen who sailed those ships. These data came from the Ministro da Fazenda that began recording and printing data on shipping that it taxed in 1852.

The graph above shows the total number of ships that entered Brazil arriving from foreign ports. This was called “long course” (longo curso) shipping and was dominated by foreign shipping companies, a large part British. It was distinguished from the coastal shipping industry (cabonagem) because Brazilian laws largely restricted local routes to nationally owned vessels. As the illustration shows, there was a substantial increase in the number of ships at the end of the 1840s, a fall in the early 1850s, and then a recovery. The yellow line shows that yellow fever struck at the time that the number of ships declined. Cholera, on the other hand, did not accompany a downturn in the number of ships. I believe that because yellow fever infected mostly foreigners, and was especially deadly among sailors who spent much time in the mosquito infected harbors, shipping suffered. With a few exceptions, cholera was the most deadly in places that were not directly on the coast. Many sailors died from cholera, but I believe they were more likely to (unintentionally) get clean water than to avoid the mosquitoes that led to yellow fever.

In the following two graphs, we can see the tonnage and number of seamen who entered Brazil from foreign ports. These graphs broadly follow the trends of the previous graph, but they also add another interesting trend. It seems that ships were becoming larger in the 1850s and were able to carry more tonnage and, possibly, smaller crews. Nevertheless, yellow fever either correlated with a marked decline (for seamen) or fluctuation without growth (for tonnage).

Another useful exercise is to separate the busiest Brazilian ports to look at the connection between disease and shipping more closely. Yellow fever, that struck in 1849 and carried on into the early 1850s (and again, to a lesser degree, in the late 1850s), was worse in certain ports. Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bahia, and Pernambuco (Recife) suffered many deaths, but Rio Grande do Sul did not.

We would expect that the ports that were harder hit would have seen a greater decline in foreign shipping during yellow fever. Surprisingly, this was not the case. In fact, the one province that was spared from yellow fever, Rio Grande do Sul, saw the biggest declines in shipping. On the other hand, the rest of the ports did not see large increases during this period, suggesting yellow fever may have dampened the rapid growth that had occurred in the late 1840s.

 

Percentage Change in Foreign Shipping for Six Brazilian Ports, 1847-1851 (by Ship, Tonnage, and Crew Amounts)

 

 

 

 

 

Ships

Tonnage

Seamen

Rio Grande do Sul

87

66

96

São Paulo

80

99

85

Rio de Janeiro

98

109

109

Pernambuco

105

110

116

Bahia

111

99

125

Pará

134

142

133

Source: Relatorios do Ministro de Fazenda, 1847-1849, available at: http://www.crl.edu/brazil/ministerial/fazenda. Table includes arriving ships.

 

Finally, we can turn to coastal shipping to see if there might have been a connection between the cholera epidemic and national trade. Like the yellow fever epidemic before, the cholera epidemic of 1855-56 also struck unevenly. Cholera was especially bad in Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia, Pernambuco and Pará, unpleasant in Rio de Janeiro, but spared São Paulo (a map). In these cases we do see the changes that one would expect. All ports show either declines or small growth, with São Paulo having the largest (albeit still moderate) increases. We cannot look at any possible connection between foreign shipping and the cholera epidemic because the government stopped distinguished ships from foreign or national sources at the port level after 1852.

 

Percentage Change in Coastal Shipping for Six Brazilian Ports, 1854-1857 (by Ship and Tonnage Amount)

 

 

 

 

Ships

Tonnage

Rio Grande do Sul

82

93

São Paulo

116

103

Rio de Janeiro

96

101

Pernambuco

41

74

Bahia

91

91

Pará

102

94

Source: Relatorios do Ministro de Fazenda, 1847-1849, available at: http://www.crl.edu/brazil/ministerial/fazenda. Table includes arriving ships.

 

Thursday
Mar052009

The Cooper Collection

 

 Last weekend, my father and I drove out from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio so that I could take a look at The Donald B. Cooper Collection in the Ohio State University's rare books. The picture above is from a detailed finder's guide that is available here. This guide has 57 pages of detailed notes on each of the 602 folders and microfilm rolls that are held in 24 "bank boxes." I don't need to repeat what the guide says, but I would like to emphasize how remarkable this collection is. I now have no doubt that this is the finest collection in the world dealing with disease, medicine, medical schools, and public health for Brazil in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly all of these materials can be found in Brazil, but one would have to go to numerous archives in several states to find them. Furthermore, there are few private or public collections of material relating to health and medicine that hold more material than the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

What made this collection so exceptional? Donald Cooper was a professor at Ohio State University from 1969 until retirement in 2002.  Early in his career, he published a scholarly book on disease and health in Colonial Mexico.  He then turned his attention to Brazil, working on a broad history of disease and public health efforts from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. He traveled throughout the United States and Brazil, collecting material, occasionally even coming across books sold by street vendors and book dealers that he discovered later to be the only copies known to exist. As a result of his research, Don put out several excellent articles, but due to family health problems he never finished his book. When he retired in the late 1990s, he turned down an offer from a book dealer for $18,000 for his collection and instead donated it all, notes and chapter manuscripts included, to Ohio State University. The OSU libraries have done a wonderful job organizing and cataloguing it. Thankfully, they recognized its value. I had the great fortune this week of getting to know Don, who is a very kind and generous man. He is delighted to see the collection being put to use, and I know it is his hope that more scholars make use of it.

 

Thursday
Feb192009

Does Penmanship Have Significance?

First, apologies that this post is a bit tangential.   While not directly related to health and disease in Brazilian history, it nonetheless focuses on the kinds of sources available on this subject.

The bulk of primary sources on Brazilian history before the 20th century are manuscript. For example, the many kinds of legal contracts (deeds, bills of sale, lease and surety contracts, etc.) were written by hand, with copies registered in local notary offices. Because the majority of people in Brazil (and throughout the world) could neither read nor write at this time, men and women commonly asked agents to sign on their behalf.

But when looking at the signatures for these contracts, there appears to be a great range of writing ability. Some parties appeared to sign their name with difficulty.  In fact, judging from the poor quality of some signatures, I wonder if these were the only words that these men and women could write.

It seems to me that the quality of the signature could be taken as an indicator of levels of education and literacy of parties.  Does anyone see a problem using penmanship as an indicator of literacy or education of parties within contracts?  True, some people in these contracts may have been old or infirm; leading to shaky signatures, but my guess is this was not too common.  I'm not aware of any sources in which  paleographic styles were compared (specifically, for the 19th century) to glean additional information about the people doing the writing.  Anyone know of any?

In the example above, we can see the nearly illegible signatures of two parties of an indentured service contract (Santos, 1849).  Below, Albino da Cunha Pinto's signature (second down) is noticably sharper in its angles and the blots of ink show that he did not write as quickly as the others.  He also compressed the parts of his name and was unable to write evenly.  I am not suggesting, like some "graphoanalysts," that this can give any insight beyond writing ability.

Signatures from a slave bill of sale (Mogi das Cruzes, 1861)

Thursday
Feb122009

Necessitamos de colaboração em pesquisas históricas e desenvolvimento de website

Isso inclui voluntários, estagiários, e pesquisadores-assistentes remunerados.  Clique aqui para mais informação

Monday
Jan262009

More Electronic Primary Sources on Brazilian History

Following the last post, here is a list of additional useful sources related to Brazilian history.  These were assembled by Dain Borges, who also recommended Klein and Luna's HAHR article:  "Sources for the Study of Brazilian Economic and Social History on the Internet." Hispanic American Historical Review 84:4 (November 2004): 701-715.  Here is Dain's list copied mostly verbatim:

1. Google Books distributes some of the holdings of Anais, etc., from the UT Austin library. It has the advantage that the PDF scans of the printed volumes have been subjected to OCR scanning and can be searched by word (with some inaccuracies, of course). It has the advantage that a whole volume can be downloaded and read offline, rather than enduring the button-by-button paging on the Senado and Camara sites. It has the great disadvantage that Google Books cataloging and metadata is hard to access for any serial publication, and to pinpoint a particular volume is very difficult (Annaes, Anais, Annais /Camara, Parlamento Brazileiro, etc.), here is an example;

2. The entire, edited 1872 and 1890 censuses are distributed by CEBRAP as a Microsoft Access database at this location;

3. Nineteenth-century print holdings from the library of the Ministerio da Fazenda have been digitized and are distributed by IPEA's project, Memoria Estatistico do Brasil, here;

4. IBGE statistics for the twenthieth century;

5. IBGE Library includes digital copies of many important holdings, including most of 1920 census volumes, which are hard to find intact in any library.  Here is a searchable list of publications.

Many thanks goes to Dain and Judy Beiber for getting this list together.  Of course, if there are any others that I've left off, please comment or contact me.

Monday
Jan192009

Sources Related to Brazilian Imperial Law

I have been talking with a friend who is working on a political history of imperial Brazil about online source material related to Brazilian Imperial law and legislation.  The sources we came up with might be of use to people working on the history of Brazil or who is interested in legal history in general. Here are some sites and Google Books links:

1.  The full collection of laws passed during the Empire is available through the Brazilian Congress website.  While this is a comprehensive source, and very useful as well, I have heard complaints about the site.  It seems that some links may be broken and that some of the laws are hard to download.  Nonetheless, this is the place to start if you are looking for a particular law.

2. Google books holds a good run of legislation passed that it scanned from the UT Austin libary.  The Decisões do Governo da Republica dos Estados Unidos do Brasil for many years are all fully searchable.  Google Books has incorrectly titled the volumes before 1889.  These should be Decisões do Governo do Imperio do Brasil.

3.  Google also holds a partial set of Imperial laws organized by subject.  For the other volumes of the Repertorio geral, ou, Indice alfphabetico da leis do imperio, look for the "other editions" section at the bottom of the page.

4. There are also an incomplete run of the Annaes do Parlamento Brazileiro, or the meeting minutes for the Brazilian parliament.  These are thick, lengthy books, but they are also--thankfully--fully searchable.  A couple years are in a different location.

5.  Finally there are the Codigo Commerical (1850), the Codigo criminal do imperio do Brazil (1876) and the Codigo civil (1885).  I believe there is an scanned version of the Codigo Commercial somewhere online, but I have forgotten where.  If anyone can tell me, this would be a useful addition.

If we missed anything, please let us know!

 

 

Tuesday
Jan132009

Were Yellow Fever and Cholera Endemic before 1849?

I've added travelogues or "travel narratives," as historians say, to the source gallery.  To make the examples more interesting, I am introducing some evidence that cholera and yellow fever existed in Brazil before the yellow fever and cholera epidemics of the 1849-1855 period.  Officially--according to the Imperial government's ministerial reports--these two diseases were imported from external sources.  Yellow fever was said to have arrived on an American ship from New Orleans.  Cholera came into Northern Brazil and the Amazon, reportedly, from an infected ship arriving from Europe.  These reports were distributed via the diplomatic corps to foreign governments. 

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that these two diseases were present and perhaps even prevalent before when most accepted acounts today say they emerged.  Did the government attempt to hide evidence that these diseases were indigenous to avoid rumors that Brazil was an unsafe country to do business with or for white Europeans to emigrate to?  This will be hard to prove, but one could see the incentive for ministers and provincial presidents to have promoted and published the opinions of the physicians who said these two scourges were anomalous, ephemeral, and, most importantly, imported. I give a few bits of evidence in the gallery, but I will have to save more evidence for the book project.

Tuesday
Dec232008

The "Nightmen"

 

Lately, I have been describing the strange history of garbage and excrement removal from Rio de Janeiro.  I never intended to spend much time on this, but I have been coming across a number of references to this topic in my search for information on diseases.  Above is a picture of what James Henderson in 1821 called a "nightman," a slave employed to haul the daily wastes from people's homes.  He writes "The streets [of Rio de Janeiro] after dark are most offensively filled with negroes, carrying tubs of soil to empty at the beach, a water-closet, or privy, not being known in this city."  See my postings for 11/14 and 11/18 for more information on the practice of waste removal and its possible connections to disease.

Monday
Dec152008

Translating Era of Epidemics

I am in the process of working with a friend and professional translator, Roberto Lucena, to have large parts of this website translated into Portuguese.  At this point the "Project Details" section is translated and the other sections should be finished soon.  Most likely, we will leave the journal sections in English.  My hope, of course, is that this site will be as useful to Portuguese speaking historians and students as it is our English speaking readers.

Friday
Dec122008

The Grande Seca (Great Drought) of 1877-78

In 1877 and the following year, air pressure, trade winds, and sea water temperatures took on an unusual pattern, today called "El Niño."  As a consequence to this climatic anomaly, rain clouds withered and sun scorched unimpeded in many parts of the world, including the Brazilian Northeast.  There, as many as a half a million people were killed when crops died and the river beds emptied.  The population of the interior, which saw very little rain for nearly two years, was reduced by half through death and migration.  While some people died of starvation, the vast majority of victims were killed by disease, including contagious infections.  Little is known about these poor people because the all levels of the government were overwhelmed by this catastrophe, unable to do much to help, let alone track mortality and causes of death.  

In 1878, a 27 year-old American naturalist named Herbert Huntington Smith traveled within the interior Northeast during the end of the second year of the drought.  By this time, the worst of the drought was over, but suffering was still very evident.  In his book Brazil: The Amazons and the Coast (1879), Smith describes the conditions and attitudes of thousands of refugees who escaped to the coastal cities and provincial capitals looking for food and work.  He tells of the large refugee camps, similar to camps today, and the diseases that spread so easily in their crowded and unsafe conditions.  And he describes the public work efforts created by the Brazilian state to put these thousands of men and women back to work and with small wages. 

Smith pointed to smallpox as taking the largest toll among the refugees.  There were other terrible maladies.  He also had heard that the drought victims were initially struck by a variety of "fevers," and these were then followed by beri-beri, a vitamin deficiency that occurs when common grains are removed from a diet.   Some Brazilians told Smith that there had been a strange scourge that arose at the height of the smallpox epidemic.  It was a "terrible disease" that was "characterized by the appearance of black spots on the body."  Some thought that bubonic plague had struck, but Smith believed it to be a particularly lethal type of smallpox.  Smith was probably correct, since smallpox can take a hemorrhagic form that is almost always fatal.  Hemorrhagic smallpox, or "black pox," causes bleeding under the epidermis, making the skin look "charred and black."

Smith's book and, particularly, his chapter on the Grande Seca are worth a read for anyone interested in the history of the Brazil and the Northeast.  There is little doubt that the occasionally severe environmental conditions of the shrub land interior of the Northeast have left a strong imprint on the people of this region and on the ways that Brazilians think of the sertão.

Smith left his readers with some striking illustrations of the refugees, two of which I provide here:

     (pg. 413, 415; Brazil: The Amazons and the Coast, 1879)

Wednesday
Nov192008

Digitized Documents and OCR programs

Page from the Almanak Laemmert, 1846

Word document with information processed by an OCR program:

Many see the craft of history as impervious to technological change. Unlike the natural or social science disciplines, few can believe that digital technology can make much of a difference for what historians do. As long as the documents and archives are in good shape, a historian should have all that they need to write history.  This is far from the truth, though.  In this entry I will share with you one example of how an electronic tool can dramatically change historians’ ability to enter and access information.

One of the "frontiers" of historical research is processing digitalized historical documents through OCR programs. These programs recognize the characters on a page and transform them into machine readable font. For example, you might digitize (i.e., photograph) a page from a nineteenth century newspaper, run it through an OCR program like OmniPage or ABBYY, and you end up with the newspaper’s information in a Word or web document (see the illustration above).  Having it in this form can be very useful because you can search for words or names and organize the information however you wish. Document digitalization and OCR technology is at the heart of Google's Book Search project. With their services, we now have easier and less expensive access to more books than ever before. One day—not far off—most people in the world should have access nearly everything that has ever been published and preserved.

At this point, OCR programs suffer from a big problem. For documents with blemishes and slight discolorations--like most old documents--the success rate in recognizing text can be quite low. This means that for every page, one to 100 percent of the characters may be incorrectly recognized or non-recognizable. With hand-written documents, OCR program have no use at this point. For typed documents, there can still be many problems and, in fact, the time you spend on correcting the mistakes that the OCR program made can be equal or more than the time it would have taken to enter all of the information by hand. Obviously, this can make the $50 to $400 investment on your OCR program a big waste of money. In the last two or three years, technology has improved and now these programs are better than ever, but they are still far from perfect.

For this project, I am increasingly turning to OCR to save many hours of data entry. Many of the documents relevant to the study of health and disease in Brazil contain thousands of names of the deceased, hospital patients, and a variety of other groups. Names can be very useful to have in a database because they allow us to cross-reference historical sources. For example, when I find a particular slave in both the hospital and in the cemetery records, I can tell you much more about the trajectory of that slave’s death, her treatment, and how similar her experience was to others. It also humanizes our historical subjects, for the slave is no longer a "stat," but a person with her own unique story.

This week, we found one way around the imperfect success rate of ABBYY, the OCR program we use. For example, I have been able to transform several years of the Almanak Laemmert, each holding thousands of names of Cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro), into an Excel database with around 95 percent of the names spelled perfectly or well enough to be useful.  Keep in mind that hand entered data never have a 100 percent success rate.  There are always imperfections no matter how data are entered.  Having 19 of every 20 names usable permits the cross-referencing that will bring many life details to our lists of patients and deceased people.  One use, for instance, is to identify a portion of the men (women rarely appeared in these kinds of almanacs) who died in the 1855 cholera epidemic. 

I'm happy to share how this is done.  Please contact me if you want to learn more.