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Date of Graduation

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


This thesis uses the Canudos War (1896-7) as an analytical lens for unpacking issues of class, race, and gender in late nineteenth century Brazil. Brazil’s perhaps bloodiest civil war between millenarian backlanders and the state and federal military sheds light on elite urban social preoccupations during a critical formative period of republican rule. I analyze travelogues, newspaper reports, political cartoons, and other period documents. I do so in order to engage with elite urban Brazilians’ readings of, and prescriptions for, Order and Progress as articulated through questions of gender, class, and race. Throughout this project, I argue that urban sympathetic audiences read Canudos as an example of what serious social problems lay before the young Republic established in 1889. Despite this, the meaning of the situation in the hinterlands changed dramatically. I show that important shifts occurred in individuals’ interpretations of the millenarian community as the episode became absorbed into republican symbolic space. Travelers and the urban press initially understood the situation at Canudos to be a local or regional issue to be expected of stereotypical rural ruffians. After Canudos’s armed inhabitants began to challenge the Brazilian military, urban writers and illustrators increasingly framed the community and war as a serious challenge to republican hegemony. From a symbolic perspective, I maintain that notions of gender and gendered behavior became more important as urban illustrators and writers integrated the conflict into republican Brazil’s invented historical narrative. Much work remains to be done to unearth the voices of Conselheristas, or Canudos inhabitants. Carefully mining archival sources in Brazil may allow subsequent researchers to engage with how Canudos inhabitants might have built their community as an alternative to period sociopolitical formations. Moreover, using sources inaccessible to scholars farther afield can shed light on a Conselherista world-view that has long been concealed by myth and uncertainty. By examining Conselherista and elite discourses alongside one another, one can more fully appreciate the dialectical processes involved in a critical moment of nation building.

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