Thursday, February 24, 2022

History of South America


Rockport History Book Club

History of South America

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


Landing of Pedro Cabral in future Brazil, 1500. Painting by Oscar da Silva, 1922.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022. History of South America. South America has a rich history, from Incas and other indigenous peoples to colonization by Spanish, Portuguese, and other European nations, onward to monarchy in Argentina, slavery, and struggling democracies. It’s the history of Machu Pichu, exploration and exploitation of the Amazon, Simon Bolivar, Pedro Cabral, Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez, Augusto Pinochet, The Falklands War, Shining Path.  Select any period, any nation or group, and let us learn together. [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]

Schwarcz, Lilia M. and Starling, Heloisa M., Brazil: A Biography, unabridged, translated from the Portuguese, New York: Picador: Farrar, Status & Giroux. 2018, 761 pp.

            These two women scholars have done a marvelous job of telling the story of Brazil.

            The Portuguese started covering the globe early in the 15th century, along with the Spanish.  All of Europe was straining to expand trade, looking for new markets, and trying to break the stranglehold the Venetians held over access to the Far East. When Christopher Columbus, sailing in a ship financed by Spain, discovered a whole new continent, the race was on. 

            Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered the coast of what is now Brazil in 1500. Others were discovering treasures all around the African continent as far as China and Japan. All the explorers wanted the quick riches of gold and silver, but for Brazil, the path to riches began with growing sugar cane, planted, harvested and processed by African slaves and native Brazilian Indians made slaves.

            Sugar had been produced in India as far back at 500 BC, a delicacy available only to kings, but now, thanks to slave labor all Europeans could discover their sweet tooth.

            The Portuguese combined forces with allies in newly acquired Portuguese colonies in Africa to create a continual chain of supply of slaves to Brazil. Settlers acquired land grants and planted cane and built engenhos, or sugar mills for squeezing the cane, and boiling the juice. Little by little, the owners made elegant homes near their cane fields, built shabby dwellings for slaves, and created a new society.  

            As the flow of slaves continued, owners figured new and better ways to control costs and extract the most from African and indigenous men and some women. The most attractive women and most industrious men found their way to working in the homes of the masters, and this led to thousands of illegitimate mestizos (mixed race), and a new nation of Brazil, with more Africans in the population than any country in Africa except Nigeria.

            A whole new class of landowners, growing rich on slave labor, fought abolition fiercely, but unlike the United States, it didn’t come to war.  Slavery ended a little at a time, until it was abolished in 1888.

            Authors tell the story of Brazil from 1500 up to the 2016 Olympics, and throughout there’s much blood spilled by natives, slaves, settlers, and unspeakable cruelty.  Comparison with treatment of slaves in the United States comes up about equal. Brazil has a shabby history of corruption, up and down the chain of command.  The government conducted Operation Car Wash starting in 2014, which exposed much and many, but corruption continues, it seems.

            Current president Jair Balsonaro (b.1955) took over in 2019. He is a far-right conservative, favors military government (He was an army officer). He’s against covid19 restrictions, anti-LGBTQ, against protection of indigenous people and favors deforestation. 

Sam Coulbourn




Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln at work repairing the Union.


Wednesday, March 30, 2022.  Reconstruction, 1865-77 Abraham Lincoln had a clear picture of what should be done after the end of the War Between the States, but his assassination meant that Andrew Johnson, the Democrat who succeeded him, would be President. Read about this dangerous, murderous time in our history as we sought to regain the 11 Confederate States in the Union.  Read about the growth of white supremacist organizations, and the different ways that America handled the end of slavery, and welcoming (?) millions of newly freed Africans to America.  [Proposed by Mary Beth Smith]


Ukraine in 8th to 13 centuries. (Washington Post)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022. History of Ukraine and the Dnieper and Don Rivers. "Believe me, you will acquire immortal fame such as no other sovereign of Russia ever had," said Grigoriy Potemkin, a prominent adviser to Catherine the Great, when offering the empress counsel in 1780 on plans to wrest Crimea away from Ottoman suzerainty. "This glory will open the way to still further and greater glory." Events in 2022 cast a spotlight on Russia and Ukraine. Read any book that explores the rich history of this fertile land north of the Black Sea and south of Russia. [Proposed by Mary Beth Smith]



Henry Ford

 Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Immigrants to America who have made a difference. Read and tell us the story of an immigrant to the U.S. who has brought a wondrous addition to his/her new nation. Perhaps the newcomers started a family of creative Americans; perhaps they themselves made important advances. Look at Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Sergey Brin, Audrey Hepburn, Chinua Achebe, Cary Grant, Irving Berlin, Nikola Tesla, more. [Proposed by Mary Beth Smith.]


Lincoln Assassination

Wednesday, June 29, 2022. Assassinations and executions of leaders. Read the stories of how famous people were assassinated and what came after. From modern times--- Anwar Sadat, Olaf Palme, Yitzhak Rabin, Aldo Moro, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, or Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, or Franz Ferdinand, King of Albania, Nicholas II of Russia, or earlier-- Henry VI, James III, Henry III, Julius Caesar. [Proposed by Janos Posfai]


Ironclad USS Monitor, 1862

Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Game changing maritime inventions. Read about the days of ships propelled by sail, oars, coal or oil, paddle wheelers, steam engines, or warships like dreadnought, submarines, aircraft carriers, or torpedoes, propellers, chronometers, sextants, etc. [Proposed by Janos Posfai]


Forbidden City, Beijing

Wednesday, August 31, 2022.   How Should We Deal with China?  Let's dig into the history of China and try to learn how the United States should approach China, in terms of human rights, trade policy, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Global Warming, Nuclear Weapon Proliferation, autonomous weapons, public health, and much more.  We are tremendously interdependent: should we continue to view China as an Opponent? [Proposed by Walter Frederick]

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Trials of historical significance. Read about the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (1945-46), or the Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1951), Burning of the Reichstag trial (1933), or the Trial of Galileo Galilei (1633), Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms, (1521) (not what it sounds like), the Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato (399 BC), or many more. [Proposed by Janos Posfai]