Activist Biology

The National Museum, Politics, and Nation Building in Brazil

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Brazilian society was shaken by turmoil in the 1920s and 1930s. The country was rocked by heated debates over race and immigration, burgeoning social movements in cities and the countryside, entrenched oligarchies clinging to power, and nature being despoiled. Against this turbulent backdrop, a group of biology scholars at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro joined the drive to renew the Brazilian nation, claiming as their weapon the voice of their fledgling field. Without discarding scientific rigor, they embraced biology as a creed and activism as a conviction—and achieved success in their bid to influence public policy in environmental protection and the rational use of natural resources.

For the first time in English, Brazil’s leading environmental historian, Regina Horta Duarte, brings us a nuanced analysis of the National Museum of Brazil’s contribution to that country’s formation and history. In Activist Biology, Duarte explores the careers of three of these scientists as they leveraged biology as a strategy for change. Devoted to educational initiatives, they organized exhibits, promoted educational film and radio, wrote books, published science communication magazines, fostered school museums, and authored textbooks for young people. Their approach was transdisciplinary, and their reliance on multimedia formats was pioneering.

Capturing a crucial period in Brazil’s history, this portrait of science as a creative and potentially transformative pathway will intrigue anyone fascinated by environmental history, museums, and the history of science. Duarte skillfully shows how Brazilian science furthered global scientific knowledge in ways that are relevant now more than ever.
Activist Biology remains a welcomed and important contribution to the history of science and politics in Latin America.”—Environmental History

“Duarte’s book is convincing, thoroughly researched, and highly readable.”—Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“Offers a new perspective for understanding a critical moment of Brazilian history, when the country was going through a period of self-discovery and nation building.”—The Americas

“Duarte’s excellent history of Brazil’s National Museum gives readers an overview of the role of museums in society and how these shift with the political changes that take place.”—The Quarterly Review of Biology

“Duarte’s research brilliantly exposes the unique actions of Roquette-Pinto, Sampaio, and Leitão in the educational work of expanding the National Museum far beyond only exhibits and archive, and introduced it to different fields and technologies that expanded scientific knowledge across Brazil.”—Middle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies

Activist Biology deserves to find a home in the libraries of universities, students, and academics interested in museum history, nature conservation, environmental education, the history of science, and the history of natural history.”—Isis Book Review

“This is one of the first historical studies of its kind that moves into the mid-twentieth century and explores what happened to these institutions as natural history was replaced by more specialized disciplines.”—Stuart McCook, author of States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940
Activist Biology
264 Pages 6 x 9
Published: November 2016Hardcover ISBN: 9780816532018
Published: May 2020Ebooks (OA) ISBN: 9780816541706

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