Dale Torston Graden, From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia, 1835-1900. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. Pp. 297. Paper. $26.95.
The Brazilian state of Bahia holds an unequaled place in Atlantic history. Its capital city of Salvador da Bahia was one of the earliest and also one of the latest centers for enslaved Africans arriving in the Americas. Its great bay, the Reconcavo, was the center of one of the first successful plantation economies in the Western Hemisphere. Though Bahia and Salvador have received an appropriate share of scholarly attention, much of that research is focused on cultural issues and developments. The region's role in the politics of 19th century Brazil has not been fully explored. The political and economic rise of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Minas Gerais in the 18th and 19th centuries has relegated Bahia to secondary status, a culturally dynamic, but politically passive witness to Brazil's national history.
Overviews of economic developments in the 19th century tend to center on the coffee industry in Brazil's southeast, and the actions of the forward-looking leaders of the state of Sao Paulo who subsidized European immigrant labor. This narrative gives the impression that the final abolition of slavery in 1888 was both predictable and inevitable. Dale Torston Graden's eclectic survey of the social actors, forces, and ideologies involved in attacking or supporting the domestic and international slave trade and slavery make it clear that the path to emancipation was neither simple nor direct. He argues that the actions of enslaved Africans, free Afro-Brazilians, and abolitionists both reflected and shaped the arduous path to final emancipation. In presenting this story, Graden writes Bahia into Brazilian national history as a region where the institution of slavery provoked conflict until the very eve of its abolition.
The study complements the recent Anglophone literature on Brazil parsing subaltern contributions to politics and the formal workings of the Imperial government (1822-1889). But in a departure from this literature Graden does not articulate the specifics of historical causality in the fashion that defines so many current works of Latin American historiography. Instead, he paints a picture of the political and cultural forces involved in the struggle over slavery in broad strokes. At times the discussion rambles and events are juxtaposed rather than presented in a...