Race and Space: The Afro-Brazilian Role in the Urban Development of Vila Rica, Minas Gerais (1711-1750)

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2018

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This dissertation considers the role of Afro-Brazilians in the urban formation of Vila Rica—a Brazilian mining town in Minas Gerais—from its creation in 1711 to the solidification of its urban form around 1750. During this period, Afro-Brazilians comprised more than two-thirds of the population, gained unprecedented independence, and bought their freedom in large numbers. Yet they rarely appear in either colonial records or the scholarly literature on urban development. How can two-thirds of Vila Rica’s population leave no trace of their presence in the urban fabric? This is the question this dissertation seeks to answer by exploring the role of Rosary confraternities—Afro-Brazilian Catholic brotherhoods—in the creation of urban space. Some of the earliest and most widespread organizations to intervene in the urban fabric, Rosary confraternities changed the course of urban development in Vila Rica by stimulating the production of what I call invisible spaces—borrowed, hidden, temporary and mobile spaces (all largely undocumented) that formed an independent spatial network populated almost exclusively by Afro-Brazilians. In constant intersection with spaces registered and mapped by colonial authorities, invisible spaces filled the voids on the colonial map and, simultaneously, reshaped the mapped spaces. Eventually, the invisible spaces would come to the attention of Vila Rica’s colonial government, which claimed that their Afro-Brazilian inhabitants propagated disorder. As colonial officials began to suppress the invisible spaces, one Rosary confraternity responded by building new, visible and ordered spaces for its members. Moving from passive to active influence on the urban fabric, this confraternity developed new regions of the city and changed the trajectory of Vila Rica’s urban development. By reconsidering historical events in relation to the Afro-Brazilian urban footprint, this paper seeks to insert Afro-Brazilian voices back into the urban history of Vila Rica.

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Sherman, Erica (2018). Race and Space: The Afro-Brazilian Role in the Urban Development of Vila Rica, Minas Gerais (1711-1750). Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/16815.

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