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Scene and Symbol on the Move: Bringing David Lowenthal and Donald Meinig to Brazil

Authors: Samuel Brandt*, University of California - Los Angeles
Topics: History of Geography, Latin America, Landscape
Keywords: Brazil, symbolic landscapes, Donald Meinig, David Lowenthal, historical geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


David Lowenthal (1968)’s idea of a “national scene”, and Donald Meinig (1979)’s idea of “symbolic landscapes” provide rich conceptual grounding in landscape interpretation. Despite these ideas being central to Anglo-American cultural-historical geography, it remains unclear the extent to which they have reached other geographical traditions, and whether Anglo-American geographers working abroad have sought to understand the places they study in these terms. For a variety of reasons, Brazil stands out as a fruitful and crucial place to examine through these lenses. In this paper, I ask how we can use Brazil as a laboratory to critique and expand upon Lowenthal and Meinig’s concepts—a half century later—, and work towards a conception of “the Brazilian scene” by identifying and describing the most salient Brazilian symbolic landscapes. My interpretation draws on three ideas central in Brazilian environmental history: 1) ufanismo, a debate about whether Brazil’s vastness and abundance is best preserved or exploited, 2) the lasting idea made famous by Stefan Zweig (1941) that Brazil is a land of the future, and 3) the titular idea of John Dos Passos 1963 travelogue that Brazil is and always has been a country on the move. Concluding, I propose a research agenda linking three landscapes where these ideas are especially prescient: 1) the 19th century European immigrant colonies of Southern Brazil, 2) the mid 20th century planned cities of the interior, and 3) the 20th and early 21st century agroindustrial urbanism in Mato Grosso.

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