Historic Photo: Antonio Prado Square, São Paulo, 1915.

This photo dates from a period of intense change in Brazilian society.

Historic Photo: Antonio Prado Square, São Paulo, 1915.

Now here's an interesting photo. At first glance you would assume it's somewhere in the Old World, perhaps Spain or Portugal or Italy, or with a stretch it could be some American city at the end of the 19th or early 20th century. It's actually São Paulo, Brazil, Antonio Prado Square, formerly known as Largo do Rosario, one of the central spaces of what's now Brazil's largest city. It was taken in 1915. One of the subtle clues as to the time period is that if you look closely some of the men are wearing straw boater hats, which were popular from the 1900s until about the early 1930s. There are telegraph and streetcar wires, but no cars are visible, and in fact the only vehicle in frame is a horse-drawn buggy. There are also some interesting hidden details. In the center foreground a man in a floppy hat is sitting underneath a lamp post, and a little girl is kneeling next to him. One wonders what small stories lurk in a picture like this.

Insofar as historical context goes, I admit I'm at something of a loss here. I know virtually nothing about the history of Brazil, at least beyond its very broad outlines. The country had a long colonial period, torn between the decaying empires of Spain and Portugal, and Brazil's troubled relationship with slavery, race and the genocides of indigenous peoples is every bit as hard a story as those things are in the history of the United States. What I do know is that the coffee trade built São Paulo into an economic powerhouse in the late 19th and early 20th century, and that the former rustic colonial outpost was almost completely rebuilt as a modern city shortly before the period of this picture. The man for whom this square was eventually named, Antonio Prado, was in fact a coffee magnate. I would like to learn a lot more about the history of this country, and this city, but I haven't yet figured out where to start insofar as sources are concerned.

My fascination with Brazil has come about largely accidentally. A couple of years ago I followed a metalhead on Instagram who happened to be from Brazil. (Heavy metal has a long and storied tradition in that country, with bands like Sepultura and Krisiun leading the pack). Social media algorithms being what they are, Instagram began showing me more metalheads from Brazil and I followed a few of them. Fast-forward four or five years, and I'd say that with the exception of photogenic Boston terriers, Brazilian metalheads are the single largest bloc of my Instagram feed--so much that occasionally I occasionally see advertisements in Portuguese appear in my timeline. As São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, and one of the largest cities in the world, statistically a majority of people I follow are from São Paulo, so I get to see a fair amount of it on Instagram. Naturally I became curious about its history. It's a dark cave to me and I'm standing at the entrance shining a flashlight inside, but it's clear there's a lot there to learn.

Sorry for the spotty postings recently. I am deep into the editing/production phase of my next YouTube video, which eats up most of my time. Thank you for your patience, and welcome to the new members!

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