Scots in the Amazon !

Juanita Barreto Monje
Monday 24 June 2019

My research is called Scots and the Amazon and I aim to research the lives of Scottish people in the Amazon in the 19th century, and how this can inform us of the bigger picture of British presence and relationship with Brazil in the 19th century.

Last summer my research was focused on different British archives, I went to the archives in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. My aims were many: try to understand what researching meant, what the archives were for and learn how to get around them. It was a great first experience becuase it helped me to understand that research is a slow process, that requires much organisation, having a lot of responsibilities, and in the case of archival research: perseverance and constant decision making.

The amount of information that I could read was huge and I had to make decisions on what to read or not. This let me focus on two big families that lived in Belem, in the north east of Brazil in the XIX, the Campbells and the Henderson. By looking through personal diaries, letters, inventories, I managed to get a glimpse of their lives in Belem as well as the context in which they lived.

      Me at the Archivo Público of Belém looking at consuls dispatches. 

This summer, I decided that to know more about their lives, I should go where they used to live, especially since a lot of the records actually never left Brazil. Brazil has been a very interesting experience, especially because while I speak Spanish I do not speak Portuguese, so that has make the process more difficult. In addition the archives in Brazil unfortunately are not in great conditions and a lot of the records are inaccessible, the reason: bureaucracy, different priorities and a lack of funding. In turn, this had lead me to take decisions regarding where to go, what material to read and learn how to be flexible with the information available for my project.

In Rio I have visited the national archives, a big beautiful building, where I found the migration records in the XIX, which painted a picture of British movement at the time. Moreover, I have also visited the historical and geographic institution and the national library, which has different rooms depending on what you looking for – rare books, journals and newspaper, maps, manuscripts and general books. The national library was one of my favourite places, it had a lot of information and it is one of the few buildings where there is actually government input. There I found mostly, information about Campbell involvement with slave ownership and records of his company’s imports and exports. 

     Archibald Campbell’s inventory at the Centro memoria da Amazonia – Belém. 

In my last weeks here, I have decided to come to Belem, to the actual city these families used to live. Here I have visited the public archive, in which I looked at records regarding consul dispatches, and the centro memoria histórica da Amazonia, a new archive opened through the university of Para, where I found the actual inventory of Archibald Campbell, written after his death regarding the inheritance he was leaving behind. This was one of greatest “discoveries” for me, making this experience incredibly rewarding.

I have also meet with academics here in Belem through the help of my supervisor DR.  Mark Harris, which has helped me a lot. Finally, I have been able to go to the British cemetery still in Brazil and look for these peoples tombs, making the whole experience feel more real.

In sum, being in Brazil was an incredible experience, It taught me a lot about independence, autonomy, organisation, perseverance, flexibility, and cooperation, and allowed me to see some records which I would have never been able to see, had I missed this wonderful experience.

For this I would like to thank lord Laidlaw for his generous funding of this programme, the CAPOD team for its support and dedication towards us, Laidlaw scholars and my supervisor DR. Mark Harris for his constant and complete guidance.

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