Museu Paulista

Date: 1894
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Images


Brazil's Museu Paulista, built in Sao Paulo in 1894, was a provincial natural history museum meant to be larger, grander, and more scientifically specialized than the older state-sponsored museum of the national capital, the Museu Nacional (1818). The Museu Nacional was one of several national natural history museums built by the newly independent nations of Latin America in the early nineteenth century that acted as both scientific institutions and symbols of national identity. At first, these national museums were used mainly for displaying and studying a country's mineral resources, but their focus broadened in the late nineteenth century to include the entire spectrum of sciences. Indeed, Ladislau Necco (1838-1894)--the director of the Museu Nacional during this period--aimed at an almost universal scope, expanding the museum to include teaching and research centers, artifacts from around the world, and fossils.

The Museu Paulista, though, focused exclusively on the natural sciences of South America and argued that this specialization made it more scientific than the Museu Nacional. Sao Paulo had grown rich on coffee agriculture and the Museu Paulista's first director, the German Herman von Ihering, used wealthy growers as financiers for the majestic building and its rapidly growing collections. As with Argentina's Museo de La Plata, both the collection and the grandeur of the building itself were meant to be monuments of national science.

The Museu Paulista was part of an explicit--though mutually beneficial--rivalry with other natural history museums throughout Brazil and Argentina. The "South-South" links established between these scientific centers helped Brazil and Argentina shed many of the nationalistically-demeaning ties to the U.S. and Europe while also serving as an example for other Latin American countries as to how a national scientific infrastructure could be built. One conspicuous example of the cooperation between Brazilian and Argentine natural history museums was the correspondence between Florentino Ameghino (see the Paleontology topic) and von Ihering, who both tried to use mineral and fossil evidence to create a new (and nationalistic) geological history of South America. Similarly, the museums worked together to study the bones, artifacts, and languages of the region's "primitive" peoples to support the theory about the South American origin of human life.

Reference: Lopes, Maria Margaret and Irina Podgorny. "The Shaping of Latin American Museums of Natural History, 1850-1990." In Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 15, Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise (2000), pp. 108-118.

CITATION: Foto do Museu Paulista (Museu do Ipiranga) provelmente no inicio do seculo XX. c. 1900. Library of Congress (Bain News Service).