About the Project

Labor, Livelihood, and Immigration in a Brazilian Plantation: The Archives of Ibicaba Farm
Project Grant

Ibicaba Farm, located in the countryside of São Paulo, played an outstanding role in Brazilian history. It was there that the first experiments with European bonded labor were conducted, in a process related to the abolition of slavery and the insertion of Brazil into the Age of Mass Migration. This project provides the inventory and digitizes the farm’s archives from its second administration, when an immigrant family became the farm’s proprietor (1890-1970). By safeguarding these unique and unexplored sources, the project fosters our understanding of labor relations in Latin American plantations and their socioeconomic, cultural and political dynamics.

Project Leads

Dr. Bruno Witzel de Souza (Germany); Leonardo Antonio Santin Gardenal (Brazil)

Host Institution

Institute for Economic and Social History at the Georg-August-University Göttingen

More Information

Collection Details

A team of researchers from the University of Göttingen (Germany) and Centro de Memória da UNICAMP (Brazil) have focused on digitizing a collection of historical archives containing records belonging to Farm Ibicaba. These records include administrative manuscripts, printed publications, accounting documents, and more-- all dating from the 1890’s to the 1970’s. Through the team’s digitization work, these materials will help in expanding knowledge on the socioeconomic, cultural, and political dynamics within Latin American plantations.

The content revolves around the farm’s administration, daily life, and economic production. The accounting books, for instance, include information about laborers’ daily activities, productivity under various contracts, workers’ remunerations, and livelihoods. Such content will present a part of history of both Brazilians and immigrant workers of various nationalities. This is especially valuable to any descendants of the farm workers who seek to explore their ancestry.

As early as the 1840’s, Farm Ibicaba introduced immigrant labor to work alongside slave labor in the coffee plantations-- an experiment which soon gained traction across other plantations in São Paulo. This caused some lasting consequences for the regional economy and society. The farm’s administrative documents record this big shift. With this collection, users will be able to better analyze a specific case of labor administration and how various roles came into play in this setting.

The manuscripts are of academic value for various research branches, including labor history; economics of contractual design; sociology of immigration; political history of labor and immigration to Brazil; and cultural life in a plantation-based society following the transition from slavery. Making these manuscripts available online will not only preserve the historical content of an endangered archive but will also democratize the access to this type of information.

Recent Publication by Project Team

Bruno Witzel de Souza, "‘The same contract that is suitable for your Excellency’: Immigration and emulation in the adoption of sharecropping-cum-debt arrangements in Brazil (1835‒80)," Economic History Review, (2023), pp. 1–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/ehr.13282

This paper, published in The Economic History Review, studies the history of contractual choice in coffee plantations of São Paulo, Brazil. It focuses on the consolidation of non-captive labour markets in the early phases of the transition from slavery in the country, particularly in the 1840s–50s. While the arguments of the paper are specific to the field of economic history, author Bruno Witzel highlights how new archival evidence allowed him to make new assertions about the history of labour markets in Brazil and the broader history of plantations in particular. In his conclusions, Witzel argues that there is an urgent academic necessity of increasing our empirical knowledge of production data from plantations. The preservation and digitization of primary sources will open up new lines of inquiry and ensures that new experiences and ideas become part of scholarly discourse.

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