The principal conclusion of this book is that, despite many appearances
to the contrary, the Northeast is a recent invention in Brazilian history.
The region must not be taken as an object of study without historicizing
it, or the results will be anachronisms that falsely affi rm it as an objec-
tively natural and timeless cultural- geographical space. The idea of the
Northeast was formed at the intersection of diverse regionalist practices
motivated by par tic u lar conditions aff ecting the provinces of the older
North region, at a moment when, after in de pen dence, elites around Bra-
zil grew preoccupied with constructing a nation. Groups that were ini-
tially dispersed, focused only on par tic u lar local interests, increasingly
came together to defend what they were perceiving as their shared space:
a territory in economic and po liti cal decline that stood to benefi t from
state largesse. Diverse pro cesses and practices— from drought policy to
messianic movements, banditry to new regional po liti cal blocs, chang-
ing capitalist models to the attraction of Recife’s intellectual life for sons
of traditional landowners— all contributed to the consolidation of this
novel concept of the Northeast. The region was cohering as a space of
common references and concerns, both po liti cal and economic, bound
together by history and culture. Congresses, symposia, scientifi c studies,
po liti cal committees, novels, and movies would be among the products
ultimately generated by this Northeast.
For such an accretion of commonsense reality to occur, regional-
izing practices interacted with po liti cal and cultural discourses that
transformed the place from being merely an area affl icted by periodic
drought to a place with its own unique racial, economic, social, and cul-
tural identity. Intellectuals, connected in various ways to the local domi-
nant classes, were summoned to produce knowledge that would give
breadth and depth and texture to the region, letting it speak and be seen
with an increasingly assumed objectivity. They invented it in a par tic u lar
way— as a region in decline compared to the rest of Brazil. It was with
subtle artistry that these intellectuals, themselves linked to preindustrial
socioeconomic models under threat, elaborated texts and images for the
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