Positivism and Evolutionism in Flávio de Barros’ Photographs of the Canudos War

Russell White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Canudos War was a pivotal moment in the early years of the Brazilian republic. The events that culminated in the destruction of the settlement of Canudos and the death of Antônio Consel-heiro and his followers left an indelible mark on the history of the country. Canudos is remem-bered as a tragic event. The historian José Murilo de Carvalho referred to Canudos as ‘the most barbaric massacre in the history of the country’ (Murilo de Carvalho 1992, 151). Canudos’ promi-nence within Brazilian history can be partly explained by the fact that it is the subject of Euclides da Cunha’s canonical text Os Sertões (1902), the first edition of which included three photographs taken by Flávio de Barros. De Barros’ photographs of Canudos have received much less attention than Da Cunha’s book. This article explores the way in which De Barros’ images work as a visual accompaniment to Da Cunha’s book and as historical and cultural documents in their own right. They speak to the same positivist and evolutionist theories that were prominent at the time. While the photographs presented an official narrative of the conflict, they came quickly to symbolise the cruelty of war and, like Da Cunha’s famous book, engendered sympathy for the inhabitants of Conselheiro’s ‘mud hut Jerusalem’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Iberian and Latin American Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Oct 2021


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