Brazil’s Forgotten Rebellion: A Spotlight on the National Hospital for the Insane

Written by
Brazil LAB
Nov. 10, 2023

On November 1, 2023, the Brazil LAB hosted the event “The Madmen's Revolt: Agency and Insubordination at Brazil’s National Hospital for the Insane,” featuring Lilia M. Schwarcz, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of São Paulo, and Dylan Blau Edelstein, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. They were in conversation with Isadora Mota, an Assistant Professor in the History Department, and Miqueias H. Mugge, an Associate Research Scholar at PIIRS.

Lilia M. Schwarcz and Dylan Blau Edelstein presented their ongoing collaborative research on a patient-led revolt that occurred on January 27, 1920, at Brazil's National Hospital for the Insane. They delved into their analysis of newspapers, asylum, and court records from the time period, as well as diaries written by the author Lima Barreto while he was committed to the hospital during the time of the revolt. Their talk shed light on both the internal and external dynamics that led over forty patients, primarily from the hospital’s Lombroso Section (designated for the “criminally insane”), to march through the asylum, set fire to mattresses, and demand the removal of the hospital director.

The ensuing discussion revolved around the significance of incorporating this understudied uprising into mainstream historical narratives of the numerous rebellions that occurred in Brazil during the early decades of its republic (1889-1930). Together with Mota and Mugge, the presenters reflected on the importance of reevaluating the definitions of concepts such as disorder, sedition, and revolt. Such terms, which had specific legal definitions in the Brazilian Empire (1822-1889), would seem to challenge traditional top-down historical narratives that consider events such as the “proclamation of the republic” as paradigm shifts, a fact that often pushes us away from looking at important historical continuities between time periods and regimes.

After the presentation and discussion, a lively Q&A session followed with the audience, who engaged insightfully and enthusiastically with Schwarcz’s and Blau Edelstein’s insights and findings.

This event was organized by the Brazil LAB and co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. 

A recording of the event is available at the Brazil LAB YouTube channel.