Global Brazil Humanities Lab to Debut

The newest Franklin Humanities Institute lab will hold an open house Wednesday, March 19 in Smith Warehouse.

Brazil is quietly growing into an academic powerhouse, and Duke wants to tap into its intellectual energy.

Duke has dozens of faculty members with research and teaching interests tied to Brazil, and they now have a place to work together with the opening of the university's newest humanities lab, Global Brazil. The new lab will host an open house Wednesday, March 19, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

The latest humanities lab under the Franklin Humanities Institute umbrella, Global Brazil is housed at Smith Warehouse between bays 4 and 5 in space formerly occupied by the BorderWork(s) lab.

The lab is timely. Brazil is poised for its big moment on the global stage as host of this summer's soccer World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics. But the nation's burgeoning academic pursuits are of equal interest, says John French, a professor of history and African & African American Studies and one of three Global Brazil lab co-directors.

"There is so much intellectual energy being generated in Brazil now," French said. "It has invested vast resources into university expansion, and there's a new plan there to send 100,000 students abroad for education. There's a lot to be learned in literature, history and the sciences, a lot of things we're excited to share with undergraduates."

The lab is an offshoot of the Duke Brazil Initiative, a project created last year involving more than 40 faculty members whose expertise touches on Brazil. The lab will give many of them a physical space to gather and collaborate. A two-year venture that can be renewed for a third year, the lab will host speakers, events, independent studies and classes. Its existence is evidence of the university's belief in Brazil’s rising global prominence and of Duke's desire to be a leader in Brazilian scholarship, French said.

"We see it as a participatory space and a way to introduce more people to Brazil," he said. "This will be a signature space. It fits into our ambitious plan to make this a prime place for the study of Brazil."

Along with French, the lab's co-directors are Esther Gabara, a professor of romance studies and art, art history and visual studies, and Paul Baker, a professor of earth and ocean sciences.

Among the lab's immediate goals will be to take advantage of the attention Brazil is receiving in the run-up to this summer's World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"There’s a new story about Brazil in mass media every day," Gabara said. "One of the things our students will need to figure out is what that all means. The university offers something more. We want our students to be educated readers of that coverage."

The lab will be aligned with the new Brazilian and Global Portuguese major in the Department of Romance Studies, the Duke-Brazil Initiative and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. It will focus on three research areas: art and popular culture; energy and bio-diversity issues in The Amazon; and politics, public policy and the building of Democracy.

Its first two featured courses next fall semester. One will be "Global Brazil," taught by French, that will examine the nation's growing economic power and diplomatic influence as well as its recent progress in reducing poverty, inequality and racial exclusion.

The other will be "Capoeira: Culture and Practice", taught by Katya Wesolowski. That class will introduce capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines dance, self-defense and acrobatics.