Abstract: Embedded, yet Separate: British Cultural Strategies of Legitimation in Nineteenth-Century Brazil

Louise Guenther


Entrepreneurial British merchants, seeking out new markets to replace those lost during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, lay the early foundations for today's global economy. How did these expatriate communities come to project such a strong, reliable business image in a foreign, and in some ways hostile, cultural environment? In Latin America, British imperial politics took a back seat to commercial interests, and this led to the hybrid forms of influence that would become known as British informal empire in nineteenth-century Latin America. This paper takes the case of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, and argues that the British enclave gradually developed a strategy of interlocking political, cultural, and psychological dimensions to sustain a viable presence in Bahia, while minimizing the risk of individual over-identification with the locals in any significant respect. Primary sources include consular correspondence between the British consul, the Foreign Office, and local officials, close readings of travel narratives, and novels and poems written by Brazilians about the <i>ingleses</i> in their midst, to demonstrate the strategically coherent yet pragmatically improvised nature of the merchant community's activities, relationships, and cultural perceptions.