Project Summary

Sometime in the year 1592, Catarina Garcia de Cabreira writes from Arraiolos to her husband Antonio do Vale de Vasconcelos, in Salvador, asking for news and sending a longing, because her eyes “can no longer see from so much crying” (Cabreira, 1592); on another day of the same year, in Madeira, Inês Fernandes writes to João Gonçalves, her cousin and father of her son, asking for help to be shipped with the boy to him in Brazil, because the needs they are facing, begging “that such a helpless orphan and her son who goes through a lot of hunger be remembered ”(Fernandes, 1592). On March 24, 1591, another woman wrote to her husband, from Oeiras to Pernambuco, asking for her son’s supplies and telling of the “much work I have done for your sake” – and signs: “She who should not be, Vicencia Jorge ”(Jorge, 1591). In São Paulo, in the 1730s, Maria Clara da Anunciação writes to her fiancé: “Mr. Antonio José, you do not wish me well … I wish you well … I ask your mercy, for who you are, do not do boyish things” (Anunciação, 1730). On March 16, 1775, Anna Maria Cardosa, in her own hand, writes to a military officer in Atibaia, Domingos Leme do Prado, asking him to arrest her father and brother who sexually abuse her and her sisters, and who, she reveals , “… have sworn my skin” (Cardosa, 1775).

These words recorded in rare copies of writings made by women during the first centuries of the formation of Portuguese America came to us through different historical accidents: the letters of Catarina, Inês and Vicência were preserved as evidence in the processes of the Lisbon Inquisition (since the recipients of the three missives were charged and prosecuted as bigamists); Maria Clara’s letter, as evidence in the lawsuit filed against Antonio for breach of the promise of marriage; that of Anna Maria Cardosa, for the chance of having been sent to a particularly zealous secretary, who bequeathed vast documentation preserved to this day.

Apart from the fortuitous condition of ending up in the minutes of the Holy Office or the cold packs of colonial administrative correspondence, the preservation of documents written by women in the Kingdom of Portugal and Portuguese America throughout the colonial period was very rare, for two main reasons. First of all because, in most cases, women were part of the non-literate spheres of low social status; but also because, even when literate, they were prevented from participating in power relations, and therefore in the wider space of the circulation of writing. Thus, the appeals, the supplications, the protests of love and vengeance from Vicência, Inês, Catarina, Maria Clara and Anna Maria come to us as streaks of light that broke through the dark cloak that covered the everyday life of women in Portuguese America – faint lights cast on the shadows of women “in the theater of memory”, to remember Michelle Perrot (Perrot, 1989).

Indeed, given what is known about women’s living conditions in the colonial context, and about their access to literacy and public instances of expression (as shown, among others, by Silva, 2010; Priore 1990, 1994; Algranti, 1992, 1998), the surprise is not about the scarcity of records written by them at the time, but about the fact that, centuries later, we come across any testimony of them at all. To the rarity and scarcity of this documentary set we must add the difficulty of its reunion, perhaps explained by the disparate nature that motivated the written record about women and (more rarely) the documents written by the female fists themselves, perhaps by the small degree of interest in the topic of female daily life from the part of the more traditional historiography. The historiography that focused on the history of women in Portuguese America since the 1990s was based on (mostly unpublished) primary sources whose main characteristic is the custodial dispersion.

The M.A.P. Project is bringing this scattered documentation together, virtually, in a single access point – the online electronic catalog “Women in Portuguese America”, enabling the reported voices in the primary sources to become authoritative voices, narrators of their own stories.

The M.A.P Catalog contains archival and thematic information on each document found and an onomastic index of women who wrote and women whose discourse was reported in documents. The idea of ​​gathering women’s reported discourse as well as women’s own writings came from the contingency of the rarity of authorial documentation, which we have already commented on; it was in order to complement it that we also searched and cataloged texts that include the ‘speech’ of women in the form of reported discourse (typically, in confessions, denunciations, and other constituent elements of criminal proceedings or administrative instruments). This material, while not bringing women’s immediate voice, still brings important elements for the understanding and contextualization of women’s lives in colonial times.

The M.A.P. CatalogWomen in Portuguese America – thus intends to compose a polyphonic map of the voices of women who wrote in the colonial period, added to the record of the reported discourse of women whose behavior, for different reasons, deserved the attention of the society of the time – generally from disciplinary instances of the Church and colonial administration.

Central to this map is the literality of the expression and the literalness of the account of the expression, as this is an investigation originating from the field of textual criticism, philology and historical linguistics. Thus, we place the documentary reliability as the touchstone of the work, to compose a set that may meet the interests of different lines of research – notably, the history of daily life and the history of women in Brazil.

In this construction, we seek to keep in mind the richness and delicacy of the matter of the condition of women in the Modern Age, particularly in the colonial context – in which the violent process of gender colonization operates, as we suggest, inspired by Federici ( 2017). The silence around this process (particularly in the pre-1990s Brazilian historiography) should not cloud our view from its consequences. But the responsibility for its exposure weighs on us, 21st century women involved in the craft of documenting and reading the past .

The noise needs to sound. And indeed: if historiography has so many times fallen silent, the documents, for their part, may reveal crystalline voices, albeit enclosed in opaque documentation. Organizing this documentation for the scholarly and expert reader is an important task; equaly important, to us, is the task of making the encolsed voices more transparent for the lay reader.

This is our intention with the present Project, whose preliminary work began in August 2017.

For the complete Project and full Catalog, please see

Cited documents

Anna Maria Cardosa. 1765. Letter, Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (BNJ). Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Coleção Morgado de Mateus, Documentos Avulsos. Cota: I 30, 21, 25. MAP Catalog Code: [0140].

Catarina Garcia de Cabreira. 1592. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 1476 / Projeto P.S. PSCR1143. MAP Catalog Code: [0142].

Inês Fernandes. 1592. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 2555 / Projeto P.S. PS2517. MAP Catalog Code: [0146].

Isabel Gomes da Veiga. 1730. Private letter, ANTT/PS, PSCR0750. MAP Catalog Code: [0147].

Maria Clara da Anunciação. 1730. Private letter, ACM-SP/PS, Arquivo da Cúria Metropolitana PGA-100/ Projeto P.S. PSCR1741. MAP Catalog Code: [0148].

Vicência Jorge. 1591. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 10755 / Projeto P.S. CARDS2253. MAP Catalog Code: [0150].

Cited references

Algranti, Leila Mezan. Famílias e vida doméstica. In: LM e Souza, org. História da vida privada no Brasil, v. 1, Cotidiano e vida privada na América Portuguesa. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras; 1998. p. 83-154

Algranti, Leila Mezan. Honradas e devotas: mulheres da Colônia: estudos sobre a condição feminina através dos conventos e recolhimentos do sudeste, 1750-1822. PhD dissertation, Universidade de São Paulo; 1992.

Federici, Silvia. Calibã e a Bruxa: mulheres, corpo e acumulação primitiva. São Paulo: Editora Elefante; 2017.

Perrot, Michelle. Les Femmes ou les silences de l’Histoire. Paris: Flammarion; 1998.

Priore, Mary del. A Mulher na história do Brasil. São Paulo: Contexto; 1994.

Priore, Mary del. Ao sul do corpo: condição feminina, maternidades e mentalidades no Brasil Colônia. PhD dissertation, Universidade de São Paulo; 1990.

Silva, Maria Beatriz Nizza da. A Educação da Mulher e da Criança no Brasil Colônia. In: M Stephanou, MHC Bastos, orgs. Histórias e Memórias da Educação no Brasil, v. I, Séculos XVI-XVIII. 4. ed. 131-145. Petrópolis, RJ: Vozes; 2010.