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Scholarly Interest Report
Alida Metcalf
Harris Masterson, Jr. Chair and Professor of History
  • Ph.D. History (1983) The University of Texas, Austin TX
  • M.A. History (1978) The University of Texas, Austin TX
  • B.A. History (1976) Smith College, Northampton MA
Primary Department
   Department of History
Department Affiliations
  • Department of History
  • Latin American Studies
    Research Areas
     Mapping the World in 1500; imagineRio: an illustrated diachronic atlas of Rio de Janeiro; Water in nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro

    Portraits of Rio: An Iconography of Social Change and Urban Reform

    Farès el-Dahdah, Architecture & Alida C. Metcalf, History




    This project focuses on reconstructing the social and spatial evolution of Rio de Janeiro from its sixteenth-century origins through its Olympic future by focusing on the city’s visual record, such as maps, paintings, prints, photographs, film, and architectural/urban projects. By studying Rio de Janeiro’s iconography in different media, we shall investigate inter-relations between Rio’s ever-changing social, political, and physical morphology as the city has constantly been reinvented, remodeled, and reclaimed. This one city has been a colonial settlement on a distant periphery, a port of entry for thousands forced into the trans-Atlantic slave trade, an extension of Lisbon in Portuguese America, the seat of an empire, the capital of a republic, the showcase of a dictatorship, and the national cultural capital that has in modern memory undergone economic decadence and renewal. In particular, we are interested in visual documentation that has recorded how social relations shaped the urban landscape and conversely, how the city’s built domain impacted the lives of its inhabitants. This remains a visible process even today, as Rio now faces development projects related to its winning bid for the 2016 Olympics.

    Our methodology will be visual, for be it a colonial outpost or vice-regal, royal, imperial, federal, and state capital, Rio’s historical transformations have always been visually recorded, whether in maps, paintings, prints, photographs, films, and architectural/urban projects. This material provides a ‘view’ of the city that has yet to be organized to represent the impact social life has had on the city’s form and vice versa. We are interested in following several themes through the visual record. The first is the tension between the flat and the vertical. Rio’s natural geography—the steep granite hills of the Serra do Mar and the flat lowlands of the Baixada Fluminense—has persistently acted as a background for a city continually having to both overcome and frame its topography. Maps, for instance, not only show how the city grew but also show a natural bias for flat areas, while the photography of Augusto Stahl and Marc Ferrez, for example, attest to the city’s eventual verticalization. Second, we will focus on social relationships, especially across class and race, in the city. Paintings, such as those of Jean-Baptiste Debret in the early 19th century, record social exchanges in the spaces of the street while the prints of the graphic designer J. Carlos for such magazines as O Malho and Para Todos in the early 20th century illustrate the trends that ruled daily carioca life and offer a glimpse into the city’s culture as a whole. Third, the urban projects of mayors like Francisco Pereira Passos and Carlos Sampaio dramatically recast the space of the city and show how, in the name of reform, elites envisioned an ideal city, the intended or unintended, consequences of which set in motion a process of favelização that persists to this day. Finally, the fact that Rio has been the site of urban projects by such famous international architects like Le Corbusier or Constantinos Doxiadis has set a standard that contemporary architects will no doubt seek to meet when designing their projects for the 2016 Olympics. Locals, such as, architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx have also set a visual standard of excellence in design against which any project in Rio must perpetually compete. In addition to architecture, film has been instrumental in branding Rio as a recognizable producer of visual culture and persistent trope in the world’s imagination.

    Aside from various visual media, this project will also bring together a number of disciplines, namely, Art History, History, Geography, Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urbanism. For this project Professors Metcalf and el-Dahdah, will co-teach a course on Rio de Janeiro and, over the next 4 years, will also produce a lecture series, a symposium, an exhibition, and a book.


    Mapping the World after 1500


    Christopher Columbus reached islands in the Caribbean in 1492 but it was not until Pedro Álvares Cabral returned from the second Portuguese voyage to India in 1501 that cartographers began to understand how much their conception of the world must change. Two world maps made around 1500 powerfully capture this transformation of knowledge in western Europe. An anonymous cartographer in Portugal made one map in 1502, while Martin Waldseemüller, a German cartographer, created the other map in 1507.  Prominent on both maps are the new lands across the Atlantic Ocean—the Americas, as well as the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Each map is a work of art as well as a presentation of geographic knowledge. Today the aesthetic qualities of each map impress modern viewers more than the geographic information, yet each map continues to shape how we see the world today.

    Focusing on these two maps, this book explores how cartographers synthesized and presented new knowledge that arrived in Europe during the age of discovery. Each map served as a platform on which the cartographer not only transferred information but also designed how the world should be seen. The traditions of mapping from which each cartographer came, the artisanal methods used to create each map, the visual vocabulary employed, and the accumulated knowledge of places, peoples, landscapes, flora, and fauna all are rich sources for understanding how the European conception of the world was changing. At the same time, as visual and textual documents, maps became repositories of cultural history even as they recorded ever more information. Over the course of the sixteenth century, maps became ever more important as platforms on which to record information, yet cartographers could never present information without cultural bias. Even though maps became useful and influential documents, individual maps themselves became ephemeral. The process through which maps became disposable while at the same time carrying valuable knowledge is prefigured in the story of our two maps. By combining visual analysis of each map with traditional reading of texts, this book provides a rich and provocative new interpretation of mapping in the age of discovery.    


    Water in the city of Rio de Janeiro


    Water infrastructure is essential to any city, but especially so in the history of Rio de Janeiro, a city that lacked easy access to fresh water. Not only was it not situated along a river but it was impractical to dig wells over much of the original city because of marshes and a high water table. A single aqueduct completed in the eighteenth century supplied the city with water until the nineteenth century when additional aqueducts began to be built. By necessity, public fountains were vital for the city. The public spaces around fountains were frequented by many residents, the majority of whom were slaves responsible for the delivery of water. Using a geospatial database, georeferenced historical maps, geocoded historical images, and traditional archival sources, this projects seeks to understand the infrastructure and social space of fountains in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, paying particular attention to the functional, monumental, and social aspects of fountains.

    Teaching Areas
     Latin American History; Brazil
    Selected Publications
     Refereed articles

    Metcalf, Alida C. "Mapping the Traveled Space: Hans Staden’s Maps in Warhaftige Historia." e-journal of Portuguese History, 7 (2009)


    Eve M. Duffy and Alida C. Metcalf "The Return of Hans Staden: A Go-between in the Atlantic World."  (2012)


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Family and Frontier in Colonial Brazil: Santana de Parnaíba, 1580-1822."  (2005)


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600."  (2005)

     Book chapters

    Metcalf, Alida C. "’Harvesting Souls’: The Society of Jesus and the first Aldeias (Mission Villages) of Bahia." Native Brazil: Beyond the Convert and the Cannibal, 1500-1900, ed. Hal Langfur (2014) : 29-61.


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Domingos Fernandes Nobre, ‘Tomacauna’: a Go-Between in Sixteenth-Century Brazil." The Human Tradition in Latin America: The Colonial Period, ed. Kenneth J. Andrien (2013) : 63-75.


    el-Dahdah, Fares and Alida C. Metcalf "Distant Frontier." The Petropolis of Tomorrow, ed. Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper (2013) : 20-31.


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Escravos milenaristas? A Santidade de Jaguaripe e a resistência escravista nas Américas, org. Flávio Gomes."  (2010) : 21-38.

     Book reviews

    Metcalf, Alida C. "Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World. Angola and Brazil During the Era of the Slave Trade. By Roquinaldo Ferreira." Colonial Latin American Review, 25 (2016) : 270-272.


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Convict Labor in the Portuguese Empire, 1740–1932: Redefining the Empire with Forced Labor and New Imperialism. By Timothy J. Coates. ." American Historical Review , 121 (2016) : 204-205.


    Alida C. Metcalf "Review of Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas. By Tamar Herzog." Hispanic American Historical Review , 95 (2015) : 716-717.


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-BrazilianWorld, c. 1770–1850. By Gabriel Paquette.." Hispanic American Historical Review , 94 (2014) : 697-698.


    Alida C. Metcalf. The Brokered World. By Simon Schaffer, Lissa Roberts, Kapil Raj, and James Delbourgo, eds. Journal of Global History, 7(2012): 150-152.

     Refereed conference papers

    Alida C. Metcalf Sean Morey Smith "“Mapping the Maracanã: Reconstructing the Route of Rio de Janeiro’s Second Major Aqueduct,” ." e-perimetronAccepted


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Water and Social Space: Using georeferenced maps and geocoded images to enrich the history of Rio de Janeiro’s fountains." e-perimetron, 9:3 (2014) : 123-145.


    Metcalf, Alida C. "Amerigo Vespucci and the Four Finger (Kunstmann II) World Map." e-Perimetron 7(2012): 36-44. Available online at: http://www.e-perimetron.org/Vol_7_1/Metcalf.pdf


    “Reflections on Brazil and Life as an Historian: An Interview with Richard Graham, The Americas 68(2011): 97-114. With Hal Langfur.

     Conference Paper

    Primary Author.  "“The 1870 Cadastral Map of Rio de Janeiro and Finding the Maracanã Aqueduct,” with Sean Morey Smith.." 12th Conference of the ICA Comission on Cartographic heritage into the digital, Venice, Italy. (April 26-28, 2017) With Sean Morey Smith


    "’A mere gutter!’Seeing and Mapping the Carioca Aqueduct of Rio de Janeiro. (with Sean Morey Smith and Sheridan Wright Kennedy).  Brazilian Studies Association [BRASA] XIII Meeting, Brown University, Providence RI.." (April 2, 2016.)


    "Mapping the Atlantic World in 1500. Conference of Latin American History, Atlanta GA.." (January 8, 2016)


    "The Next Step: Research and Teaching using imagineRio. Modeling and Mapping Historic Sites and Events, HRC Spatial Humanities Conference, Rice University.." (April 8, 2016.)


    "imagineRio: A Diachronic Atlas of the Social and Architectural Evolution of Rio de Janeiro. (With Fares el-Dahdah). Digital Frontiers conference and THATCamp, Rice University.." (September 22, 2016)


    International Cartography Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With Farès el-Dahdah, Jean Aroom, and David Heyman.

     Invited Papers

    "Mapping the Ephemeral City." paper presented at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas Brazil, April 26, 2012.


    Alida C. Metcalf. "Conquests as Recorded on Maps." Paper presented at the American Historical Association, Boston, January 2011.


    Alida C. Metcalf. “Maps as Ephemera,” Paper presented at the Ephemera and Archive Workshop, Chao Center for Asian Studies, Rice University, December 4, 2011.


    Alida C. Metcalf. "Amerigo Vespucci and the Four Finger (Kunstmann II) World Map." Paper presented at the Sixth International Workshop of Digital Approaches to Cartographic Heritage, The Hague, Netherlands. (April 8, 2011)


    Alida C. Metcalf. “Revisiting Hans Staden: The Visual Imagery of Warhaftige Historia.” Paper presented at the Conference in Honor of Boris Fausto, Bolivar House, Stanford University, May 2010.

     Invited Talks

    "“Cartógrafos como mediadores culturais: História do mapeamento inicial do mundo atlaâtico.”." Universidade Federal Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (October 24, 2017)


    Alida C. Metcalf. “The Emergence of the Cannibal Sign,” Lecture presented at the Department of History, University of Houston, November 10, 2011.


    Alida C. Metcalf. “The First Representations of Brazil on World Maps,” Lecture presented at the  Center for Latin American Studies, The Ohio State University, October 7, 2011.


    Alida C. Metcalf, "Early Images of Brazil on Maps." Invited Lecture, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Texas A&M University. January 28, 2010.


    Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies, Tucson AZ


    Alida C. Metcalf.  “Oceans on Maps: Cartographers, Artists, and the Depiction of Oceans in the Sixteenth Century.” Paper presented at the American Historical Association, January 2010.


    "Ships and Water in 19th Century Rio de Janeiro. Faculty Data Science Meetup, Rice University.." (October 13, 2016)

     Seminar Speaker

    III Seminário Rice-Unicamp Seminar III, Rice University, Houston TX

     Session Chair

    Session Chair, Teaching with the Voyages Slave Trade Database, Southwestern Social Science Meeting, Houston, April 2010.

    Editorial Positions
     Member of the Editorial Board, The Americas. Academy of American Franciscan History / Cambridge University Press. (2009 - 2015)

     Member of the Editorial Board, The Americas. American Academy of Franciscan History. (2011 - 2011)

     Member of the Editorial Board, The Americas. American Academy of Franciscan History. (2012 - 2012)

    Supervised Theses & Dissertations
     Ludmila de Souza Maia, Ph.D. Viajantes de Saias: Genero, Literature e viagem em Adele toussaint-Samson e Nisia Floresta (Europa e Brasil, seculo XIX). (2016) (Thesis Co-Director)

     John Garrison Marks, Ph.D. "Race and Freedom in the African Americas: Free People of Color and Social Mobility in Cartagena and Charleston”. (2016) (Thesis Committee Member)

     Amanda Moehnke, Ph.D. “The Symbolic Body in Rio de Janeiro and New York City". (2017) (Thesis Director)

     Rachael Pasierowska, Ph.D. Beast, Birds, and Bondsmen: Slave and Animal Relations in the Atlantic World". (2018) (Thesis Committee Member)

     Joice Oliveira, Ph.D. "Experiência e família escrava nas redes do comércio interno: Trajetórias de cativos negociados na cidade de Salvador, 1850-1888". (2018) (Thesis Co-Director)

     Sheridan Wright Kennedy, Ph.D. "Disease, Race, and Poverty in New Orleans, 1877-1915: The Effects of Mortality Terrains on Socioeconomic Development" . (2018) (Thesis Director)

     Ashley Evelyn, Ph.D. "Education and Transnational Identity in the Post-Emancipation Black Atlantic, 1890-1960," . (2019) (Thesis Director)

     Erika Rendon-Ramos, Ph.D. Between Borders: a comparative study of traditional and fronterizo migrants". (2019) (Thesis Committee Member)

    Awards, Prizes, & Fellowships
     Best Article, Brazil Section, Latin American Studies Association (May 27-30 2015)

     “Iconic Rio online” (with Farès el-Dahdah), Faculty Initiative Fund, Rice University (February 2012)