Legal history for today’s Brazil: the rediscovered legacy of Luiz Gama

November 05, 2021

How legal history can speak to a society’s current concerns is the subject of an article just published in the Economist on Brazilian discussions surrounding the 19th-century intellectual Luiz Gama (Brazil reckons with the life and legacy of an abolitionist, 27 October 2021), which also mentions the research done by the mpilhlt Doctoral Student Bruno Rodrigues de Lima. Gama, illegally sold into slavery by his own father, became a lawyer, satirical poet, and one of the country’s leading abolitionists. In the course of preparing the edition of Gama’s complete works, Lima discovered documents that show how Gama’s work in the courts led to the liberation of ca 500 enslaved persons. The discovery was widely reported in the Brazilian media.

That Luiz Gama’s achievements are now being recognised – and honoured by means as diverse as a posthumous honorary doctorate and a popular movie – is strongly related to the current debates on the colonial legacy and race relations in Brazil. Lima’s edition, which collects the full range of Gama’s writings, from journalism and poetry to his legal and political works, allows readers to appreciate the richness and complexity of Gama’s ideas. At the end of this month, Lima will teach a course on Gama to the judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court at their request.

The edition

The edition of Luiz Gama’s complete works edited by Bruno Rodrigues de Lima will assemble over 750 texts and provide introductions and footnotes to contextualise Gama’s work. Two volumes have already been published: vol. 4 Democracia 1866 – 1869 covers the period in which Gama first started publishing under his own name and focused above all on the relationship between democracy, law and freedom. Vol. 8 Liberdade 1880 – 1882 gathers together Gama’s abolitionist writings from the final two years of his life. For more information, see the edition project’s website (currently available only in Portuguese).

Bruno Lima has also written on Luiz Gama for our Legal History Insights blog:

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