The rediscovered legacy of Luiz Gama (1830-1882)
Recently, the Brazilian government revoked a human rights medal instituted by the former far-right President Bolsonaro. The medal, named after the daughter of the country's last monarch, was replaced by a new human rights award, now in recognition of Luiz Gama (1830–1882), a former slave, self-taught lawyer, and leader of the abolitionist movement in 19th-century Brazil.
In 2022, the legal knowledge of Luiz Gama was for the first time the subject of a doctoral thesis prepared in the mpilhlt's Department of Historical Regimes of Normativity by Bruno Rodrigues de Lima. His dissertation highlights Luiz Gama's lawyering and the normative production of freedom in a slave society.
Using methodological approaches of legal biography, microhistory and social history, Lima analyses Gama’s works and how he acted in the courts in more than 120 cases, mostly dealing with issues of freeing enslaved people. Based on a close reading of judicial sources and on the study of the legal doctrine used in the lawsuits, in addition to the allegations and proofs produced by the litigants, Lima shows how Gama creatively attributed different meanings to the multinormativity surrounding Brazilian slavery, thereby producing normative knowledge.
That Luiz Gama’s achievements are now being recognised beyond academia is strongly related to the current debates on the colonial legacy and race relations in Brazil. Lima’s work, 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. The impact of Lima's research can be also seen in more than 150 articles in the Brazilian press. In November, his thesis will be published as a book in two simultaneous editions: in English by Brill-Nijhoff and in Portuguese by Contracorrente.