POR 381 Brasil Profundo: Landscape and the Environmental Imaginary in Brazilian Culture

Department:  Portuguese and Brazilian Studies
Faculty:  Malcolm McNee

Fall 2013

This seminar explored environmental history, diversity, and representation from the colonial period through the present, drawing upon a range of texts (poetry, visual art, essays, film, and digital multi-media) and disciplines (history, botanic and environmental sciences, social sciences, and cultural studies).

Plants were a central and the focus of the students' collaborative research projects. Course components included a tour in English by Nancy Rich on plants native to Brazil or, if non-native, of cultural, historical or economic significance in Brazil. Students planted varieties of coffee, soybeans and acai palm. Malcolm McNee led a follow-up tour in Portuguese. Lecture included the botanical geography of Brazil, colonial plant exchange, and history of botanical expeditions to Brazil, as well as the history of mission of the Smith College Botanic Garden and botanic gardens as expression of cultural values.

Students spoke in Portuguese via Skype with Dr. Ana Rosa de Oliveira, of the Research Institute of the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Gardens on its history, mission, and resources. Additional lectures in Portuguese were given by Erotides Silva on her experience of coffee cultivation and subsistence food production on a small farm in the southern Brazilian state of Parana, and by Zoraia Barros of the University of Massachusetts School of Agriculture on the adaptation of Brazilian vegetable crops to New England growing conditions and the marketing of these crops to the Brazilian immigrant community in Massachusetts.

Supplemental course funds provided honoraria for speakers and arboriculture books in lieu of an honorarium for Dr. Oliveira. Course assignments included weekly journal entries, and collaborative bilingual labels for several Brazilian plants in the Botanic Garden's collection.

acai palm


It was thrilling to witness the students’ excitement and engagement as they moved back and forth between different textual representations of plants and their physical counterparts, fostering a truly cross-disciplinary and hands-on perspective.


Malcolm McNee