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Mapping the Historical Environments of the Guanabara Basin

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imagineRio has focused on the built environment of Rio de Janeiro, and it has provided exciting ways to understand, to reflect on, and to reimagine the history of this iconic city of the global south. It is, however, most complete for the built environment of the original urban center and its expansion to the west and south. To truly understand the history of this city, it should be situated into the larger, natural environment of the Guanabara Basin. Rio’s history is complex: it began as an acropolis, became a colonial capital, received annually tens of thousands of enslaved people in the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, became a national and state capital, and is the second largest city in Brazil today. At every stage of its development, the Guanabara Bay has affected life in the city, and the city has affected the Guanabara Bay. In this imagineRio Narrative, I explore how we can begin to map the historical environments of the Guanabara Bay and Basin in the colonial era.

This imagineRio Narrative was presented at the Social Science History Association Annual Conference, Chicago: November 18, 2022 by Alida C. Metcalf, Harris Masterson, Jr. Professor of History at Rice University in Houston, USA. Please send any correspondence to


AuthorAlida Metcalf