Exploring Northeast Brazil’s Changing Landscapes
Virginia Geographic Alliance’s Summer Institute 2010


This program was designed to provide a 15-day field experience in the physical and cultural/economic landscapes of the state of Pernambuco in Northeast Brazil, the region where the modern country of Brazil began. Our hosts will  be the Departmento de Ciências Geograficas, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE).

Colonial Brazil was financed by slave-based sugar cane production in this area beginning in the 16th Century and was owned at various times by the Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish. The region was also part of the Brazilian Empire, which existed from 1822 to 1889. Although at a very different latitude than Virginia and with a vastly different climate and associated soils and vegetation, Pernambuco shares obvious elements of historical, cultural, and economic geography with our Commonwealth that invite comparison and should facilitate learning by comparing and contrasting known with unknown places. Among these shared factors are 

  • Colonial economies based on slavery and plantation agriculture
  • Strong influence of physical geography on regional patterns of colonial development
  • Contemporary socio-economic realities, such as a modern urban society, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor; a strong African cultural legacy; persistence of “backlands” traditions in music, crafts, and lifestyle; economic development needs and strategies (e.g., transportation systems; tourism; diversification of agriculture and industry).
  • Economic and political development within a system of global trade and competition among European colonial empires

 Except for its vast Amazon rainforest, Portuguese-speaking Brazil—although the largest country in South   America and an emerging world economic power—is often neglected in American geography classrooms at all levels This institute represents a rare opportunity to overcome this deficiency in geographic knowledge.


  • Observation and delineation of natural landscapes in Pernambuco’s four physiographic regions
  • Observation and understanding of contrasts between traditional agricultural and small town life and modern urban lifestyles and the economic geography that binds them together.
  • Comparison of the colonial and modern sugar plantation in the Northeast
  • Development of an understanding of current economic and social issues, including economic development, the rich-poor gap, landless movements, urbanization and slum eradication.
  • Observation and understanding of environmental issues related to development.
  • Discussion with Brazilian counterparts on common issues in geographic education.

Leaders: Dr. Susan L. Woodward (Radford University), Dr. Robert W. Morrill (Virginia Tech), and Dr. Antonio Carlos Barros de Corrêa (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco).

Flag of Pernambuco


Day 1 (Thu July 15) – Morning: Arrival in Recife. Afternoon – tour of historical downtown Recife

Day 2 (July 16 – Fri) – Morning: discussion at UFPE: Virginia/Pernambuco regional comparisons. Afternoon – Visit to museum, Man of the Northeast

Day 3 (July 17 – Sat) – Recife and Olinda cultural sight-seeing. Introduction to the Human Development Atlas of Recife and discussion of spatial patterns of wealth and poverty in the city

Day 4 (July 18 – Sun) – Morning: Visit to Casa da Cultura for introduction to traditional regional crafts.Afternoon – Boat trip along the Capibaribe River through Recife

Day 5 (July 19 – Mon) – To Caruaru, visiting the handicraft market. Stops at Natuba land-reform project; Gravatá; and the clothing industry outlet in Caruaru.Overnight stay in Nova Jerusalem Passion Play Thematic Pousada

Day 6 (July 20 – Tue) – Morning: Visit to archaeological/paleontological sites in Brejo da Madre de Deus Afternoon – Trip through caatinga to Triunfo (staying at Pousada da Baixa Verde)

Day 7 (July 21 – Wed) – Morning: Visit Triunfo’s street market and observe local   produceAfternoon – Visit the “cachaça” distillery (Engenho São Pedro)

Day 8 (July 22 – Thu) – Morning: Explore urban/rural Triunfo on your own with UFPE grad students as your translators/guides Afternoon – trip by 4X4 vehicles to coffee/banana gardens and Pernambuco’s highest point, Pico do Papagaio.

Day 9 (July 23 – Fri) – Trip to Catimbau visiting the National Park (rock art, caatinga, folk artist José Bezerra, Pernambuco fault-line etc.) Lunch at village.Overnight stay in Pesqueira

Day 10 (July 24 – Sat) – Morning: Visit to Pesqueira white-lace market. Visit to Poção and its family-based production of embroidery and white lace .Afternoon – Rock-arch of Venturosa and return trip to Recife

Day 11 (July 25 – Sun) – Morning: Free in Recife(Boa Viagem beach, Shopping malls etc.) Afternoon:  Visit to Instituto Ricardo Brennand (Special interest: Old Dutch paintings of colonial landscapes in Recife and surroundings)

Day 12 (July 26 – Mon) – Trip to historical sugar-cane plantation and modern sugar-mill. Visit to  women’s handicraft cooperative in the town of Vicência

Day 13 (July 27- Tue) – Trip to modern Suape port and industrial complex.Visit to Porto de Galinhas luxury resorts and tourist area

Day 14 (July 28 –  Wed) –    Morning: Visit Francisco Brennand’s ceramic workshop.Afternoon – Meeting with public school teachers in a school facility. Discussion topics: Geography curriculum, violence, ethnicity and segregation in classroom and neighbourhood

Day 15 (July 29 – Thu) – Departure to the U.S.



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