Harvard in Brazil

Next meeting was at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center, Office Brazil. We met at the Ling event last week and talked about how ideas spread, so I thought a follow up might be interesting.

Harvard do Brazil
The Harvard Center mostly acts as a facilitator for Harvard professors, researchers and students wanting to interact with Brazil. Brazil is a great place to work because of its size and diversity. We talked about the many, many connections over the years. There were so many, and they were so effective that I finally asked if there was just some sort of compilation. Fortunately, there is. You can follow the link to see Harvard’s Brazil Alumni success.

Much of the Brazil-Harvard research is funded by a grant from the Lemann Foundation. Read about the Lemann grants at the link I will put in comments.

I am not simply trying to avoid writing by linking. The links just explain it better than I can and they will be maintained. As long as I am linking, the link to the Lemann Foundation will also be in comments.

So Big that we may Overlook
I am afraid that many of my fellow Americans are unaware of the beneficial reach of our nation and how much we benefit from the two-way exchange. It is not only Harvard engaged in this way. We have so many links with Brazil and they go back so far that it is easy to overlook them. It is like the fish does not know he is wet because it has always been. However, it is the task of the current generation to continue to build on what we received. These ties require work and renewal.

The image that kept coming into my mind was Velcro. I do not want to make light of this but our connections with Brazil are not like links in a chain, but like Velcro, with millions of little hooks, little connections. And each time we have an exchange or an interaction, we build another.

What Took Years to Create Should be Protected
That is why I was a distressed in my meetings today, at Harvard and with some of our veteran IVLPs to hear that they think Brazilians have become a little leery of the USA’s immigration policy. They hear about walls and think that it is a wall to keep them out. We can try to explain the nuances, but the overall perception remains. When I hear visitors talk about my country in such grand terms, I just think it is incumbent on us to strive to that ideal and stay open and welcoming of new ideas.

Black Earth
A tangential interest was when we talked about cooperation between Harvard and Brazilian scientists in pre-Columbian archaeology. Up-to-date methods and technologies are enabling new discoveries. Working in the remote State of Acre, for example, scientists are finding evidence of much more extensive farming than earlier thought. A big indication is the presence of “terra preta” or black earth. This is found along the rivers and is essentially charcoal mixed with soils. It helps the soils retain water and avoid compaction. It always indicates the presence of farming, as the natural disposition of carbon in that way is almost impossible. It is a human-created soil. Today forests grow better on terra preta.

Our picture of the Americas is based on faulty history. We still think of the Americas as a virgin land, with thick forests as far as the eye could see. In fact, it was not virgin land but widowed land. European diseases often arrived before the Europeans did, decimating populations. The land reverted to thick forests and when settlers arrived, this is what they thought had been there always. In fact, it is more likely that the land was a patchwork of clearing and forest of various ages.

Consider that malaria was introduced into the Americas, as was dengue. Absent those diseases, much of the Amazon had a relatively benign climate that could support garden agriculture. The land was emptied; it was not empty.