Historians have long privileged the written word when constructing their narratives of the past. But for those who write about the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there is a very different kind of source: audio recordings. What does it mean to be able not only to read what people are reported to have said, but to listen to what they actually said? What new kinds of stories can we tell about the past – and the present – when we can hear the regional accents, emotion, and rhetorical styles that audio recordings preserve?
Since the 1950s, the Câmara dos Deputados, the lower house of Brazil’s Congress, has recorded the audio of legislative speeches. The tapes lay collecting dust in filing cabinets until only a few years ago, when Congress decided to digitize them and place them online. Today the audio of speeches and committee meetings are placed on the Câmara’s site nearly instantly, where they reveal the drama of Brazilian legislative politics – chants and jeers from the gallery, protests by congressmen, and even verbal and physical confrontations between impassioned legislators. The audio has been particularly exciting recently, as Brazil’s most conservative Congress in two generations, under the leadership of the sinisterly brilliant speaker Eduardo Cunha, pushes back against the leftist executive branch and threatens to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.
All Eyes on the Congress takes some of the most exciting of these recordings to explore what we can learn about Brazil and its politics when we listen, instead of just reading transcripts or news stories. The project will reproduce short clips of congressional recordings and post them on a SoundCloud site, accompanied by historical and political analysis and reflections about what audio adds to our understanding of Brazilian politics in both the past and the present.
Marcelo Nogueira (Noah)