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São Paulo’s theaters according to year in which inaugurated, 1854-1924.  Choropleth quantile map generated by Carto: https://aialalevy.carto.com/viz/119553d2-501e-11e6-b641-0ef7f98ade21/public_map.

Book Projects

  1. My book in progress, Making the Metropolis: Theaters and the Urban Public in São Paulo, Brazil, 1854-1924, explains the formation of a mass society in a rapidly growing city.  I argue that, as hundreds of thousands of immigrants and migrants poured into São Paulo at the turn of the twentieth century, residents used theaters to claim a place in and make sense of their nascent mass society.  Inside theaters, a wide range of Paulistanos—male, female, black, European—worked to forge what I call an urban public: an embodied community that modeled and debated the behaviors, appearances, and ideas necessary for occupying the city.  To trace the rise and fall of theaters as sites of the urban public, I analyze theater activities, legislation, and architectural plans produced between 1854 and 1924.  By revealing the significance of the built environment in enabling different Paulistanos to define social belonging, the book brings into conversation scholarship from Brazilian cultural studies with that of urban studies to contribute to the newly urgent historiography of citizenship in Latin America.

  2. In 2013, I helped organize and presented at the São Paulo Symposium, a two-day conference at the University of Chicago that brought together scholars of the city of São Paulo from across the disciplines.  The Symposium laid the foundation for an in-progress edited volume, tentatively titled Superlative City: Experimental Urbanity in São Paulo, that offers São Paulo as a case for reinterpreting urbanity in Brazil, Latin America, and the Global South. More information can be found at spsymposium.blogspot.com.

  3. With the aid of a Latin America Seed Grant from Princeton University's Center for Digital Humanities, I am now expanding my "Maxixe in the Metropolis" article project (see below) into a book project tentatively titled Afro-Paulistano Cartographies.  In Spring 2019, I am working with students to track and map spatial mobility among São Paulo's men and women of color during the post-emancipation period.  Which parts of the rapidly growing city were Afro-Paulistanos able to access and where did they choose to go?  How did they move through the city, and what did they do once they reached their destination?  By answering these questions, I hope to explain what we might call Afro-Paulistanos' right to the city at a moment in which they faced sudden demographic marginalization.

Dissertation: “Forging an Urban Public: Theaters, Audiences, and the City in São Paulo, Brazil, 1854-1924”

The recipient of the 2017 Dissertation Award from the Latin American Studies Association’s Brazil Section, my dissertation is driven by the question of how a city becomes a city.  As foreigners and newly emancipated Afro-Brazilians poured into São Paulo at the turn of the twentieth century, how did residents conceive of who belonged within the city’s public spaces and public life?  My work offers an answer by examining São Paulo’s theaters, mass spaces that accommodated the entire spectrum of Paulistano society and that functioned as key nodes in the circulation of people and ideas.  Specifically, I analyze three sets of theater producers—government officials, associational leaders, and businessmen—and the ways in which they shaped theatergoing and competed to attract spectators.  I argue that, in doing so, these men and women helped define the urban public as one that was ordered and molded by visible, cultural practices.  While theater producers disagreed over who constituted this public, all challenged or reinforced on a mass scale the social categories upon which urban and national policies were built.  Cultural production, my dissertation thus suggests, is a crucial lens for understanding the diverse assumptions and actions that, more than planners’ drawing boards, shaped the transition to urbanity.

The research for my dissertation in 2011-2012 was supported by an Institute of International Education Graduate Fellowship for International Study (the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's generous rescue effort after the Fulbright-Hays DDRA was sent to the chopping block by Congress). My work has also been funded by the University of Chicago's William Rainey Harper/Provost Dissertation Fellowship (2015-2016), a Coordinating Council for Women in History/Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Graduate Student Fellowship (2014), a Tinker Field Research Grant from the University of Chicago's Center for Latin American Studies (2010), and a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship (2008-2013).

As part of my dissertation, I mapped and compiled a database of São Paulo's theaters. You can interact with many of my maps on my Carto page.


1. "Stages of a State: From São Paulo's Teatro São José to the Teatro Municipal, 1854–1911," Planning Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Jul 2013). This article uses the cases of the Teatro São José and the Teatro Municipal to explain how and why performance space in the city of São Paulo became an increasingly public issue between 1854 and 1911. The piece is based on a paper that I presented at the International Planning History Society's 2012 conference and which was awarded the Society's Postgraduate Prize.

2. "Sarah Bernhardt in São Paulo: A Muse for the 'Artistic Capital,'" Istor 14, no. 53 (Summer 2013). Using legislative records and newspapers, this article examines the Paulistano reception of French actress and global celebrity Sarah Bernhardt to illuminate the politics of the urban imaginary in São Paulo’s transition from sleepy village to bustling city.

3. “São Paulo,” with Cristina Mehrtens and Fernando Atique, Oxford Bibliographies in “Latin American Studies,” ed. Ben Vinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766581/obo-9780199766581-0181.xml.

I am currently working on two additional articles:

1. An analysis of the ways in which associational theaters divided sociability among São Paulo's "popular" sectors along neighborhood, national, racial, and ideological lines.  The piece stems from my dissertation work and, in its initial form, won the inaugural Judith Ewell Prize from The Americas.

2. An essay about the effect of São Paulo’s quickly changing landscape on the construction of Afro-Paulistano respectability circa 1920.  I presented my initial findings on November 28, 2018, as part of the Princeton Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities: https://arc-hum.princeton.edu/events/mellon-forum-gender-justice-urbanism-aiala-levy-and-marilia-librandi-rocha.

Additional Projects

If you would like a copy of any of my recent conference papers, please feel free to contact me.

I spent the summer of 2015 creating 3D renderings of historical buildings in St. George's, Bermuda, as part of the digital history project Virtual St. George's.  The project is led by historian Michael Jarvis at the University of Rochester.  You can read more about my experience, which was funded by a University of Chicago/Mellon Foundation/AHA Broadening Career Horizons Summer Internship Grant, on the AHA's blog.

Buenos Aires: A Song in Three Spaces. If you're in the mood to wander the web, here's a website that I created for my final project in the course "Noises of Imperial Cities." The site leads readers through a series of songs to analyze the relation between sound and space in Buenos Aires.

Archives of Sao Paulo

Google Map of São Paulo's archives that I created while conducting research for my dissertation (last updated August 2012). Edits welcome!