Research Collective

The Lesser Research Collective participates in numerous health-related projects in São Paulo. These include working with health care professionals on methods for improving immigrant health, the production of multi-lingual health guides (in Korean, Spanish, and Chinese) for physicians, nurses and community health care workers, and the mapping of risk locations.

I am the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Brazilian Studies and a History Department faculty member at Emory University in Atlanta. I was a Fulbright Scholar at the Federal University of São Paulo, where I was affiliated with the History, Maps, and Computers project. I have been a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies since 2015.

Our current research on health, immigration, and the built environment engages with researchers, health professionals, and patients. We have been conducting archival research and observing Dr. Fernando Cosentino‘s medical team at the Bom Retiro Basic Health Clinic in São Paulo, Brazil. This clinic is part of the Brazilian National Health Service, known as SUS.


Living and Dying in São Paulo: Immigrants, Health, and the Built Environment in Brazil (Duke University Press, 2024)

Living and Dying In São Paulo examines the competing visions of wellbeing among immigrants and representatives of the Health State including policymakers and health care professionals. The book will analyze how these actors lived and worked within rigid social and material structures that misattributed the relationship between cause (culture) and effect (disease) and thus led to enduring health issues. My project uses health and care (broadly defined) as windows into the connected systems of the built environment, public health laws and practices, and citizenship. It will demonstrate how federal, state, and municipal health and immigration legislation (from about 1850 to present) engendered continuity and created social and material residues by triangulating the history of Brazilian public health research, laws and policies, and globally dominant ideas about disease and other health issues.

By stressing how the state and residents engage with everyday health practices, health spaces, and health imaginaries, the book highlights material, political, and social residues, persistent structures of repetition. Residues, as a term and as a reality, are important to my thinking because they mark permanence based on past activity. Residues like slavery, immigration, formal and informal industrial development, and elite ideas about health and health spaces, have layered on top of each other for centuries to create what scholars often broadly term “structures.” Furthermore, “residues” is a word used regularly in Brazilian health policies and actions. Material residues that structure well-being are and were omnipresent as textile workshops discard piles of strips of cloth on the streets where they collect water and become mosquito breeding grounds. The residues of clogged and overflowing sewers do the same. All structure how people walk through neighborhoods including the routes they choose and the kinds of steps they must take to avoid litter heaps and puddles. Identifying and studying health residues demands the diverse approaches, sources, and methods that generated the data for this book. Residues thus both create and are created in the daily lives of people during their cycles of health crises, visits with medical professionals, and in their quotidian discussions of everything from gun violence to human and non-human animal borne diseases.

“Pauliceia 2.0”:  Collaborative Mapping Project for the City of São Paulo, 1870-1940

“Pauliceia 2.0” brings four different institutions, across two continents, together in transforming the relationship between the past and present and between producers and consumers of digital history. Pauliceia 2.0’s computational platform allows scholars and the broader public to collaborate in creating, organizing, storing, integrating, processing, and publishing urban history data sets.  Using the city of São Paulo during its period of urban and industrial modernization (1870-1940) as a base, Pauliceia 2.0 provides access to a common database and allows interaction among researchers, who contribute spatially- and temporally-represented events.  The platform allows researchers to produce maps and visualizations while at the same time contributing to the data within the system. This open source project enriches understanding of the history of São Paulo and offers an innovative model of research for the humanities that fosters collaborative work and the free flow of knowledge. 

Published Books: Research on Immigration and Ethnicity in Brazil

My most recent book, Immigration, Ethnicity and National Identity in Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 2013; Editora UNESP, 2015) examines the immigration to Brazil of millions of Europeans, Asians, and Middle Easterners from the nineteenth century to the present.

I am also the author of A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy (Duke University Press, 2007; Editora Paz e Terra, 2008), awarded the 2010 Roberto Reis Prize (Honorable Mention), Brazilian Studies Association; Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke University Press, 1999; Editora UNESP, 2001), awarded the Best Book Prize, Latin American Studies Association-Brazil in Comparative Perspective Section; and Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question(University of California Press, 1994; Imago Editora, 2005; Tel Aviv University Publishing Projects, 1997), awarded the Best Book Prize, New England Council on Latin American Studies. 

Recent Visits to Emory University Research Sites

My scholarly research in Brazil is informed by site visits in other locations where I have the opportunity to engage with Emory researchers, their global partners, and the communities where they are based.