About This Project

"Mapping the Megacity” seeks to understand the relationship between urban expansion and social activism in São Paulo in historical context. In the second half of the twentieth century, urban agglomerations of unprecedented scale arose in countries as diverse as India, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil that collectively came to be known as the “Global South.” Using São Paulo as a case study, this project examines the historical evolution of the megacity from its origins to the present using digital mapping and little-used archival material.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, millions of migrants from rural Brazil constructed their homes on the city’s outskirts. The rise of a vast urban periphery largely devoid of basic urban infrastructure and essential state services created crisis conditions for its residents. Periphery residents organized diverse grassroots movements around issues of everyday life including food security, housing, health, sanitary infrastructure, and childcare over the course of Brazil’s civil-military dictatorship (1964-1985). This project combines historical GIS with digitized materials from these movements to show the evolution of social action over time and space as periphery residents responded to rapidly shifting urban and political conditions. The goal of the project is to offer a more complex depiction of social mobilization in global peripheries useful to both scholars and the public.

In 2021, a Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative grant supported coding, domain hosting, and the indexing of an initial levy of over 100 digitized documents on protests over basic sanitation and health conditions in São Paulo's urban periphery. The grant continues to support efforts further development of the site as well as indexing of an additional levy of more than 1,000 documents in collaboration with ongoing digital humanities projects at the Centro de Memória Urbana da Zona Leste (CMUrb) at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo - Campus Zona Leste (Unifesp-ZL).

The project is currently hosted by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Rochester.