History and Philosophy of Science Talks – Friday, October 22, 2021
Brazil has a long tradition of launching hot air balloons at Catholic festivals—but in the mid twentieth century, these balloons became a secular art form beyond saints’ days. As the secular practice grew, balloonists created increasingly larger aircraft, requiring complex technical expertise. By the 1970s and 1980s, teams were making technically and artistically elaborate balloons up to 105 meters tall and carrying hundreds of kilos of fireworks, banners, or lanterns. These large aircraft came to dominate the busy urban airspace, posing a danger to airliners, and were eventually criminalized, making police raids of balloonists’ workshops a common feature of local news. In crafting large and complex balloons, these balloonists who mostly hail from the margins of Brazilian society, created and formalized their own body of technological expertise—an insurgent technology that exists in conflict with the state and formal technological systems.
Felipe Fernandes Cruz (Ph.D., UT History, 2016) is Assistant Professor of History at Tulane University.