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Academy of American Franciscan History


The Alta California missions have been at the center of the historiography of Spanish California for over a century. The history of Alta California, for instance, has often been presented as beginning with a "sacred" expedition and the expansion of the mission system served as a convenient symbol to chart the spread of the Spanish colonial presence along the Pacific coast. 1 In the 1980s, the combination of two controversial events, the beatification and potential canonization of Fray Junipero Serra and preparations for the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, intensified public interest in the effects of the missions in California and elsewhere. The literature that ensued, often impassioned and both polemical and scholarly in nature, has benefitted the study of colonial California in a number of ways.2 For example, since the quincentennial touched both North and South America, it imbued the study of the California missions with a much greater realization that these institutions were a part of a wider evangeli cal enterprise in the New World in general and New Spain in particular.3 Bolton's concept of the borderlands has been revived in a more sophisticated form and it offers new ways of conceptualizing and understanding the encounters among Europeans, mestizos, and indigenous peoples throughout the U.S. Southwest and elsewhere.4 Also, all throughout the region, detailed study of the mission records, combined with a close sensitivity to oral traditions, has allowed anthropologists, ethnographers, and historians to reconstruct the lives and experiences of Native Americans, including Native Californians, with much greater precision and nuance than ever before.5 California scholars are now themselves engaging in the type of family reconstitution that has enlivened and enriched the study of colonial New England over the past three decades.6

Chapter of

Francis in America: Essays on the Franciscan Family in North and South America


John F. Schwaller


Copyright © 2008 Academy of American Franciscan History. Reprinted with permission.

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