HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Missionaries

Last updated: 29 Nov. 2018 at 1 pm
(Note: This is the last Lesson of the first term for 2018-19; the course will resume in the first week of classes on 9 January 2019.)

This week's big question

What role did missionaries play in the colonization of North America?

Video Introduction

Learning outcomes

At the end of this week you should:

Questions to consider, and learning activity

Note that besides the Forum for this week there are no extra assignments nor an exam in HIST 2F90 this year (meaning 2018; there will be more quizzes and a final exam in 2019)! This is the last Forum of the term. We're aware that you're all really busy with assignments and exam preparation in other courses. For this reason, we'll again be a little more flexible with the schedule for the Forum discussions for this week. The Forum opens on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 29, and it will stay open until Saturday, Dec. 8. We'll also leave the Indigenous Peoples Forum open until Friday, Nov. 30 (one extra day).

Some of the Forum Groups are engaging really, really well with the sources, and holding strong discussions. If you're contributing in an active way, excellent -- and keep it up! If your engaged but your group is not, do your best to encourage others to discuss ideas and evidence with you. And if you haven't been so engaged lately, try your very best to finish the term in a strong way.

Everyone should plan to post at least twice this week (i.e., before Dec. 8). To be more specific: Everyone should make their first post no later than mid-day (1 pm) on Tuesday, Dec. 5. This will leave lots of times for replies and further exploration before Saturday, Dec. 8.

This week you should read all of the primary sources and one of the secondary sources [see below] before you begin your posts.

Here is a list of questions to help guide your discussions for this Lesson:

Background

As we saw in our examination of imperial expansion, one of the reasons put forth in support of colonizing America was that Christianity could be brought to its “heathens”.  Thus, from the very beginning, missionaries accompanied expeditions and settlements in the New World.  In the Catholic countries -– France, Spain, and Portugal –- these missionaries were organized typically through the larger religious orders such as the Society of Jesus, more commonly called the Jesuits (we learned about them in Module 1). The Jesuits were one of the most important orders in Christian history, and their influence particularly in education remains significant around the world today (for example, Pope Francis comes from a Jesuit background). They were founded in the wake of the Reformation, and their military-like organization and evangelical zeal marked them as key players in the Catholic Church’s efforts to battle the Protestant reformers. These were strong, dynamic, and intelligent men. Unlike the monks who retreated into monasteries for contemplation, prayer, and self-examination, the Jesuits went out into the world determined to defeat Protestant “heretics” and to reach the minds of “heathens”. The Jesuits were active around the globe, and their most important roles were in missions and education. These two roles came together in New France in the 17th century.   

For historians, the Jesuits are important not only for the role they played in the colonization of New France, but also in their writings, the Jesuit Relations. At a time when less than half the population could read and fewer still could write, Jesuits received very good educations. They read classical texts, and could write very effectively. In relating their experiences, the Jesuits provided remarkable portraits of the peoples of the New World, while also justifying​ the costs involved in the missionary project. And, because northern Indigenous peoples were pre-literate societies, the Jesuit Relations are among the best sources remaining to us for understanding the early years of contact between European and Indigenous peoples.

We will explore the question of cultural relations more this week, but an important basic issue is just what these texts can tell us. Though clearly effective in describing the Jesuits’ views of the encounter with Indigenous peoples, it’s much less clear what they can tell us about the Indigenous people they purport to describe. The role of the Jesuits has been controversial.  While in the past much of this controversy was mired in confessional (Catholic/Protestant) and national (British/French) prejudices, there remains significant debate over whether the Jesuits should be interpreted as engaged in the sincere higher calling of proselytizing (spreading the Word of God), or as agents of empire. Were their interests tied only to converting non-Christians, or were they actively aiding the colonizing forces? Or, however they imagined their actions, were they doing both? All of which leads us to our key question: Who were the Jesuits? Who were these men? What were their motivations? Were they agents of empire, or God? Or both?

Recent historians have focused on the cultural impact as well as the motivations of the Jesuits. The aim of these historians has been to assess the impact of the Jesuits on Indigenous people, the place of Jesuit writings in shaping European understandings of the New World, and how that helps to understand the broader story of empire in the early modern Atlantic World.  As you’ll see, our two main secondary readings have quite different views of the nature of that relationship. The differences between Blackburn and Seeman illustrate the interpretative nature of historical writing. Like most authors writing on the Jesuits, they rely on the Jesuit Relations –- writings by the Jesuits themselves relating their experiences for an audience back in France –- but take quite varied meanings from their sources. The Jesuit Relations are complex texts and can be seen as both faithful accounts and propaganda, as both accurate and profoundly misleading. It’s not surprising then that historians offer very different ways of understanding the meeting of Europeans and Indigenous peoples.

Toolbox

Review all of the Toolbox entries from last term before you read the sources, and practice applying the skills you've learned so far in this course.

Primary sources

As usual, make sure that you're signed into Sakai before you try to access these sources. If you have any issues write to the Instructor Role in Sakai and make sure that you also choose the "Send Cc" option.

Secondary sources

To find out which group you're in, see the introductory post in the Forums for last week's Forum.

If you're in the BLUE group, read:If you're in the GREEN group, read:We want to explore these books' different perspectives. Obviously, they are talking about different people at different times, so it's not the subjects we want to compare, but the general viewpoint and arguments each suggests. Each author interprets the place of Jesuits differently. Explore how they arrive at those differences.  Everyone should make their first post no later than mid-day (1 pm) on Tuesday, Dec. 5. This will leave lots of times for replies and further exploration before Friday, Dec. 8.

Supplemental Materials

Click on the images throughout this page to expand them and to learn more about them. They are all found at the online Archive of Early American Images​ at the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI. We have added these to the supplementary section, because we are requiring you to focus your Forum posts on the written texts. However, if you wish to practice your analysis of visual sources, you may be interested in these issues:

Important Note:

The next Lesson and Forum on Colonial Societies will be ready by Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.
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