Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America: A Comparative Study of the Impact of Environmental, Economic, Political, and Socio-Cultural Variations on the Missions in the Río De la Plata Region and on the Northern Frontier of New Spain

By Hendricks, Rick | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America: A Comparative Study of the Impact of Environmental, Economic, Political, and Socio-Cultural Variations on the Missions in the Río De la Plata Region and on the Northern Frontier of New Spain


Hendricks, Rick, The Catholic Historical Review


Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America: A Comparative Study of the Impact of Environmental, Economic, Political, and Socio-Cultural Variations on the Missions in the Río de la Plata Region and on the Northern Frontier of New Spain. By Robert H. Jackson. (Scottsdale, Arizona: Pentacle Press. 2005. Pp. xxii, 568. $44.95.)

This ambitious books sets out to provide a synthesis of recent scholarship on mission history in the Río de la Plata (present-day Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and on New Spain's northern frontier (northern Mexico and the southwestern United States). The basis of this study is the work of other scholars, Jackson's own considerable contribution to the historiography of the mission experience, and his examination of archival materials not used in earlier studies.

This work in set squarely in the context of historical ecology and demonstrates how the experience of particular missions was influenced by the natural environment in which they operated. This meant that missions established among indigenous peoples, who traditionally had no fixed settlements but were gathered together and taught environmentally inappropriate agricultural techniques, were destined to struggle or fail. In the desert of northern New Spain, this was a common occurrence.

In order to Christianize the native peoples of the more remote areas of the New World, the Spanish government and the Catholic Church pursued a policy of relocating indigenous populations at newly created communities, variously called doctrtnas, misiones, or reducctones, or they founded missions at established populations centers. This book uses a comparative analysis of the activities of missionaries from various groups within the Catholic Church, such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans, in two distinct geographical areas. In comparing mission work in the Río de la Plata with what took place in northern New Spain, the emphasis is placed onAlta and Baja California. This concentration permits a thorough comparison between the adaptations that Jesuits made in arid Baja California and the more favorable environmental conditions their brethren in the Río de la Plata enjoyed. …

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