Les Missions Du Minnesota: Catholicisme et Colonisation Dans l'Ouest Américain, 1830-1860

By Codignola, Luca | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Les Missions Du Minnesota: Catholicisme et Colonisation Dans l'Ouest Américain, 1830-1860


Codignola, Luca, The Catholic Historical Review


Les missions du Minnesota: Catholicisme et colonisation dans l'Ouest américain, 1830-1860. By Tangi Villerbu. [Des Amériques.] (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 2014. Pp. 333. euro21,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-7535-3554-1.)

In the three decades from 1830 to 1860 Minnesota was a microcosm of the American West. Mostly peopled by Natives-Dakotas, Ojibwas, and Winnebagoes (Ho-chunk)-Minnesota moved from being a mostly French-speaking region to a territory (1849) and a state (1857) where Irish and German-speaking newcomers came to represent the majority of the population. The Manitoba multiethnic community also included a large Métis population, although this was never institutionally recognized as it was in neighboring Manitoba. Catholicism in Minnesota-and in most of the West-went from being the dominant religion of a well-established flock served by very few missionaries to a more structured reality that included a bishop in St. Paul (Joseph Cretin, arrived 1851), a number of parish priests, and religious communities both male and female (see map no. 4, clearly designed by Pascal Brunello). Tangi Villerbu is a French cultural historian and the author of a book on the Lewis and Clark expedition (Neuilly, 2006) and of another on the French view of U.S. western expansion (Rennes, 2007). His new book represents an ambitious attempt to document Minnesota's "transition . . . through the lens of Catholicism" (p. 19).

In Villerbu's view, U.S. historians have so far shown an "astonishing" ignorance of documents relating to or originating from western Catholic dioceses managed by French clergy-from St. Paul to New Orleans (pp. 19-20). Consequently, during the past decade he has systematically combed a number of archives in France and the American Midwest. With regard to frontier historiography, he assesses at length such trendy concepts as middle ground, borderland, common and contested ground, divided ground, and settler colonial studies, and shows an uncommon grasp of western Métis historiography. Conversely, he makes little reference to previous Catholic literature, except for criticizing Maura Jane Farrelly's Marylandcentric approach (p. 21). He also relegates French historian Charles Lemarié, who trod on similar ground, to the bibliography and overlooks U.S. historian Robert F. Trisco, who in his book (Rome, 1962) documented Rome's role in the development of the western church. (It might be that he simply wanted to distance himself from what he considers traditional ecclesiastical history.) In fact, in his book frontier and Catholic historiographies proceed along parallel but separate paths. In Villerbu's narrative, only American historian Jay P. …

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