In this Book
“Nothing defines California and our nation’s heritage as significantly or emotionally,” says the California Mission Foundation, “as do the 21 missions that were founded along the coast from San Diego to Sonoma.” Indeed, the missions collectively represent the state’s most iconic tourist destinations and are touchstones for interpreting its history. Elementary school students today still make model missions evoking the romanticized versions of the 1930s. Does it occur to them or to the tourists that the missions have a dark history?
California Mission Landscapes is an unprecedented and fascinating history of California mission landscapes from colonial outposts to their reinvention as heritage sites through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Illuminating the deeply political nature of this transformation, Elizabeth Kryder-Reid argues that the designed landscapes have long recast the missions from sites of colonial oppression to aestheticized and nostalgia-drenched monasteries. She investigates how such landscapes have been appropriated in social and political power struggles, particularly in the perpetuation of social inequalities across boundaries of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and religion. California Mission Landscapes demonstrates how the gardens planted in mission courtyards over the last 150 years are not merely anachronistic but have become potent ideological spaces. The transformation of these sites of conquest into physical and metaphoric gardens has reinforced the marginalization of indigenous agency and diminished the contemporary consequences of colonialism. And yet, importantly, this book also points to the potential to create very different visitor experiences than these landscapes currently do.
Despite the wealth of scholarship on California history, until now no book has explored the mission landscapes as an avenue into understanding the politics of the past, tracing the continuum between the Spanish colonial period, emerging American nationalism, and the contemporary heritage industry.