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California Mission Landscapes

Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage

Elizabeth Kryder-Reid

Publication Year: 2016

“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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

For a number of years psychologist Alan Dienstag led a creative writing group for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The experience, which he recounted on a broadcast of On Being in March 2015, gave him insights into the power of sharing memories to break through the isolation of people with dementia.1 Sharing their...

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pp. xiii-xvi

One advantage of working on a project for decades is that you accumulate a long list of colleagues who have enriched the scholarship and the experience. Those who contributed to my thinking on the materiality of the past and its meanings for the present include Kevin Murphy, Norman Neuerburg, Ian W. Brown...

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Introduction: Missions, Memory, and Heritage

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pp. 1-30

These posts capture the ineffable allure of the California missions. Their contradictory mix of beauty and bloody history, their evocation of another time, the embodied experience of space, and a sense of connection with the past have threaded descriptions of the missions for more than a century. In the foreword...

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1. Colonial Mission Landscapes

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pp. 31-70

The mission landscapes that survive today as popular heritage sites with their beautiful churches and courtyard gardens have deep histories that stretch back thousands of years. To comprehend the significance of the present landscapes it is necessary to examine the establishment of the missions at the end of the...

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2. Inventing Heritage: Time Binding in the Mission Landscape

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pp. 71-134

When William Henry Jackson published his 1894 collection of photographs of California’s “ancient” missions and churches, he was documenting the crumbling remains of the state’s colonial history. He lauded the missions for their picturesque architecture and “the treasures of sentiment, the charms of romance, and...

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3. Cultivating Heritage: Race, Identity, and the Politics of the Mission Landscape

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pp. 135-178

An editorial published in 1948 in the Santa Barbara News Press declared that “the people of every California city would like to have Santa Barbara’s Old Mission, but it sits here where it belongs in time and place and public understanding.”1 This statement of local pride and ownership reflects the fact that the transformation...

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4. Consuming Heritage: The Embodied Experience of the California Missions

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pp. 179-228

The missions were destinations in design and in practice long before they became popular tourist sites. Beginning in 1769, crosses were erected and bells hung to announce the missionaries’ arrival to the local natives. The colonial mission churches were self-consciously public buildings; their architecture invested heavily in facades, bell towers, campanarios, and other highly visible features that...

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Conclusion: Third Spaces and the Future of Mission Memory Practices

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pp. 229-246

The California missions have been and continue to be many things to many people. They are monuments to the origins and accomplishments of California’s western civilization. They are memorials commemorating the lives of those who lie buried there. They are faith communities and field trip destinations. They...

Appendix: Plant Lists

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-298


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pp. 299-338


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pp. 339-365

E-ISBN-13: 9781452952079
E-ISBN-10: 1452952078
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816637973

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2016

OCLC Number: 957656495
MUSE Marc Record: Download for California Mission Landscapes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Spanish mission buildings -- California.
  • Cultural landscapes -- California.
  • Cultural property -- Political aspects -- California.
  • Cultural property -- Social aspects -- California.
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