Tag Archives: California missions

Who owns the past at the California missions?

The question “who owns the past”? has been asked about antiquities being contested by museums and source nations (Kate Fitz Gibbons, James Cuno), about Indigenous narratives and anthropologists (IPinCH), and about the place of intellectual property in our cultural commons (Lewis Hyde).

At the California missions the question of “who owns the past?” is a multi-layered one. The majority of the historic sites are owned by the Catholic Church in some manner (Diocesan properties, a Catholic University, etc.), while two are owned and managed by the California State Parks. In cases such as Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Jose, the sites are managed in partnership with not-for-profits. These administrative structures are formative in the framing of the interpretation of the past at the missions. Another layer is the question of the tangled narrative of church and state. What is Catholic history? What is California history? And how do those two relate? The most pointed questions about who owns the past at the missions surround the place the Native American past in the narrative (Deana Dartt, Phoebe Kropp).

Along with these deeply ideological aspects of the question “who owns the past?” are the quite pragmatic issues of control of access to images in archival collections. Historic photographs and other visual culture related to the missions are in collections of museums, archives, historical societies, and the missions themselves. Much has been done to making these materials accessible to general audiences. Most of the larger institutions have digitized their collections. The Online Archive of California is a rich and remarkable resource that provides the public access to the collections of more than 200 repositories through a simple search interface. But anyone wanting to do more than view images, such as including them in  publications or digital scholarship, must navigate the labyrinth of permissions and fees that many institutions require. There is a move toward more open access to digital collections. The Huntington Library, for example, delegates seeking copyright permission to users.

Louis Choris, Vue de Presidio Sn. Francisco
Louis Choris, Vue de Presidio Sn. Francisco (San Francisco Presidio), 1822. Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Yale’s Beinecke Library provides downloadable high resolution copies for free, noting that they are “committed to providing broad access to its collections for teaching, learning, and research in accordance with Yale University Policy. The Beinecke’s Website, catalog records, finding aids, and digital images enhance scholarship and promote use of both the digital and the original object.”

The vast majority of repositories, however, still charge fees. For some, these permission and reproduction fees are seen as vital revenue. Particularly troubling , however, is the practice of subcontracting out reproduction to for-profit such as the University of Southern California Digital Library which contracted the reproduction of some digital collections to Corbis (recently acquired by Getty Images).

The question of “who owns the past?” is a vital one at multiple levels, but for those trying to expand the voices telling that story, the sale of images to generate income or make a profit are barriers that limit the democratizing of knowledge and the broader engagement of public in curating their own history.

California mission music

Music was a significant part of both Native California and Spanish colonial culture. In the context of the missions, music was introduced as a part of the worship practices and as a way to train Native peoples in the traditions of western music as an element of creating, in the view of the Padres, “gente de razon” or civilized people. Reconstructing the musical practices of the missions has been a project of many historians and musicians listen. For example, see Craig Russell’s From Serra to Sancho: Music and Pageantry in the California Missions and the history of the Jose Carabajal violin at Mission San Miguel.

These efforts to perform historic music raise many interesting questions. What were the soundscapes of the colonial period missions and how did music fit in? How did the missions differ from the soundscapes that Native peoples were familiar with prior to the arrival of the Spanish? Even if the performances of mission music is accurate, how can we know how Native people heard and understood the sounds? And beyond the sonic experience of the music, what can we understand about the significance the embodied experience of performing the music in which bodies were simultaneously generating motions and sounds synchronized under the direction of a choir director? What is the potential of performing historic music on historic instruments to engage audiences in new ways? And finally, how does the interpretation of music in the context of colonial missions shape how those audiences understand the past? Was training in western-style music beneficial or can it be seen as yet another imposition of Spanish expectations on Native bodies?

Music clip from:
Cantar Quiero
Music of the California Missions

Recorded at Loyola Marymount University
Produced by John Fleherty
Associate Producers:
Ron Schmidt, SJ and Luis Proenca, SJ

A collection of engaging music that highlights the artistic contributions of the Franciscan friars who develeoped the California Missions. Music was an integral part of life in all of the Missions, marking the day´s activities. Listen and enjoy the many styles here, from Latin Mass settings and Gregorian chant to new compositions set for multiple vocal parts and Hispanic folksongs with memorable melodies and lively rhythms.

Published by World Library Publications, ISBN 978-1-58459-307-2

Doing digital history 2016 – first day impressions

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Doing Digital History 2016 – not as sexy but also not as scary as I had imagined. At least for the first day. The best part so far? 23 other people exploring fascinating topics and wanting to learn new tools to do and share their work. And this community of learners is being supported by experienced instructors who know their stuff and want us to succeed. Pretty awesome opportunity.

As much new technology as there is to master, I’m struck by how many of the challenges are  familiar. Who is my audience? What do I want them to understand, feel, and do? What are the key outcomes and how can I assemble my raw materials and frame my argument most effectively to accomplish them?

And what are the possibilities of all this new media to not only reach new audiences, but to do research with and for communities in new ways? Shared authority and community-curated content are laudable goals, but how does that really work in media and forums that are seemingly even more complex than traditional formats?

And, finally, how can I mobilize the visual power of technology in ways that are both more accessible and more memorable than text-dominated media? I want to engage people in the histories of social inequalities across space and time and to highlight the enduring significance of landscape in reflecting and reifying social relationships. Are there digital history tools out there that can help me do this? Looking forward to discovering ways to realize my vision for JustIndy and for translating California mission landscape history into compelling curriculum. Stay tuned!