January 2018: Presentations on Jesuit Studies at the AHA Conference

The 132nd annual meeting of the American Historical Association (January 4–7 in Washington, D.C.) is centered on the themes of “Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective.”


The conference features the following academic panels and presentations, among others, related to the field of Jesuit Studies:



Thursday, January 4, 1:30PM

Panel: “The Digital History of 19th-Century US Religion” (link)

“Faith and Family: Reconstructing the Jesuit Enslaved Community in Southern Maryland, 1717–1838,” by Sharon Leon, Michigan State University (link)

— In 1838 Thomas Mulledy, S.J., signed his name to an agreement selling the 272 enslaved persons who resided on Jesuit-owned estates in Southern Maryland to Louisiana. The sale served as the culmination of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus’s fraught experience with slaveholding in the colonial and early national period. While much historical work has been written on Jesuit slaveholding, that writing has primarily focused on the implications for the religious community and the moral universe in which these men made their decisions about slavery. Thus far, however, no scholar has studied on the enslaved people themselves. This project focuses on the lives and experiences of the enslaved, rather than on their Jesuit owners. Focusing on the enslaved community itself makes this project ideally suited for digital methods. With an eye to the events and relationships that formed the warp and woof of the daily lives of this enslaved community, I will work to identify each individual enslaved person present in the documentary evidence and to situate them within their families and larger community. In processing and representing this archival research, I will employ linked open data and social network analysis to visualize the entire community of enslaved people and their relationships to one another across space and time. This approach will allow me both to focus on the distinct individuality of each enslaved person and to have the capacity to pull back to grasp the community in aggregate, noting trends and changes in their experiences and relationships during their time in Maryland. I plan to focus on the questions of how the Jesuits acquired their slaves, the material conditions of slavery under the Jesuits in comparison with those in Maryland at large, and the execution and aftermath of the mass sale in 1838.


“‘An Aversion to Instruction from Book, or Tract, or Bible?’ Recovering the Place of Print in Antebellum American Catholicism,” by Kyle B. Roberts, Loyola University Chicago (link)

— Scholars have long focused on Protestants, from their founding of Bible and tract societies to the catalyzing power of Beecher’s A Plea for the West, as the people of the printed word, especially in the nineteenth-century American Midwest. Catholics, however, equally availed themselves of print. A rare surviving ledger allows us to reconstruct the extent of the Catholic book trade at the time. The ledger meticulously documents the Catholic book trade overseen by the Jesuits between 1842 and 1849 in the Mississippi and Missouri Valleys. In its analog form, the ledger, with its 125+ pages of purchases from European and East Coast publishers and its 375+ pages of sales to a broad range of consumers, is difficult to analyze. Digital applications allow us to unlock the significance of the data contained in the ledger, offering the potential for powerful visualizations and complex calculations that reveal new insights into the place of print in antebellum Catholicism. The Bibles, books, and tracts published for Catholics remind us of their transnational, hybrid identities, balancing allegiances to the state, homeland, and the global Catholic Church. The distribution of Catholic print through gift and sale reinforced scattered communities of believers, both clerical and lay, across the nation. This paper builds on the collaborative work of the students, faculty, and librarians involved in the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project <https://jesuitlibrariesprovenanceproject.com/> to reconstruct this lost world of Catholic print through digital humanities approaches.



Friday, January 5, 8:50AM

“On the Fringes of Empire: The Religio-political Scope of Christianity in the Early Modern Caucasus,” by Robert John Clines, Western Carolina University (link)

— In 1615, the Jesuits Louis Granger and Étienne Viau arrived in Georgia after having been invited there by several local princes and clerics. In previous missions to Orthodox Christians, even those who had invited the Jesuits, the Jesuits rarely found success. To the Jesuits’ surprise, the Georgian clergy were open to the idea of recognizing papal authority, and praised Pope Paul V and King Louis XIII of France for their defense of Christians. Likewise, several Georgian princes fêted the Jesuits’ arrival and deliberated submission to Rome. These princes even considered allying themselves with the mission’s patron, Louis. The Jesuits intimated why Georgian princes were willing to consider a Franco-papal alliance which many other Eastern Rite Christians had long rejected: these princes were trying to maintain their tenuous political and religious independence in the face of the Ottoman-Safavid War (1603-1618), which was being fought to their immediate south, and they were looking for allies in their struggle with their much more powerful neighbors. Ultimately, the Jesuits, the Georgians, Paul, and Louis were not able to forge an accord once the Safavids invaded Georgia in 1615. However, the Georgians’ deliberation over whether to accept a Franco-papal alliance and Paul and Louis’s willingness to aid the Georgians in the form of Jesuit missions, seminary training in Rome, and financial assistance, demonstrate two points about the place of small states in the early modern word: First, these smaller states recognized the need to preserve their autonomy, and sought out allies who could protect them; second, larger states desired to have these smaller states as allies due to their proximity to their rivals’ borders. These points suggest that petty states and minority faiths on the margins of empires were part and parcel of the imperial rivalries that pervaded the early modern world.



Friday, January 5, 9:30AM

“Refracted Processes of Ethnogenesis: Identity Formation in the Imperial Borderlands of the Greater Paraguayan River Basin,” by Justin Blaine Blanton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (link)

— My paper focuses on the historical construction and articulation of ethnic identities among multiple indigenous groups who inhabited missions founded by the Jesuits in the colonial Spanish province of Chiquitos located in portions of southeastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. It examines how native resistance to the imperial developments following the Jesuit expulsion of 1767 and the secularization of the missions impacted the evolution of a unified Chiquitano ethnic identity among the mission Indians that began to emerge a century earlier under different sociopolitical contexts. I argue that the development of a Chiquitano identity did not occur through a monolithic process that began and ended during a neatly bounded period of time. “Becoming Chiquitano” was, instead, a multivalent set of processes that emerged under the Jesuit regime and continued long after the expulsion of the order. These processes refracted to follow different paths during an era of secularization that altered the spatial and administrative organization of Chiquitos and reoriented the province’s indigenous communities. To access and trace the evolving articulations of identity among the Indians of Chiquitos, I examine the hierarchical native councils of each of the ten mission towns. Known as cabildos, the native councils were comprised of officers elected by Jesuit priests to govern the missions as representatives of their different ethnic groups. As the primary institution of internal governance and political culture in the missions, the cabildos persisted after the Jesuit expulsion to maintain authority and assert distinct ethnic identities in the face of late eighteenth century administrative changes.


Friday, January 5, 11:10AM

“The Racial Politics of Genetic Genealogy and the Case of the GU 272,” by Alondra Nelson, Columbia University and Social Science Research Council (link)

— In 2015, Georgetown University established a Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation to explore the organization’s ties to the peculiar institution. The report issued from this committee of students and faculty shone a brighter light on an historical episode already known to scholars of the period and to some in the Georgetown community: In 1838, the Jesuit stewards of Georgetown College sold 272 enslaved persons of African descent, residing in Maryland, to two purchasers in Louisiana. The transaction netted more than three million dollars in today’s currency. Rather than feeling liberated because this disgraceful history had now been brought to public notice, prominent alumnus Richard Cellini felt freighted down by enormity of the University community’s ethical debt to the descendants of enslaved men and women sold to Louisiana plantations. Cellini thought this ethical debt might begin to be repaid through identification of these descendants using genealogy and other means and founded the nonprofit Georgetown Memory Project for this purpose. Using his own resources and contributions from Georgetown alumni and members of the wider public, Cellini commissioned professional genealogists to try to locate these individuals and families using archives and vital records; complementary genetic genealogy testing was provided by Ancestry.com. Drawing insight from this “reconciliation project”—a social endeavor in which DNA analysis is put to the use of repairing past injury—this paper considers how genetics today plays a complex and even contradictory role in racial politics. How might reconciliation projects, like the case of the so-called #GU272, compel us to revisit the historical and sociological claims about the intersections of race and genetics? How can we simultaneously account for the essentialism that accompanies any use of science for and the new political possibilities that genetic genealogy might make possible?



To learn more about the AHA and its 2018 conference program, please visit: https://www.historians.org/annual-meeting/2018-program

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