Student Spotlight: Mapping Missionaries with Christian Geoppo

Christian Geoppo is a junior, majoring in Economics with a minor in Mathematics and Information Systems Management. Here, he shares his reflections and conclusions from the “Mapping Missionaries” project. To learn more about the Mapping Missionaries project and see the map, see our post “Going Digital, Part 2: Mapping Missionaries.” 

I found the Google Fusion Tables very easy and enjoyable to work with. However, I was rather annoyed to find that the program made distinctions between “Food and Labor” and “food, labor.” To historians using the program who want to be very specific and precise with filters, this feature induces undue work as they would have to scroll through all the filters to ensure that no separate versions of the same filter are represented.

After entering the data, I played with the filters in order to tease out patterns. First I separated the missions by empire. Not knowing much about the Spanish missions, as they had not yet been covered in class, I decided to focus on them. I was surprised to find that there exists a high concentration of missions in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas as these are dry, inland areas. Upon further investigation, however, I realized that this made sense, as they were clustered around the Rio Grande. I was also surprised to find that they were among the earliest missions established. The first four were established within a two year period beginning in 1598 all near the modern day city of Santa Fe. One of the values I find from Google Fusion tables is that historians can track the Spanish expansion and contraction by looking at the map through filters. Since establishing Christian missions was in the vanguard of European colonization efforts, we can determine that the Spanish were beginning to branch out of Mexico and into the American Southwest by the 1590s.

I was also surprised to learn that the first two Spanish missions were established in South Carolina by Jesuits. Since of the 269 Spanish missions, 256 of them were staffed by Franciscans, I had initially thought that Franciscans had established the first missions. Additionally, I had thought that the Spain’s missions would have originated in Florida not the Carolinas. However, based off the map, it appears that the Jesuits first established missions in South Carolina, and then moved south into Florida. The Jesuits appear to have met with little success as these missions only lasted around two years, with the longest one lasting around six. Each of the Jesuit missions in South Carolina and Georgia targeted a different tribe (Escamacu, Chayopin, Borrado, or Camama), and I wonder if the Jesuits had inadvertently stumbled into a regional conflict that drove them out. It is also entirely possible however, that these tribes were less susceptible to Christianity since at that time and location these tribes were not as exposed to European traders as the Huron and Iroquois were in French Canada. As a result, these populations would not have experienced the significant disruptions in social norms that the Huron and Iroquois experienced because of the fur trade. Moreover, since they were in less contact with European traders, the southern tribes would not have experienced the mass epidemics brought on by the fur trade. As seen in the Anderson and Blackburn readings among others, European diseases eroded native peoples’ faith in traditional beliefs, making it easier for them to convert to Catholicism. With traditional beliefs still intact, Spanish Jesuits to South Carolina did not find the fertile ground with which to plant their new faith.

I also noticed that although many Spanish missions to Florida were located along the Atlantic coast, hardly any were located along its Gulf coast. To historians of migration this would indicate that Spanish colonization began on the Atlantic coast and moved west. It would also indicate that the Spanish did not sail around the Florida peninsula to explore and proselytize the coastal regions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Additionally, by redefining the parameters of the Date Established filter, I noticed that the period from 1725 to 1750 represented the wind down of mission activities in Florida with no new missions being established there after this period. This may suggest that prior and existing missions were successful in converting the natives in that region. It appears that the loss of Spanish Florida to Britain following the 1763 Treaty of Paris caused minimal disruption to existing missions in the area as few were closed in that region following the treaty. Indeed, it appears that most of the missions in Spanish Florida closed between 1695 and 1705. These included long term missions such as San Matheo de Tolapatafi (founded 1625, closed 1704) and San Martin de Tomole (founded 1655, closed 1704). Curiously, fifteen missions in the Tallahassee region closed in 1704. Whether this is from plague, tribal violence from the Apalache and Chine, or violence related to Queen Anne’s War, I do not know. But the collapse of these missions signals that a very significant event had occurred.

Additionally it was interesting to view commodity patterns. Labor appears to have been supplied by nearly every Spanish mission. There is no information as to what form this supply of labor took, but as seen from recent criticism of Junipero Serra’s California missions, it is likely that slavery was involved. Corn was supplied from Florida and Georgia; agricultural products and livestock were harvested from California; and horses and cattle were raised in Texas.

Turning to the French missions, the map indicates that 151 missions were established between 1565 and 1752. While 118 missions were founded by Jesuits, the Capuchin, Recollect, and Sulpician orders each established about nine missions apiece. Nine seminaries were also established, with a high concentration along the southern Mississippi River valley. The first seminary was established in New Brunswick in 1686, signaling that French colonization had matured to a point that enough French colonists desired to become priests that establishing a North American seminary was more efficacious than sending prospective priests to France.

As expected with the French missions, many missions’ main commodity was furs. Sixty-eight missions produced furs throughout the years of French colonization. I did notice however, that a large cluster of missions to the Huron near Toronto closed between 1648 and 1649. This corresponds to what we learned in class about the Iroquois Wars, which ended with the annihilation of the Huron in 1649. I did not realize the scope of destruction that the wars had wrought until I saw it reflected on the map. Fusion tables add a dimension to history that is often missed when simply reading a text. Twenty years separate the destruction of the Huron missions near Toronto and the establishment of the Iroquois missions near Montreal. A new generation had to come of age following the destruction of the Huron before French Catholics were accepted by the Iroquois tribe and permitted to establish lasting missions. This attests to the antipathy the Iroquois felt towards the French, who early on had chosen to fight and trade with the Huron rather than the Iroquois. The establishment of the missions occurred only two to three years following the treaty of 1667, which established a final and lasting peace with the French. The Jesuit missionaries were not ones to wait.

Unlike the Spanish Franciscans, French Jesuits established missions along the Mississippi and Alabama coast and interior. However, these occurred late in the French colonial movement, with establishment of the coastal missions in 1700 and 1704 and establishment of the interior missions in 1722 and 1728. These missions did not produce any major commodities and closed fairly quickly. In fact most of the missions established south of St. Louis, with the exception of Immaculate Conception IV closed a few years after they opened. Perhaps the first nations in these regions were not as susceptible to disruption as the tribes in Canada and New England because they were not as exposed to the fur trade, which as we learned in class caused major spiritual and social upheaval. Without the tribes’ association with French traders and exposure to European diseases to the extent that the northern tribes faced, it is likely that old beliefs and traditions remained intact and Christianity was mostly rejected.

Overall, I felt that this project aided my understanding as to the extent of and challenges faced by Catholic missions in North America. The ability to use time lapse also helped me to visualize French and Spanish territorial expansion and encroachment on native peoples’ lands as well. I believe that fusion tables are an asset for historians, especially if they are tracking migrations.


Going Digital, Part 2: Mapping Missionaries

Now that the project is over, it’s time to show it off! Over the past few weeks, the Ramonat Scholars have been working with Google Fusion Tables. Fusion Tables is a tool that allows you to project data points over a map. You can then manipulate the data by variable. In our case, we used data collected by Tracy Leavelle and John Corrigan for their project French and Spanish Missions in North America.

Students downloaded the spreadsheets with Leavelle and Corrigan’s data, then input it to a Google spreadsheet. We ran into a couple of bumps in the data input process, but everyone learned how important it is to have uniformity when you’re contributing data to a group project like this.

Then, students uploaded that Google spreadsheet into Fusion Tables and played around with the map. They could manipulate it by variables including: empire (French or Spanish), date established, date closed, years open, major commodity, and associated Native American tribe. By manipulating the map, they drew some fascinating conclusions about the missions.

Check out our map here, and click on the “Map of Latitude” tab to see missions color-coded by duration.

Going Digital, Part 1

Last week, we talked about the digital humanities. For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, the digital humanities is a broad term that encompasses projects in many fields, from linguistics to history. In a nutshell, digital humanities, or DH, projects either seek to address humanities questions using digital tools, or, they use humanities questions and frameworks to consider how we interact with digital media.

An Italian Jesuit, Fr. Roberto Busa, is often recognized as the first person to “do” the digital humanities. Beginning in 1949, he teamed up with IBM to use computers to compile a concordance (an index of all the words in a work) of the works of Thomas Aquinas. Busa worked on this project for most of his life, and his data moved from analog form, to punch cards, to magnetic tape, to CDs and then onto the Internet. As computer technology developed, humanities scholars became increasingly interested in the possibilities of using computers in their work.

In the 1990s, “digital history” emerged as a distinct subset of the digital humanities. It was championed by Roy Rosenzweig, founder of the Center for History and New Media (now the Roy Rosenzweig Center for New Media) at George Mason University. In discussing digital projects, the class looked at four digital history projects that represented a range of subjects, purposes, and budgets. They were:

The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial: A site exploring the Amboyna Conspiracy Trials. In 1623, on a remote island in Indonesia, Dutch colonial authorities accused a group of Japanese mercenaries and English traders of plotting to seize the castle. The site asks its visitors to weigh the evidence themselves and make a judgement in the case.

Explore Common Sense: A project by three graduate students at Loyola University Chicago which creates an interactive, digital critical edition of the first British edition of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense.

Histories of the National Mall: This site explores the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with pictures, facts and thought-provoking questions superimposed over a map of the Mall.

French and Spanish Missions in North America: This site maps the expansion of French and Spanish Catholic missions in North America over time.

Discussion in class focused on how all four of these digital history projects tried to make history more accessible and interesting for the intended audiences. The general consensus was that participatory features, like the ones on the Amboyna site, were really important in making a site engaging and interesting, and to its ultimate success.

Stay tuned as the Ramonat Scholars embark on their own digital project: mapping with Google Fusion Tables!

Discussion: The Jesuit Relations

This past week, students in the Ramonat Seminar read portions of the Jesuit Relations, one of the most important primary sources about Catholic missions in New France in the seventeenth century. The Jesuit Relations were annual reports sent from Jesuit missionaries in New France to their superiors in Europe, and were assembled, edited and published in Paris. It could take as long as a year for an account to reach its published form, but these early ethnographic studies of Native Americans were fascinating to many European readers.


Cover page of the 1662 Jesuit Relations. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

The Relations detailed the interactions of French Jesuits with many Native American groups, including the Montagnis, Huron, Iroquois, Potawatomi, and others. Jesuits like Isaac Jogues and Paul Le Jeune found themselves entirely immersed in cultures that were utterly foreign to them, trying to understand and learn the language in order to make converts. The class read several of Fr. Le Jeune’s accounts of his time among the Montagnis, including an account of a winter hunt, descriptions of religious practices and gender roles, and the differences in the ways Europeans and Native Americans disciplined their children.

Our class discussion was engaging and far-ranging, based on Allan Greer’s introduction to his edition of the Jesuit Relations . Students discussed what made the Jesuit missionaries different from other Catholic orders–their (relative) newness as compared to the Dominicans or the Benedictines, and their willingness to immerse themselves in diverse situations to advance their mission. We discussed previous Jesuit missions, including Francis Xavier’s and Matteo Ricci’s missions to Asia, as well as Spanish Jesuit’s efforts to convert Native Americans in what is now Paraguay. Jesuit heterodoxy, their willingness to adapt Catholic doctrine to fit a local situation, was part of their missionary toolbox, and also led to the eventual suppression of the order in the eighteenth century.

The rest of the discussion focused on the Relations, their audience, purpose and perceived effect. The class concluded that as historians, we should keep in mind that the Relations were often used to help raise funds, as they were aimed at relatively well-off European audiences. Students pointed out that this implicit bias in the Relations meant that the Jesuit authors (or perhaps the editors) had to be cautious in how they portrayed both Native American culture and European culture. They could not paint the missions as a hopeless cause for fear of scaring away donors, and they could not be too overtly critical of European society, even if they found more virtues in Native American society than their own. Despite these biases, the Relations are a critical piece of historical evidence illustrating the shape and way of life for Native Americans in the middle of the seventeenth century, and could be the start of some fascinating research papers.

For more information, or to read some of the Relations yourself, check out:

Allan Greer, ed. The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000).

Welcome New Scholars!

As the semester gets going, we’re happy to introduce you to the 2017-18 Ramonat Scholars! They’re all excited to get going with our study of Catholic missionaries and Native Americans. To learn more about individual scholars, visit the Meet the Scholars page! Keep checking the blog for updates about class, the speaker series, and other events!

2017 Ramonat Final Colloquium


Dorothy Day’s America

Over the course of the year, ten undergraduate Ramonat Scholars have researched and written twenty-five page papers based on primary sources. At this final research colloquium, students will briefly present their work and answer questions from the audience based on their research topics.

The Colloquium will take place in Piper Hall from 2-5:30 pm

2pm Welcome

Panel 1: Living Catholic Social Teaching (2:10-3:10pm)

Noah Beissel, “The Italian Apostle of Catholic Social Teaching: Mother Cabrini and late 19th century Italian-American Immigrants”

​Colleen Kenney “ ‘If Peace is to be Built’: Personalism and Spatial Identity in Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality”

Amanda Malmstrom “Labor of Love: Women, Art, and the Catholic Worker Newspaper

Frieda Rule, “Farm with a View: The Passion, Piety, and Pandemonium of Rural Catholic Worker Life at Tivoli”

Panel 2: Catholic Social Teaching on Campus (3:20-4:00pm)

Carolina Luna, “A Theology of Open Doors: The Creation of New Ministry Leaders in 20th century Chicago by the Hispanic Institute of Mundelein College”

Matthew Day Petersen, “ ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’: Vietnam War Resistance at Chicago’s Catholic Universities”

Elisabeth Hagemann, “ ‘A Gentle Whirlwind’: Carol Frances Jegen and the Mundelein Graduate Program of Religious Studies”

Panel 3: Catholic Social Teaching and State-Sanctioned Violence (4:10-4:50pm)

Jodie Casleton, “The Berrigan Phase: Symbolic Representation of Space in Anti-War Action”

Matthew Racchini, “No Dignity in Death: Sr. Helen Prejean’s Imprint on America’s Death Penalty Debate at the End of the 20th Century”

Emily Cook, “Finding Humanity Behind Bars: Feminist Prison Reformers in the 1970s”

Reception and Awarding of Ramonat Prize (5-5:30)

Finding the Joy of Writing


The past few months, our scholars have immersed themselves in their sources, with individual scholars visiting a Catholic House of Hospitality in New York, seeing an Opera of Dead Man Walking in D.C., and leading a student group to another Catholic Worker Farm!

And after a busy winter visiting archives from Miami to Connecticut, the scholars are finally deep into the writing process.

To get in the groove, and set distractions aside, we held a day-long writing bootcamp on campus. Beginning with a sunrise Ramonat-only yoga class, we cleared our minds and centered ourselves for a long day devoted to writing. We set and met goals, enjoyed lunch together, and left confident in our drafts.


Sunrise Yoga at Halas