When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, he canonized the eighteenth-century Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, rekindling the smoldering controversy that surrounds this historical figure—both a holy man with zeal for the Gospel and an imperial agent with little concern for the indigenous culture he was supplanting. Serra is also a secular figure, a “founding father” of California, who established missions and presidios with names like San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco, that would become the backbone of the civic infrastructure of a territory that was first Spanish, then Mexican, then briefly independent, and finally part of the United States. Serra’s likeness stands in the National Statuary Hall in the US Capitol Building, the only Hispanic out of the 100 historical figures enshrined therein.
On the podcast today, Steven Hackel
speaks about his recent book, Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father
(Hill and Wang, 2014), a remarkable investigation into the cultural context of Serra’s world and lifelong formation—for it was only at the age of 59 that he first set foot in Alta California—and and his subsequent evangelization. Professor Hackel also discusses the politics of Serra’s recent canonization and his place in American memory.
Dr. Hackel is Professor of History at the University of California at Riverside; he studies the Spanish Borderlands, colonial California, and California Indians, especially the effects of colonialism and disease upon the Indians and their responses to them. He is the author of two books on the subject; he is also editor of the Early California Population Project and director of the Early California Cultural Atlas; in addition, he is co-curator of the Huntington Library’s exhibition, “Junípero Serra and the Legacy of the California Missions.”
Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Spanish Empire specializing on culture, diplomacy, and travel. He completed his PhD in 2017 at UC Berkeley where he is now a Visiting Scholar; he also teaches at Los Medanos College and Berkeley City College.