Black Robes and Buckskin

Paul Harvey

Just a brief addendum to yesterday's posts. As long as we're talking books suited for the classroom, here's an alternative for you. For years, I have periodically used an excellent "greatest hits" anthology from The Jesuit Relations, this one being Allen Greer's edition for Bedford Books: The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America. There are many wonderful things about that volume -- the inexpensive price, the fine introduction provided by Greer, and a great selection of docs -- but just for your interest's sake, here's another possibility of a volume along the same lines, but with an updated translation provided by the editor that doesn't rely on the older, creakier one of Reuben Thwaites' original full-length edition of the volumes. So check out Black Robes and Buckskin below, reviewed for Choice; it will doubtless interest some of you. The volume includes some previously unpublished material, so I gather, as well as an important essay by the editor reprinted in the book.

Randall, Catharine. Black robes and buckskin: a selection from The Jesuit relations. Fordham University, 2011. 212p bibl afp; ISBN 9780823232628, $35.00. Reviewed in 2011sep CHOICE.
The Jesuit Relations is a unique set of documents, approximately 73 volumes, critical to understanding the history of New France. Written by Jesuit missionaries in New France between 1632 and 1673, the documents constitute a running commentary on colonial life and particularly on the culture of the Indians whom the Jesuits were trying to convert to Christianity. As important as they are to historians, it should be noted that they were also invaluable as a source for generating interest and income for New France in the mother country. Hence, the field reports of the Jesuits were edited several times before their publication. In these brief selections, Randall (French, Fordham Univ.) concentrates on what she terms "inculturation"--in essence, the Jesuits' toleration of Native culture and their attempts to understand it to further the conversion process. Her translation is more readable than Reuben Thwaites's monumental The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, first published in 1925. The present work includes 16 pages of illustrations, the author's own article, "Cathedrals of Ice: Translating the Jesuit Vocabulary of Conversion," previously published in the International Journal of Canadian Studies, 23 (2001): 17-34, and a brief bibliography. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. -- P. T. Sherrill, emeritus, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

And fyi, a little more information about the book, from Fordham U. Press website. And hey, Fordham Press, after a decent interval has passed could you think about getting this in paper so we can assign it? We would appreciate that; merci. .

The Jesuits approached the task of converting the native peoples, and the formidable obstacles it implied, in a flexible manner. One of their central values was “inculturation,” the idea of “coming in by their door,” to quote a favorite saying of Ignatius, via a creative process of syncretism that blended aspects of native belief with aspects of Christian faith, in order to facilitate understanding and acceptance. The
Relations thus abound with examples of the Jesuits’ thoughtfully trying to make sense of native— and female—difference, rather than eliding it.

The complete text of the Jesuit Relations runs to 73 volumes. Catharine Randall has made selections from the Relations, some of which have never before appeared in print in English. These selections are chosen for their informative nature and for how they illustrate central tenets of Ignatian spirituality. Rather than provide close translations from seventeenth-century French that might sound stilted to modern ears, she offers free translations that provide the substance of the Relations in an idiom immediately accessible to twenty-first-century readers of English.

An extensive introduction sets out the basic history of the Jesuit missions in New France and provides insight into the Ignatian tradition and how it informs the composition of the Relations. The volume is illustrated with early woodcuts, depicting scenes from Ignatius’s life, moments in the history of the Jesuit missions, Jesuit efforts to master the native languages, and general devotional scenes.


Curtis J. Evans said…
Thanks, Paul. I too highly recommend Allan Greer's "The Jesuit Relations." He has a superb intro. and a good selection of primary documents. I used this volume several times when I taught at a state university and it always made for excellent discussion among the undergrads. They seemed to be particularly fascinated by the martyr narrative about Father Isaac Jogues. Quite frankly, I get excited about a number of other Bedford volumes.
esclark said…
Greer's edited selection is great. My most recent class of Religion in the US undergrads read a couple selections from it, some of Greer's introduction, and Brian Moore's novel Black Robe. The wide range of readings made for fantastic class discussions. This new volume sounds like another great option; hopefully they print it in paperback.

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