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Author of the Month: Clorinda Donato

Published: October 1, 2014

Jesuit Accounts of the Colonial Americas—Textualities, Intellectual Disputes, Intercultural Transfers

Clorinda Donato, George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies, professor, French/Italian

Published in 2014 by the University of Toronto Press as part of the UCLA Clark Library publication series, Jesuit Accounts of the Colonial Americas offers a look at the rich experience of the Jesuits in France and Spain’s American colonies. Co-edited by Clorinda Donato together with Marc-André Bernier and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, Jesuit Accounts offers the first comprehensive examination of Jesuit writing and the role it played in solidifying images of the Americas. The collection also provides a re-examination of the work of the Jesuits in relation to Enlightenment ideals and the modern social sciences and humanities. “The writings about the New World from the time of the Jesuit missions has not been studied that much,” said Donato, a member of the university since 1989. “The Jesuit order was founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534, shortly before the time of the Counter Reformation when the Catholic Church initiated a period of inward renewal and outward evangelization in response to the Protestant Reformation. One of their mandates was to go abroad to bring the word of Catholicism far and wide.” Over the ensuing centuries, they established missions throughout Asia, Canada and Latin America and wrote prolifically about the languages and cultures they experienced in histories, chronicles, relaciones, relations and récits, collectively constituting the Jesuit Accounts discussed in this volume. The images of the New World they produced are probed here as a function of Jesuit training and the various impulses of official mission, personal mission, national agenda and gender, as well as the evolving reception of the history, geography and customs of the cultures being described; more importantly, the ways in which different generations and groups have accepted or rejected those images over time have also been evaluated. This work plumbs a field of inquiry that has long received backburner status in Iberoamerican studies in Europe, Latin America, Canada and the United States alike: pre- and post-expulsion Jesuit accounts of the New World and their role as an important medium of intercultural transfers between the New World and the Old. “The expulsion of the Jesuits from Latin America constitutes another misunderstood chapter in history of the New World,” Donato explained. By 1767, the Jesuits were perceived as dangerous bastions of corrupt religion by the French and as potential enemies by the Spaniards who feared they might be plotting against the Crown to take control of the New World. “That year, the King of Spain, Charles III, declared an official ban on the Jesuit Order and expelled them from the New World. En masse, some 5,000 Jesuits left,” she explained. “All their notes, diaries and papers were destroyed. But eventually, when the Spanish Crown realized the wealth of information that the Jesuits possessed about the New World,

Author of the Month-Clorinda Donato

it began to offer pensions to the exiled Jesuits in exchange for their New World memoirs.” These accounts were often first published in Italian. Since Italy was the only place in Europe that would host the Jesuits post-exile, the majority of the 3,000 Jesuits who survived reentry into Europe settled there. A case in point is Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavigero, born in Mexico of a Spanish father and a Criolla mother, who lived in Ferrara and Bologna post-exile. His history of ancient Mexico was first published in Cesena, Italy, in 1780 as Storia Antica del Mexico. Beatriz de Alba-Koch, a contributor to the volume whose essay deals with Clavigero, expresses the unique position of Jesuits who had spent the bulk of their lives in the New World, not only learning about the indigenous peoples among whom they lived, but slowly identifying with them as well, “In Clavigero’s narrative of the Conquest, a counterpoint is sustained not only between Clavigero’s religious convictions and his engagement with the premises of the “Age of Reason,” but also between an articulation of his identity as a Criollo and an affirmation of his mexicanidad.” “Clavigero’s intercultural approach,” Donato said, “can be found in any number of these accounts, and can be considered the basis of the global vision of societies and cultures that we speak about today.” In 2005, Donato became a Chevalier of the French Order of the Palmes Académiques. She received her bachelor’s from UC Berkeley and her Ph.D. in Romance Languages, Literatures and Linguistics from UCLA in 1987.