Over the last several years I have thought that I had concluded a research project that I started over forty years ago, but instead have found myself writing one more book. With this volume I finally conclude this intellectual odyssey, and offer a comparative synthesis of previous publications. The past year has been challenging as I have put pen to paper. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed several million around the world, and continues uncontrolled. This pandemic has shaken the belief in and has shown the limitations of modern medicine, but also allows us to reflect yet again on how disease has shaped human history. Historic studies of the effects of disease gain greater relevancy as humanity continues to struggle with Covid-19.
The viral apocalypse that began at the end of 2019 and continues offers lessons for understanding the past, but the past also illuminates the ways the pandemic has changed the world. The pandemic spread rapidly with the ease of communication around the world, and especially jet travel. As is discussed below, diseases such as smallpox and measles spread relatively rapidly through the Río de la Plata region on the river highways on river craft engaged in commerce, as well as with the cantonment and movement of troops on campaign. Geographic isolation, on the other hand, blunted to an extent the spread of contagion. A major lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is how improved medical attention improved survival rates among those infected. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 killed millions, and caused higher mortality than Covid-19. In some instances, smallpox killed as many as 50 or 60 percent of the people living on the Jesuit missions among the Guaraní. The Jenner cowpox vaccine was not available until the 1790s, and the most effective response the Jesuits had was to quarantine the ill and those exposed to the ill. The Justinian Plague of the mid-sixth century and the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century were even more catastrophic disease outbreaks. It is estimated that the Black Death killed as much as a third of the population of Europe. One major difference in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic was the ability of pharmaceutical companies to create what appears to be effective vaccines to cause safe immunological responses in the body and improve the chance of survival. With advances in medicine and the elimination smallpox and the control of other diseases humanity became complacent about the ability of modern medicine to cure, and particularly in the advanced industrial countries.
During the summer of 2020, there was debate in California over whether or not to remove statues of Fray Junipero Serra, the first Father-President of the California missions that are one subject of this study. The “Critical Mission Studies” network of the University of California system staged a virtual
My intellectual odyssey has generated many debts of gratitude to family, teachers and fellow academics, and the journals and publishing houses that have seen fit to publish my musings. This study reflects, in part, a synthesis of more than 40 years of research and publication, and I would like to mention the presses and journals that have previously published my musings. The ones that I have cited are listed in the bibliography. The presses that have published my monographs include the University of New Mexico Press, the University of Nebraska Press, the Pentacle Press (Scottsdale, Arizona), ME Sharp, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, the University of Oklahoma Press, and of course Brill. I would also like to mention several academic journals that have published my articles: Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology; Journal of the Southwest; Historia Mexicana; Fronteras de la Historia; Desacatos; Memoria Americana; Boletín: Journal of the California Missions Studies Association IHS Antiguos Jesuitas en Iberoamérica, and the Journal of Jesuit Studies also published by Brill, among others. I owe them all an eternal debt of gratitude. But I am particularly grateful to series editor George Bryan Souza and the excellent Brill editorial team. They have seen merit in and have done an excellent job in publishing several studies I have authored. My greatest debt of gratitude is to my wife Laura who has made it possible to endure the Covid-19 pandemic and all that it has brought.
Robert H. Jackson