The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1988, Volume 34, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Notes

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

California Mission Bibliography.

Compiled and Edited by Francis J. Weber. Hong Kong: Libra Press, Limited, 1986. 161 Pages $20.00.

This bibliography follows the publication of twenty-one volumes on the California missions which Francis J. Weber has edited since 1972. The bibliography includes hundreds of entries (of books and pamphlets; unfortunately articles are not included) which are arranged alphabetically and are sometimes annotated. Weber also reprints two of his essays, “The Books of the California Missions,” and “Reflections on Serrana Literature.” As usual, there is no index. Although Weber provides a service in bringing under one cover a listing of many items on the California missions, the Bibliography must be used with extreme care, as it perpetuates the mission myth and ignores much of the scholarship of the last thirty years. For instance, in describing various of Engelhardt’s works, Weber uses phrases such as “giving every evidence of accuracy and completeness,” “done with all the apparatus of scholarship,” “Well researched study,” “thorough, careful and painstaking study.” Nowhere do we get any annotations which reflect the point of view expressed by James Ronda and James Axtel in Indian Missions: A Critical Bibliography (1978): “Much has been written of the Spanish missions in California, but a substantial part of the literature has actually hindered our understanding of the effort there. Romantic images of whitewashed churches and gentle padres have often obscured mission realities. Zephyrin Engelhardt’s massive compendium, The Missions and Missionaries manifests this regrettable tendency.” (Indeed, we do not even find Ronda and Axtel’s fine bibliography in the book!) Of Sherburne Cook’s pioneering work on the deadly impact of the missions on the Indians, Weber says the author’s “basic conclusions have been questioned in scholarly circles,” and cites a long article by Francis Guest. He does not tell us that Guest’s article is debatable, and that prominent Indian scholar Wilbur Jacobs called it a “bitter attack.” Weber also fails to tell us that virtually all textbooks and general accounts of the missions or Indians in California published in the last thirty years accept the basic outlines of the criticisms of Cook and others regarding the deadly impact of the missions. While preparing annotations which reflect a pro-church, pro-mission myth point of view, the editor also errs in not listing any of the work of major scholars of the recent generation who have been critical of the missions, scholars like George Harwood Phillips, James Rawls, and Robert F. Heizer, to mention a few.

Thus, while this bibliography may be a convenient starting point for a study of the California missions, users must be aware that the selection and annotation is biased in favor of the mission myth, and that it ignores a huge body of scholarship which has developed in the last generation. Use this book with care!