Episode 376: Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Cotton Mather’s Spanish Lessons

Book cover of Cotton Mather's Spanish LessonsColonial America was born in a world of religious alliances and rivalries. Missionary efforts in the colonial Americas allow us to see how some of these religious alliances and rivalries played out. Spain, and later France, sent Catholic priests and friars to North and South America, and the Caribbean, purportedly to save the souls of Indigenous Americans by converting them to Catholicism. We also know that Protestants did similar work to help counteract this Catholic work in the Americas.

Kirsten Silva Gruesz, a Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, joins us to explore the life and work of Cotton Mather, a Boston Puritan minister who actively sought to counteract the work of Catholic conversion, with details from her book Cotton Mather’s Spanish Lessons: A Story of Language, Race, and Belonging in the Early Americas.

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Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

Episode Summary

Kirsten Silva Gruesz is a professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research specialty is in comparative studies of the Americas, Chicano, and Latino literary cultures, and literature in the 19th-century United States. She's the author of numerous articles and two books, including Cotton Mather's Spanish Lessons: A Story of Language, Race, and Belonging in the Early Americas.

During our investigation of Cotton Mather’s life and work, Kirsten reveals Mather’s background and interest in Spanish activities across the Americas; How Mather, an English minister in colonial Boston, learned the Spanish language; And details about Mather’s religious tract, La Fe del Christiano, and how Mather used the Spanish language as a tool of English and Protestant empire.

What You’ll Discover

  • ‌Cotton Mather’s La Fe del Christiano
  • Cotton Mather’s background
  • Mather’s interest in New Spain
  • How Mather became multilingual and how he learned Spanish
  • The role of language in Christian missionizing efforts among Indigenous people of the Americas
  • Protestant critiques of Catholicism
  • Who Mather might have hoped to reach by writing in Spanish
  • How La Fe del Christiano was printed
  • How La Fe del Christiano circulated
  • How language can be used as a tool of empire

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Complementary Episodes

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if Cotton Mather had started a conversation with Spanish intellectuals like Acosta, with his publication La Fe de Cristiano? What do you think we would learn about the history of early America?

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