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Heritage and Its Missions

December 11, 2020
09:00 AM to 05:00 PM
Speakers at this annual day-long colloquium explore the relationship between heritage meanings and pre-Republican Catholic missions.

Participants and Recordings

Investigations on heritage have flourished in the last two decades, ranging from the empirical to the theoretical, from the local to the global. Interdisciplinary in scope and classed under the name “critical heritage studies,” these investigations make extensive use of ethnographic perspectives to examine heritage not as a collection of inert things (or intangibles, to use more recent parlance) upon which a general historical interest is centered, but as a series of active meanings that have consequences in the social, political, and economic arenas. Such critical, relational approaches are beginning to have a bearing in studies of the heritage meanings accorded to the standing remains of the pre-Republican Catholic missions in the Americas, most notably in California, Mexico, and the Southern Cone. Yet no academic event has been devoted to engaging those meanings in comparative terms, exploring issues that are important for a number of actors/collectives, not just those related to the states and the disciplines. This colloquium aims to discuss past and current heritage meanings accorded to missions by national and multicultural states, local communities (especially, but not exclusively, indigenous ones), international heritage agencies, and scholars (historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and heritage experts). Participants from several countries in the Americas show how different actors (local communities/collectives, indigenous peoples, archaeologists, scholars, and heritage institutions at the national and transnational level) and narratives collide or articulate around those varied heritage meanings, some of which are decidedly counterhegemonic. The understanding of such struggles must show how global policies on heritage are performed locally, even if the purported heritage is of colonial origin, such as that of the Catholic missions. Participants address the following starting questions: (1) how heritage agents produce knowledge from their positioned perspectives, (2) how different actors/collectives/communities/publics relate to them, (3) how heritage representations are deployed (and many times countered) as social facts, and (4) how different conceptions of “heritage” collide, collaborate, and intersperse, in order to produce the meanings around which semiotic struggles unfold.


  • Cristóbal Gnecco (Universidad del Cauca)
  • Adriana Dias (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul)



Ruin of the Mission of São Miguel church, Brazil (photo: Adriana Dias, 2014)