Present-minded reasons might press us to learn more about Hispanic America. Even without them, Spanish colonization should be more familiar simply because a large swath of what is now the United States was first part of Spanish settlement. Learning about the history of our country requires learning about Spanish settlement. We overlook this even as the most obvious features of these states, names of their rivers, towns, mountains, monuments, make it plain: Los Angelos, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Brazos, San Augustin, and so on.As a personal aside, when I was a teenager and began looking beyond the standard story about the settlement of the United States, I was delighted to find that the Spanish -- and hence Catholic -- settlement in St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest European settlement in the United States. Howard notes that looking more broadly at the American founding puts the focus not only on Protestant settlers but on Catholic ones as well:
Yes, Protestants and their institutions figure in Our America. But Roman Catholicism is much more prominent when the American southwest or Gulf coast is [a] focus of attention. Missions dotted the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida, as well as in more familiar locations in Texas, California, and New Mexico, before and after English settlers made first efforts to introduce the Gospel.Howard also points out the pivotal role played by Mormon settlers in the colonization of the American West. One weakness of Howard's post is that she omits one other settlement group, critical to history of the far northwest of the American continent: Russian Orthodox monks who brought their distinctive form of Christianity to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. While the story of Alaska isn't central to the story of the American founding, the Russian Orthodox efforts there are an interesting and vital part of the larger story of European contact, for good and ill, with the native peoples already here.
Thanks to Howard's review, I now have another history book to add to the pile by my reading chair!