Carlos E. Castañeda’s “Catholic” Texas?

This project is ongoing.

The year 2023 marks the centenary of the founding of the Texas Historical Commission, a body sponsored by the Knights of Columbus that was also publisher of Carlos E. Castañeda’s Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (1936-1958), a veritable monument in Texan historiography. Seven volumes!

            In commemoration of this centenary, this one-day event will reappraise Castañeda’s historiographical legacy and contextualize it within his Catholic faith and a lifetime of intellectual, labor, and political activism as a Mexican(-American) in Texas. We seek contributors to reevaluate Castañeda’s contribution to the lived history and historiography of twentieth-century Texas, or who take Castañeda’s work as an inspiration for new Catholic and labor histories of Texas/the border.

            In spite of his reputation as a confessional historian and Boltonian, Castañeda was a multifaceted, politically engaged, and paradoxical figure. Though his writing lauded the Spanish missionaries and sometimes adopted their view of Indigenous people as backward and childlike, Castañeda himself faced discrimination at the hands of an ethnocratic power structure convinced of Mexican inferiority. A Catholic who collaborated with exiled Mexican priests, such as Jesuit Mariano Cuevas, Castañeda nonetheless supported the Mexican Revolution’s educational project and was an interlocutor of the most anticlerical regime in hemispheric history. Best known as a historian-archivist (in correspondence he enjoyed describing himself as “the Historiographer”), Castañeda’s activism as Del Río school superintendent, on the U.S. Committee on Fair Employment Practice, or in pro-Hispanic organizations such as LULAC, perhaps outlasts his intellectual achievements.

            Why is it that a historian of colonial, Catholic Texas should loom so large as a labor activist and defender of Mexican American rights in the twentieth century? In what overlooked, unheralded ways did Castañeda’s Catholicism and intellectual work lead him to espouse what were then radical political views and activist roles? We seek panelists to make sense of these tensions, exploring the relationship between Castañeda’s historical imagination and activist life. We also seek contributions on Texan Catholic history that build on Castañeda’s monumental work, taking it as a starting point for new, critical discussions of the interactions between faith, politics, and identity. Finally, we seek contributions that continue Castañeda’s labors as an advocate for Mexican American workers.


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