Food, Identity, and Conversion between the Jesuit Missionaries and Indigenous Peoples of New France

Nora Geer

The Jesuit Relations were the Jesuits' 73 volumes of reports and accounts of their efforts in New France from 1632-1673 to "convert the pagan savages" to Catholicism. Composed of both ethnographic accounts and personal travel narratives, the Relations piqued the interest of well-off readers across Europe who wanted to understand the intricacies of the mission experience. Accounts in the Relations presented readers with a firsthand perspective on life in New France, the conversion processes, the traditions and rituals of the indigenous people, and so much more. As I was particularly interested in food, I examined how in their writings, the Jesuits paid particular close attention to the foods and culinary customs that existed in the New World, especially discerning how they differed from their own back in Europe. Specifically in the early stages of mission work in New France that were depicted in the first sixteen volumes, 1610-1640, the Jesuit missionaries maintained a keen eye on these differences. The Jesuits turned to food as a way to learn more about the native people's ways of life and respectively evaluate the natives and their propensity for conversion. In my paper, I argued that food served as a key identity marker for both the Jesuit missionaries and native peoples of seventeenth-century New France.

Department:

History, Religious Studies

Mentor(s):

Sydney Watts, Abigail Cheever, Joanna Drell, Nicole Sackley