UA Little Rock professor explores role of Franciscan bells in history of New Spain

Kristen Mann

Since visiting 18th-century Franciscan missions in Texas as a child, Kristin Dutcher Mann, professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been fascinated by the role of sound and music in the history of New Spain. 

New Spain was a colonial territory of the Spanish Empire in the Americas that was made up of Mexico, Central America, the Southwestern and Central United States, Spanish Florida, and several island nations.

Mann presented her research, “Bells as Markers of Time and Space in the Missions of Northern New Spain,” during the Franciscans in Mexico: Five Centuries of Cultural Influence Conference held Oct. 12-15 in Washington, D.C.

The conference explored 500 years of Franciscan presence in Mexico and featured specialists on colonial Mexico, both Mexican and American, who study the influence of the Catholic church as an institution and its role in the colonization of the Americas.

Mann’s research explored how bells were used as part of the Franciscan missionary evangelization efforts in the northern part of New Spain, which consists of the northern part of Mexico, the southwestern United States, and Florida.

Her paper explored how bells conveyed information about religious accommodation, economic connections between the empire and frontier areas, conflicts within and between groups, and outward forms of Catholicism and interior spirituality and devotion.

“Bells profoundly changed the soundscape in the borderlands region I study, and they structured time, space, religious and political interactions, as well as interior religious devotion,” Mann said. “This research is significant in that it helps us to better understand cultural and political change and the role of sound in shaping history.”

The paper is a chapter of an upcoming book Mann is writing that will be published by the Academy of American Franciscan History.

Mann joined the UA Little Rock Department of History in 2002. She is also coordinator of Social Studies Education and co-director of the Academy of Teaching and Learning Excellence. She holds a Ph.D. in History from Northern Arizona University, where she wrote her dissertation on the power of song in the missions of Northern New Spain. Her book, “The Power of Song: Music and Dance in the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1590-1810,” was published by Stanford University Press in 2010.

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