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The Spanish Missions in Texas

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This is a guest post by Sarah Haro. Sarah is working with the education team at the Library of Congress as part of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Internship Program.

As a resident of the state of Texas and a student in the city of San Antonio, I have visited the Spanish missions and witnessed the popular tourist attractions they have come to be. While the famous Mission San Antonio de Valero – the Alamo- is inundated with visitors, the other four missions sit quietly in the background. Along the San Antonio River, you can find these gothic and Romanesque style buildings which house a rich history for Hispanic Americans all over the world. Studying these missions using primary sources from the Library of Congress is one way to help students learn about some of the contributions of Hispanics in America.

The villa and presidio of San Antonio de Bexar : together with the Franciscan Missions. Fanita Lanier, 1935

The Spanish missions are a lasting contribution that began in the 18th century. After the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, the Spanish failed to find gold, but they succeeded in establishing missions in different regions of the south.  These missions contributed immensely to the development of the region by establishing industries such as weaving, iron work, and carpentry.  These newly learned trades were the foundation of the economy in San Antonio and significantly shaped the Spanish-American frontier.

Students can explore the map of the missions of San Antonio and question the geographical location of the missions. What other landmarks are they close to?  What patterns are there in the location of the missions? Why is the surrounding environment important to the success or failure of the missions?

The Library has floor plans for each mission shown on the map: San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, Espada, and the Alamo.  Students can study a floor plan and make predictions of what they think the mission would look like, and draw or write a description of what they predict. Students can then make comparisons to the photographs.


Floor plan of Mission San Jose de Aguayo in San Antonio, Texas (1983)
Landscape of Mission San Jose de Aguayo (1936)









Other possible activities:

  • Investigate the locations of other missions in the map collections of the Library of Congress.
  • Design a mission.  In groups, students can plan and design their own mission buildings. Students can also dare to build the mission and discuss the size, shape, texture, proportion, and colors.
  • Learn about the metric system by measuring objects in the classroom and comparing them to those of the missions.

Missions are only one accomplishment of Hispanics in America. Learn more at Hispanic Heritage Month. What other ways can you incorporate Hispanic-American history in your curriculum?

Comments (7)

  1. As a native of San Antonio, majoring in Latin American History (U.T. Austin), & graduate school at Harvard, I’ve published one work entitled “Los Vecinos de la Misiones”, bringing three area mission neighborhoods under one banner as a CDC, a Community Development Corporation, back in the early 90s. A copy is in the hands of the local National Historic Mission agency.

    That said, I wish we would get away from portraying “Hispanic” contributions to Texas primarily via the built environment, as significant as this is from a historical view, and balance the story by bringing in the rich cultural — social, community, artistic — contributions of the indigenous peoples who are still around us, distinct from the Spanish-Mexican lineage.

    After all, as you point out, the Spanish came to the Americas in conquest, grab possession of lands and material goods, to Christianize (with little initial success), and to impose a totally new paradigm. We know our history, as we have lived it.

    We’ve come almost full circle, and now recognize and respect native peoples, but not nearly enough to appreciate their contributions to the social-cultural fabric. Therefore, we need to keep the Spanish- Hispanic role in perspective, to imply that they made superior contributions from day one. You might want to meet locals who can provide you with this perspective, as I have.


  2. Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comments, Fernando. I took a look at the link to Hispanic Heritage Month included at the end of the post. I see a number of governmental agencies listed as sponsors – Library of Congress, National Park Service, National Endowment for the Humanities and others. The site appears to lead to rich materials related to the social, community, and artistic contributions of Hispanic and indigenous people (an important historical distinction – thanks!).

    It’s funny that you’d like to see teachers move away from the built environment and toward more cultural studies. I always feel that we don’t do nearly enough to include the built environment in our curricula!

    A couple of years ago I helped teach a “Hispanic Experience in Colorado” TPS workshop and learned fascinating pieces of history from the speakers. It is my hope that the teachers who attended have found ways to incorporate Hispanic culture and yes, architecture, into their plans — not only during Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year long!

  3. estoy orgulloso de ti my little girl i love you,sigue adelante y que la luz de dios t siga dando gran sabiduria e inteligencia,eres ya una gran mujer mi linda saraleh sin mas….dad

  4. Thank you Sarah, for bringing our attention to some wonderful primary sources available in the Library of Congress collections for student learning about Spanish Missions in Texas. I think it might be quite difficult (unfortunately) to locate primary sources in print from native peoples of that era, and Mr. Centeno is quite right in reminding us that to gain the perspective of those peoples we need to seek interviews with them. A true primary source interview, I think, would require an individual recollection of one who was living at the time the missions were operational.

  5. interesting and interactive. great

  6. what a wonderful site to get great information and capture students interest

  7. i used this article for my project

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