One of my favorite hyperbolic descriptions of Brigham Young (“…In the course of an unusually long life, he was never known to do a generous or unselfish action…”) includes the line: “If we search history for his prototypes, we find him a mixture of Mokanna, the veiled prophet of Kohrassan, and that terrible chief of the assassins, the Old Man of the Mountain.”  I recently wrote about the Mormon Mokanna; today I address the other half of the mix. In the mid- and late-nineteenth century, critics of Mormonism sometimes compared Mormons to the “Old Man of the Mountain,” the leader of what Marco Polo and many since understood to be the fanatically dedicated and fantastically skilled Hashashin / “Assassins.” (more…)
With this post we begin an occasional series entitled “Images.” We’ll post an image—contemporary photograph, political cartoon, post card, picture of an object, book cover, whatever—briefly describe it, and then invite comment on the image and/or its context. Hopefully we’ll accumulate a small collection of crowd-annotated Mormon-related images. Furthermore, the text descriptions of the images might help researchers find images via text searches. (more…)
It’s that time of year again.
This is the sixth annual installment of my “Restrospect” series, which attempts to overview what I thought were important books and articles from the last 12 months. (Previous installments are found here, here, here, here, and here.) Every year, I wonder if I want to do this post again; every year, I decide it is once again worth it. (Though no promises for next year.) Mostly, it is an excuse to catch up on what has been published and to chart historiographical trends–something that really is only possible when you look at articles as well. I’ll also continue my tradition of offering my selections for MHA’s awards.
The usual caveat: my selections represent my own interests, and I admit I likely have many blindspots. So please fill in the gaps with your comments.
Of course, if you want more substantive engagement with recent scholarship in Mormon studies, you’d read the recent issue of Mormon Studies Review, especially since digital subscriptions are only $10. But you already knew that. (more…)
Last week, Ben highlighted the latest issue of the Mormon Studies Review. This week the Maxwell Institute gave Mormon Studies geeks even more goodness with the release of the first issue of the newly-revamped Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. You can read Carl Griffin’s overview of the entire issue here, but I wanted to take the time to highlight two of the articles included in particular. While much of what Studies in the Bible and Antiquity falls outside of the more narrow interests of JI bloggers, this issue includes a roundtable review of the BYU New Testament Commentary (BYUNTC) that features two prominent historians of Mormonism: Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, and Grant Underwood, Professor of History at Brigham Young University and coeditor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Barlow opens the roundtable with some reflections on the aims of the BYUNTC, highlighting five particular questions that the undertaking raised for him, as a believing Mormon and a scholar of Mormonism and the Bible: (more…)
Below is a first-draft list of sister missionaries called in the first three years of the formal female missionary program. I needed to know which “number” an early sister missionary was for another project; I was surprised at how difficult the information was to chase down in digital form. To spare others similar pain, I submit the following list. I also commend the list to any History instructor assigning mini-biographies to classes of undergraduates (and please share the results). While we’re on the subject, check out Matt McBride’s http://sistermissionaries.org/.
Please note, with emphasis, the first-ness of the draft. I have verified very little on the list and am certain there are transcription errors and possibly even wholesale omissions. (more…)
(Allow me to grab my cheerleading megaphone…)
I’m happy to state that the second volume of the Mormon Studies Review is now available in digital and paperback form. If you missed it last year, I described volume one and the general outlook for the periodical here. But in short: the Mormon Studies Review attempts to chart the development of the subfield of Mormon studies, which we generally define as scholars using Mormonism to speak to larger academic issues through many disciplines (history, religious studies, literature, philosophy, sociology, etc.). The primary audience are other academics, though we are sure there are many interested in the topics that they will find much to interest them. The journal is filled by several different types of essays, all solicited: a forum (where a handful of respected scholars discuss a relevant issue), discipline essays (where a scholar engages the current state of a particular academic field), review essays (where a particular book, or series of related books, receive an extensive review), as well as traditional book reviews. As an editorial team (Spencer Fluhman is editor, while Morgan Davis, Melissa Inouye, and myself are associate editors), with extensive imput from our editorial board, choose who we think are the best people to trace the state of the subfield through their engagement with these issues and texts. We are grateful for all the authors who agreed to our invitations, especially those who are not generally part of the Mormon studies community; we feel that their participation is what makes our project most crucial to the Mormon studies world.
Melissa Inouye has a helpful overview of the new issue at the Maxwell Institute Blog; go read it now. You can also see the entire Table of Contents here. I’ll be brief by just outlining what practitioners of Mormon history will find interesting in this volume. (more…)
On Monday, December 1, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released their newest volume: Documents, Volume 3 provides transcriptions of letters, city and temple plans, revelations, reports of discourses, and minutes dating between February 1833 and March 1834, a period that began with glorious hopes of building Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, but descended into crisis on two fronts. In Kirtland, the excommunicated Doctor Philastus Hurlbut began publishing negative accounts of Joseph Smith, and in Jackson County, mob violence led to the expulsion of Mormons from their legally purchased lands.
At the launch of this newest volume, Matthew Grow, head of the Publications Division at the Church History Library, also announced that Joseph Smith Papers Project staff have refreshed the project’s website. To improve the user experience, the team has improved the navigation and readability of the site, added a Table of Contents to the document viewer to enable users to switch pages more easily, and improved the site’s search capabilities.
While Documents, Volume 1 contained a profusion of early revelation documents, Volume 3 has fewer revelations, but a greater variety of documents. Noteworthy documents include: meeting minutes of a collective, shared vision at the School of the Prophets in March 1833; a warrant with a long list of names of prominent Mormons that prevented those named from attaining legal residency and voting rights in Jackson County; annotated drawings of temple and city plans (this is the first volume to reproduce architectural designs and drawings of city plans; it is quite the type-setting feat!); and letters that shed light on the lives of Joseph Smith’s less prominent contemporaries who moved to Jackson County directly in response to his revelations.
These documents are compelling for various reasons. In reference to the March 1833 meeting minutes, Gerrit Dirkmaat, one of the volume editors, observed that most visionary accounts come from Joseph Smith. A handful of visionary accounts come from small groups, such as the “Testimony of the Three Witnesses” to the Gold Plates. The account recorded by Frederick G. Williams of the collective vision at the March 1833 meeting is unique because a relatively large number of people participated in the event.
Alison Palmer, one of the editors, discussed the process of figuring out how to reproduce the city and temple drawings in a book format in a way that preserved the evolving relationship of the annotations to the designs. The document of the City of Zion Plat, for instance, is 17×22 inches in size. It depicts multiple religious buildings in the central block, and identifies the surrounding blocks as residential spaces. Ultimately, the team divided this document into nine sections and transcribed each.
According the to the volume editors, Joseph Smith’s correspondence reveals his unwavering confidence that Zion would be built. The time delay in communication (it took three weeks for a letter from Jackson County to arrive in Kirtland, for instance) was very interesting to me, especially in light of the need for immediate decisions in response to the increasing mob violence.
The Documents series is one out of six being published by the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The other five series are: Revelations and Translations, Histories, Journals, Legal and Business Records, and Administrative Documents. Photographs, videos, curricula/lesson plans for secular universities, and, of course, images of the documents themselves are all available on the Joseph Smith Papers Project Website.
With the new polygamy essays out, I’ve heard and seen a number of comments along the lines of “we can maybe wrap our brains around this, but how in the world are we supposed to explain this to our children?” Good question. I, like probably a lot of bloggernacle folks, have tried to make it a point to go over various often undressed points of early Mormon history my my kids (like the seer stone) but I had neglected polygamy. This neglect was brought to my attention one summer after my then twelve-year-old son had returned from a trip to California to spend a week with his non-Mormon friends. He informed us that they had been razzing him about polygamy, something he knew nothing about. My wife and I started into a basic explanation of how we used to practice this but no more when he cut us off by asking, “But it was wrong, right?” (more…)
Announcement: 2015 Summer Seminar: “Organizing the Kingdom: Priesthood, Church Government, and the Forms of LDS Worship”
2015 SUMMER SEMINAR
“ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM:
PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.”
Brigham Young University
June 14 – July 23, 2015
In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators, and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 14 to July 23. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. International participants will also receive some transportation assistance, the amount to be determined by availability of funding. (We are hoping to cover most airfares for the internationals). (more…)
Church History Library Intern
ID 120839, Type: Full-Time – Temporary
UT-Salt Lake City
Posting Dates: 11/20/2014 – 12/12/2014
Department: Church History Department (more…)
This installment in the JI’s Mormonism and Natives Month comes from Jeffrey Mahas, a researcher for the Joseph Smith Papers and a graduate student at the University of Utah.
As David G. pointed out in his earlier post, it is often difficult for historians to come to terms with how Natives interpreted and reacted to nineteenth-century Mormon proselytizing efforts. We know that American Indians held a unique place in Mormon theology as the “remnant of Jacob”—descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon whose destiny was to unite with the gentiles converts to the gospel and build the New Jerusalem together. We can even reconstruct how many of the Mormon missionaries who carried this message to Indians interpreted this message but it is far more difficult to know how Native peoples reacted to these teachings. Although Mormon proselytizing to American Indians began almost immediately after the formal organization of the church and continued intermittently throughout Joseph Smith’s life, there were few Native converts and fewer written texts from their perspective. We are often left with the writings of the Mormon missionaries who carried their message and then face the difficult task of trying to reconstruct a possible Native perspective from the impressions of the missionaries. (more…)
Exemplification and Religious Education: Reactions to the News of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy as an Indicator of Concern
Andrea’s recent comment about the portrayal of Joseph Smith’s marriage relationship(s) in popular Mormon history and art prompted me to do this little study. What have LDS Church members learned from the media produced by the institutional Church about Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages?
First, some theory.
The Exemplification of religion in the Media:
We have to be careful about assuming effects from the media because, with so many variables in play, media effects generally are not uniform nor strong. With that important caveat, empirical research in the field of mass communications on the theory of exemplification has demonstrated that the examples selected by storytellers (e.g., news reporters) do have an effect on people’s perceptions of the world—whether historical or current. This theory helps to explain why, after the passage of time, people tend to remember concrete examples rather than abstract assertions or numerical data.
Theorists have concluded from empirical evidence that the following process occurs in the brain: people use given examples to make intuitive leaps to a whole picture in their minds. In other words, “knowledge” of how the world works tends to be based on isolated, often-atypical evidence that is imprinted visually in the brain.
I would argue that this theory also has implications for religious education. Not only do religion teachers often carry the weight of propounding authoritative Truth, they also often rely on exemplification as a teaching method. That is, the use of examples (verbal and visual) to convey a larger concept is arguably an intuitive storytelling and/or educational strategy. Zillmann (1999) has explained the concept of exemplification:
“Everybody is familiar with examples. Everybody has been given examples, and everybody has related examples to others, in efforts to elucidate a broader concept or issue. Everybody, therefore, has some tacit understanding of a relationship between an example and a larger entity to be exemplified by it. Implied is that more than one example exists” (p. 72).
From our friends at the Joseph Smith Papers:
We invite you to subscribe to a forthcoming newsletter from the Joseph Smith Papers Project. This newsletter will be released twice a year and will include
- updates on the project
- discoveries from the documents
- information on new releases
We hope you will find it useful and informative as you study the documents of Joseph Smith.
Click here to be added to our list. Please feel free to forward this email to your friends and colleagues who may be interested in the project.
Having trouble subscribing? Please make sure you type in your entire email address. The autocomplete functions of some browsers cause the form to malfunction. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be glad to add you to the list.
And now for something completely different…
A few weeks ago, I introduced my first-year students to the Internet Archive, and we played a bit with the Wayback Machine, which has archived portions of the web since its beginning so we can know what digital environments looked like and how they’ve changed over time.
I also had occasion recently to pull out the files I collected while pursuing my undergraduate thesis on Mormon Indian Placement. I conducted that research between 1990 and 1992, which included some library research trips and a month of field research and collecting oral interviews. It was an interesting in-between time to engage in this kind of study. Research began at the literal card catalog in each library. I had access to computers, yes, but laptops were clunky and large, and could not wirelessly connect to anything. So I bought an electric typewriter on which to make my field notes. I carried a cassette tape recorder for interviews, and after I collected them all, I got some funding to rent a transcription machine with a foot pedal stop/start to help me transcribe them and save them on our home desktop. I backed up everything on 3.5″ disks (called floppies, for you millennials). Thinking I might need to present my research at some point, I brought a camera loaded with 35mm film and took a couple rolls of slides. Now all those things are stored in two very heavy cardboard boxes in my attic. I.e. accessible to no one, barely even me.
Tucked among my papers I found this small brochure from the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, listing ALL of its available computer research databases, most of which were installed on the library’s terminals (i.e. not accessed real-time via internet yet) and some of which required the user to switch out numbered CD-ROM disks manually. I thought it such a quaint artifact of early electronic academic resources that I took the liberty of uploading it to the Internet Archive, where it now lives. I’ve also Flipsnack’d it below (sorry it’s sideways, they don’t do landscape orientation apparently). The brochure was published in 1990, which I guess depending on your age seems like either a lifetime ago, or not very long ago at all. (more…)
By the way, have you heard if Mormonism has been the news lately?
In a way, this last week has been a throw-back to the second half of the nineteenth century, when stories Mormon polygamy filled the American imagination, not to mention the newspapers. The New York Times featured the recent LDS Church-produced essays on plural marriage as an A1, top-fold story that proceeded to set the media ablaze. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word had a nice segment that included Richard Bushman as well as the author of the original NYT story, Laurie Goodstein. Other coverage was found at PBS, The Guardian, and from the always-reliable Jana Reiss. One of the most perceptive takes, I thought, was Joanna Brooks’s. I could link to a dozen other pieces, some good and some not-so-good, but you have a google machine. (more…)
The idea of esoteric truth, or higher truths only taught to the spiritually or ritually prepared, can be found in many traditions. It has a long history in Christianity and Jesus himself declared to his apostles, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10). Paul in particular referred to higher teachings: in 1 Corinthians 2 he declared, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified … Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory … But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” And in the next chapter Paul declared, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (more…)
Although recent scholarship has done much to understand Native conversions to Christianity in early America, asking intriguing questions about indigenous agency and adaptation within colonial contexts, little has been written on Native converts to Mormonism. Part of the hesitance, at least for nineteenth-century historians, stems from the nature of the source material. There are, simply put, few “Native texts”—written accounts drafted by indigenous converts to Mormonism that reflect their viewpoint—prior to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the 1850s through the 1880s, thousands of Native peoples accepted Mormon baptism in the inter-mountain American West and the Pacific Islands. Few if any of these converts could read Roman script, meaning their experience with Mormonism was largely oral in nature. They heard about rather than read the Book of Mormon and Mormon beliefs about the Lamanite ancestors of indigenous peoples. The corollary to this point is that few if any Mormon Natives could record in writing their own interpretations of church teachings, meaning historians are left with accounts of Native words that have been filtered through white interpreters and scribes. That said, some indigenous converts such as the Ute Arapeen, although unable to read or write English himself, used ingenious techniques to turn writing to his own purposes as he navigated the world around him that was rapidly being transformed by Mormon settlement. (more…)
I first read about JS’s polygamy in sixth grade when I read the World Book Encyclopedia entry on JS, which said he had like 30 wives. That seemed novel to me, though since I had heard about the church practicing polygamy I had some context. What was even more novel, I remember, was that that entry was the first time I had ever read anything on JS that wasn’t devotional. The article wasn’t particularly negative as I recall, but I remember the distinct realization that there was another way of looking at the church’s history than what I was taught in church. And I wasn’t really sure what to make of that. And I didn’t discuss it with my parents or anybody else since it seemed a little awkward and at that age I sort of wanted to avoid awkward discussions with my parents. But it left the distinct impression that there may be some unsettling issues in church history, that there were a number of viewpoints on those issues, and that I didn’t have all the answers. As I look back, I actually think that realization served me well. (more…)
The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7”
Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York
June 8—June 20, 2015
Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (more…)