Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon History Blog

Review: David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika

By: Saskia T - April 16, 2015

MoroniDavid Conley Nelson, Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.

David Conley Nelson’s book centers on a bold premise: that Mormonism in Germany did not only survive WWII relatively unscathed, but actually benefited from it. Nelson, who has a PhD in history from Texas A&M University, asserts that the church, helped by faithful historians, is invested in promoting a picture of German Mormons as suffering for the sake of the gospel. However, a more accurate picture would be that “German Mormons and their prewar American missionaries avoided persecution by skillfully collaborating to a degree that ensured their survival but did not subject them to postwar retribution” (xvi). Throughout the book, Nelson uses the rhetorical devices of ‘memory beacons’ and ‘dimmer switches’ to illustrate the construction of memory sites, and the ways in which realities of collaboration, then, were transformed into memories of appeasement and survival. (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 2 of 4: DeWitt Talmage

By: Edje Jeter - April 15, 2015

As noted in the last post, T[homas] DeWitt Talmage, the histrionic, hyperbolic, famous, and famously anti-Mormon preacher of Brooklyn, was not the first or only figure to claim that Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, was Mormon or that Guiteau was part of a Mormon conspiracy. However, Talmage’s national presence gave his allegations more reach (see image). (more…)

The Church in Action, ca. 1973

By: Tona H - April 13, 2015

While doing a close reading of Rick Turley’s essay for our #JMH50 roundtable series, I came across a tidbit that was new for me. He writes,

Beginning around 1970, our department had sponsored newsreel-style movies under the series title The Church in Action. These annual or five-year retrospectives used existing footage to feature newsworthy events like the international travels of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University’s dance teams. Useful though they were in featuring Church events in multiple countries, these films did not begin to capture the depth of Church history around the globe. [1]

As a scholar of religion and media, my ears perked up. (more…)

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By: Saskia T - April 12, 2015

This week, I have for your perusal: (more…)

An Announcement for Those in and Around DC and for EVERYONE going to #MHA50

By: J Stuart - April 11, 2015

For JI readers living in or around Washington DC

Kathleen Flake, Richard Lyman Bushman Chair for Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, will be speaking at George Mason University on Monday, April 13th. As part of John Turner’s course “Religion in America”, Professor Flake will deliver a guest lecture entitled, “Modern Love & Mormon Marriage.” The lecture will take place at 12 PM at Merten Hall 1202 on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus.

From the flyer: “Except for a relatively brief historical moment in the mid-20th century, Mormonism has awlays been at odds with what most Americans think marriage means and what it ought to look like. This lecture invited you to think about why that is and what we can learn from it.” Light refreshments will be provided.


The Mormon History Association has launched a 50th Anniversary Conference Blog. Please be sure to visit it often for updates and discussion about the upcoming conference (the program schedule is available there as well!). This is a great way to gear up for the conference and begin conversations that can continue in person in Provo. In 54 days. Not that we’re counting or anything.

Max Perry Mueller’s “History Lessons: Race and the LDS Church,” JMH 50th Roundtable

By: Farina King - April 10, 2015

Max Perry Mueller uses a clever title, “History Lessons,” in his essay on “Race and the LDS Church” in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the Journal of Mormon History. “History Lessons” implicate some form of historical appropriations. Institutions use history to formulate lessons, which support certain values and ways of knowing. Mueller traces how the LDS Church alters historical narratives of a “black Mormon past” through three main time periods to argue “the LDS Church has worked to tell a story of historical continuity in its relationship with people of African descent” (143). (more…)

#JMH50 Roundtable: Richard Bushman’s “Reading the Gold Plates”

By: Ben P - April 09, 2015

JMH50Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”
Tona H on Richard Turley’s “Global History of the Church”

If Leonard Arrington was the dean of New Mormon History, Richard Bushman is the patriarch of Mormon studies.[1] Bear with me for a moment while I get into some nerdy insider historiographical speak. The term “Mormon studies” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes to the point that it loses all usefulness. Does it just mean any “study” of “Mormonism”? Does it have to be academic? Does it include apologetics? Is it, *gasp*, “objective”? Does “Mormon” imply the institutional experience of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answers to these questions vary depending on who you ask. (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 1 of 4: Joy, Prophecy, and Conspiracy

By: Edje Jeter - April 08, 2015

In his inaugural address as President of the United States, James A Garfield included about 180 words proposing action against Mormonism (1881 Mar 04). [1] Four months later (Jul 02), Charles J Guiteau shot Garfield. Guiteau was apprehended at the scene and Garfield died several weeks later (Sep 19). In the next few posts I will look at some ways Garfield’s shooting and rhetoric about Mormonism intersected. (Image [2]) (more…)

Mormon Women Leaders and Meeting American Presidents

By: Andrea R-M - April 07, 2015

President Barack Obama met with LDS Church leaders on April 2, 2015, for a little under half an hour during a brief scheduled visit to Utah. In attendance were President Henry B. Eyring, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder L. Tom Perry here. President Thomas S. Monson was unable to attend the gathering due to health reasons, but online feedback also quickly picked up on the noticeable absence of any high-profile female leaders of the Church.  Mormon women have not always been left out of presidential visits; in fact, various meetings between Relief Society leaders and American chief executives in the last 150 years are worth the retelling, and serve as a reminder of the stature and influence that elite Mormon women held in representing the Church to the nation. (more…)

Into (and From) All the World: A New Paradigm for Global LDS History, JMH50th Roundtable

By: Tona H - April 06, 2015

Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”

This post continues our series on the Mormon History Association’s 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Mormon History, considering the important insider account provided by LDS Church assistant Church historian and recorder, Richard E. Turley, Jr., titled “Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing the Global History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Turley, who is a prolific author and co-author, notably of the Church History Library-sponsored Women of Faith in the Latter Days series and the award-winning OUP book on the Mountain Meadows massacre, has directed the LDS Church’s Historical Department beginning in 1986. He oversaw the Church History department’s consolidation with the Family History department between 2000-2008 and most recently the Church History Department’s transition into its elegant and archivally sound new building in 2009.

In this essay, Turley takes readers behind the scenes at the Historian’s Office to describe its ongoing cultural and paradigm shift decentralizing church historical collection throughout the world. Though he attributes little of this great shift to his own values, decisions or leadership, it is apparent that his personal involvement was critical to this transition and his firsthand perspective is a valuable primary source in itself. (more…)

CFP Reminder: Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History

By: J Stuart - April 04, 2015

Friends of JI Rachel Cope and Lisa Tait are co-chairing a conference jointly sponsored by BYU’s Church History and Doctrine Department and the LDS Church History Department. The theme is sure to produce thoughtful and innovative papers. Please remember to send in your proposals by May 1, 2015. Better yet, why not sketch out your proposal now?

Beyond Biography:
Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History

Scholars of Mormon women’s history have long demonstrated a commitment to and an interest in biography. The resulting narratives have helped to recover and preserve voices that would have otherwise been lost to modern awareness and have allowed us to sketch the outlines of Mormon women’s experience over the past two centuries. The 2016 Church History Symposium will build upon past biographical work and push our understanding forward by addressing the following questions: How might we employ archival and other sources to create more complete and complex pictures of Mormon women’s history? How might we consider what individual lives mean within their broader contexts? How will these approaches expand or recast our understanding of Mormon history? (more…)

Guest Post: From the Archives: Missionary Work, Race, and the Priesthood and Temple Ban in Brazil, circa 1977-78 (Part II)

By: Guest - April 03, 2015

This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.


The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.

This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don’t know what percentage it was, but it couldn’t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to “remove” his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy. (more…)

Guest Post: From the Archives: Missionary Work, Race, and the Priesthood and Temple Ban in Brazil, circa 1977-78 (Part I)

By: Guest - April 02, 2015

Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Flynn, a longtime student of church history who currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona. Shannon holds a B.A. in history from the University of Utah and had published four book reviews in the Journal of Mormon History. Today’s post is the first in a two-part series that draws on his experience and presents documents (with accompanying translations) from his time serving as a missionary in Brazil Sau Paulo South Mission from 1977-79.

While the significance of Brazil and its unique cultural heritage and hierarchy of race often receives at least a passing mention in discussions of the ending of the ban in June 1978, often lacking from historical accounts of this era are the first-person perspectives and (especially) documents of the sort provided by Shannon below. Part II of the series will be posted tomorrow.


I was called to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission from the first week of March 1977 to the first week of March 1979. Because of visa problems, I did not arrive in Brazil until October 13, 1977. I was assigned to the Maua area of Sao Paulo during the month of June 1978. It was there that I heard of the announcement of extending the priesthood to all worthy males. The impact this had on missionary work and the progress of the church cannot be underestimated — it was a sea change. Previous to that time the way the church dealt with blacks and the priesthood had been a vexing problem since the first missionaries landed in Joinville in 1926. In the first few years blacks were almost never proselyted but that eventually changed and methods were developed to handle the ensuing problems. Previous to the time I arrived there was a lesson that was added to the regular discussions that dealt with the problem of determining whether the investigator had black lineage (scans of the documents, together with accompanying translation, can be found here). This lesson was given at the conclusion of the regular discussions. I don’t ever remember using this exact catechism style of discussion but we would try to accomplish the goal of determining the lineage of the persons being taught. Missionaries elsewhere in Brazil used similar lessons during this time — in a 2013 guest post at Keepapitchinin.org, Grant Vaughn provided scans of the lesson he taught in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission from 1976-78.  Moreover, I would assume that most missions before my time had something of a similar nature.[1] 


When Did Joseph Smith Know What He Knew?

By: Steve Fleming - April 01, 2015

Okay, kind of a goofy way of putting the question, but in my last post, I said that I argued in my dissertation that I believed that JS often knew about things much earlier than when he first clearly taught them. I base this claim on a few point, most notably my assertion that I think JS was influenced early on by texts that had a lot of what we would consider “Mormon ideas.” As I’ve tried to stress a lot around here, I don’t see this claim as an attack, but as a larger claim that JS was gathering “Truth” together from the sources that had it. Nor do I see such claims as antithetical to revelatory claims since we’re supposed to seek wisdom “by study and faith” and then ask God “if it be right.”  

So with that in mind, here’s part of my introduction to my chapter 6 “The Plan of Salvation” where I treat JS’s teachings about God’s plan of sending preexistent beings to earth to progress, get bodies, with the chance of becoming deified.  It’s an overview of my claim that JS knew about a lot of the Nauvoo doctrine much earlier. It’s pages 386-87 of my dissertation. (more…)

Two Quibbles with the Church’s Essay on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: When It Was Revealed and Eternity Only Marriages

By: Steve Fleming - March 30, 2015

I add my praise for the church’s essays on gospel topics, including the essays on polygamy. However, I disagree with two points that the essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy made: that polygamy was revealed to Joseph Smith during his translation of the Old Testament and that Smith engaged in eternity only sealings. Such points have been asserted by a number of scholars so my critique isn’t so much one of the essay but of these two commonly asserted claims. (more…)

MHA Updates: Conference Program & New Website

By: Ben P - March 30, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.29.48 AMIn case you missed it last week, the Mormon History Association unveiled two important and noteworthy things:

1. They have a new website. It looks quite spiffy, so make sure to explore it a bit. It is still obviously a work in progress, as several pages and uploads don’t seem to work, but I’m sure they will be fixed in due time.

2. There is now a lot more information about this year’s annual conference, taking place in early June in Provo. This includes a conference program which looks absolutely spectacular–perhaps the most stacked program I’ve seen. The weekend includes great plenary sessions (one by Colleen McDaniel and a presidential address by Laurel Ulrich), a number of “50th Anniversary Sessions” (including one, chaired by yours truly, on the legacy of John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire, and another on the legacy of Leonard Arrington, to name only two), and even a Gold and Green Ball. And since there are not as many pricey meals as usual, you can take your money and register for some of the fantastic pre- and post-conference tours, including a women’s history tour hosted by our own Andrea Radke-Moss and Jenny Reeder. So if you haven’t already, renew your MHA membership, register for the conference, and book your hotel room.

There are, of course, too many great panels at the conference to attend them all, but if there are any that excite you, please share them in the comments.

MSWR: 22–28 March

By: Tod R. - March 29, 2015

There is much to highlight, so let’s get started:


110th Translation of the Book of Mormon Published (LDS Church Growth)

“Kosraean is the 110th language into which the Church has translated the Book of Mormon. Other translations of the Book of Mormon that have been completed within the past seven years include Malay, Slovak, Serbian, and Yoruba.” See also: Kosraean language



Reflections on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism,” JMH50 Roundtable

By: Ryan T. - March 26, 2015

JMH50In 1991, the iconoclastic historian Jon Butler brought forth one of the greatest of his many “historiographical heresies.” Well known for being an ardent revisionist, Butler had called the previous year in his important book Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990) for narratives that paid more attention to the enduring and even escalating power of religious institutions in nineteenth-century America. Institutional power, he suggested, had been unduly marginalized in the pursuit of other interests. In 1991, however, Butler took this logic all the way and proposed an entirely new model for American religious history, one that was sure to astound many of his colleagues. In the heyday of the new scholarship on American evangelicalism and during the very apotheosis of Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Butler insisted that—of all groups—Roman Catholics could serve as a productive baseline for American religious history. Catholicism in America, he argued, more than the hurly burly of American evangelicalism, could help historians account for hidden aspects of the religious past. [1]


Mormonism and Western History: Jared Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” JMH 50th Roundtable

By: Brett D. - March 26, 2015

JMH50Characteristic of his other sterling contributions to the field of Mormon History, Jared Farmer’s historiographical essay entitled “Crossroads of the West,” provides us with an illuminating evaluation of the relationship between the history of Mormonism and that of the American West. As a native of Utah and a fixture in the field of Western history, Farmer is uniquely qualified to assess the ways that the writing of Western history has shaped and influenced the historiography of Utah Mormonism.

Surprisingly, Farmer is fairly critical of the close relationship between the historiographies of Mormonism and the American West, suggesting that this closeness has often limited and inhibited our narratives of Utah Mormonism. Farmer argues, “From a long-range point of view, the conflation of Mormons and the American West has not been good for historiography. It has distorted Utah history, making it less diverse than it rightfully should be. It has reinforced parochialism inside the Beehive State and reinforced prejudices outside” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 157). Farmer’s critique is, of course, primarily aimed at those whose brand of Western history is still dominated by heroic stories of pioneering, settlement, and struggles between cowboys and Indians, what has been termed the Old Western History. It is a reminder to such historians that this brand of history generally lacks both sophistication and nuance, reinforcing racial stereotypes than denigrate Utah’s Native groups. Such efforts, Farmer warns, become little more than “faith-promoting history with footnotes” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 162).  However well researched and written, such contributions are summarily disregarded by outsiders as historical fluff that adds little to the broader discussions of American History and the West.

Farmer’s critique of the parochialism of Mormon history is well founded. Despite the fact that European immigrants made up a significant percentage of those who participated in Mormonism’s westward migration, there are surprisingly few evaluations of the impact that this diversity had upon the development of Utah.  Such a gap leaves a whole in the historiography that begs to be filled.  Given the traditional challenges that immigrants have faced in the United States, the existence so many international communities in Utah offers intriguing opportunities for historical research.  Similarly, Farmer justly criticizes the rather woeful disregard for Native Americans within the historiographies of both Utah and Mormonism. Drawing upon Patricia Limerick’s call for continuity in the study of the American West, Farmer pleads for a fuller study of Mormon interactions with Native Americans that includes both the nineteenth and twentieth-century interactions.  Such historiographical shortcomings are hallmarks of the Old Western History, and demonstrate the significant problems created by plugging Utah Mormonism into Western History tropes.

Even the inclusion of Mormonism in the New Western History has been problematic in Farmer’s view. Whereas Farmer hoped that Patricia Limerick’s The Legacy of Conquest might have critiqued the Mormon historiography for its “excessively Turnerian” tone, Limerick’s focus cast Mormonism as a social and religious minority that evidenced the complexities of the West (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 163). In other words, Farmer suggests that Limerick missed an opportunity to offer needed critiques to Mormon history because Mormonism suited her thesis better being cast as a minority than as an example of the kind of Old Western History that needed revision. Accordingly he offers a number of suggestions where Mormon history could be dramatically improved.

First, drawing upon his critique that Western history had made Mormon history less “less diverse than it rightfully should be” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 157), Farmer hopes that the future will yield more nuanced treatments of Native Americans, including what he hopes will be the definitive volume on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Secondly, he hopes for a brighter future for the history of Mormon women; one that will move beyond the mere publication of biographies and documents and demonstrate the interactions between Mormon and non-Mormon women in Utah. Third, he hopes that future historians will make greater efforts to integrate environmental history into the history of Mormonism, addressing topics such as the MX Missile issue. Finally, he suggests that historians need to come to terms with the questions of violence in Utah, uncovering whether the territory was “more or less or simply differently violent than other western settlement zones and periods” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West, 169). In Farmer’s eyes, such developments will not fully materialize unless and until a greater number of non-Mormon historians follow the example of John Turner and take up the task of researching and writing Mormon history.

On the whole, Farmer’s suggestions are invaluable to both Mormon and Western historians alike. His suggestions for future areas of research and writing provide historians with a number of potential topics that would allow Mormon history to transcend its parochial nature and take on a greater national and historiographical significance. Among the ideas he suggests are: 1) A detailed analysis that places Mormon history within the framework of a “Greater Reconstruction” laid out in Elliott West’s The Last Indian War, and 2) A study that examines the practice of Mormonism from the useful perspective of the differences that naturally arise between a center and its peripheries. Such studies would have the potential to make Mormon history a more enticing field to unaffiliated historians, who might then take advantage of Mormonism’s rich—if at times, daunting—archival holdings. By thus expanding the breadth of Mormon history, perhaps there are opportunities to make it more than a mere subtopic of Western history in the future.

Reflections on William Russell’s “RLDS/LDS: Friends on a Shared Journey”

By: J Stuart - March 25, 2015

JMH50See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:

William Russell’s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.

His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell’s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with “affectionately” as the farewell?). Russell’s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA’s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith’s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.

Two aspects of Russell’s essay are worth expounding upon individually. (more…)

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