Juvenile Instructor » Book Review: Shall Millions Now Know Brother Joseph Again? (Part 3)
 


Book Review: Shall Millions Now Know Brother Joseph Again? (Part 3)

By: Jared T - May 02, 2008

On page 51 and 52, Tracy then summarizes the physical features of Joseph Smith by topic and then chronologically (as given in the preceding pages) within each topic. Descriptions of stature, height, face and head, weight, eyes, hands, legs, feet, nose, complexion, and hair are so arranged. Tracy attempts to show how this arrangement is beneficial by showing that the description of what is described as the “July 1838″ Joseph puts Joseph’s weight at 200 lbs. The descriptions of the “October 1838″ Joseph and the “Jan. 1840″ Joseph put him at 180 lbs, and the “1842″ description has him back at 212 lbs. Why this fluctuation? Tracy says it is because in late 1838 and early 1839 Joseph was suffering privations in Liberty Jail. This seems reasonable, however, the very next description of Joseph’s weight in the chronology has him at 150 lbs somewhere between 1842 and 1844. There are some serious doubts in my mind about the soundness of this exercise. The most glaring is related to how these descriptions were chosen and arranged (as previously discussed) and how late most of them are. Perhaps folk in the early part of the 19th century were more adept at estimating weight than we are today, but I question the ability of a person to recollect with accuracy how much someone weighed over 8 years before (in the case of the “October 1838″ description) and 17 years before (in the case of the “Jan. 1840″ description).

Tracy does not address the 150 lb Joseph, but he does say that, “there are some obvious ‘flyers’ [he must mean "outliers"] in the data, information that can be thrown out because it is on the fringes” (p. 53). Stepping back a moment, we must remember why these 41 accounts were chosen for inclusion in the first place. If through thoughtful, even spiritual study, these 41 descriptions were found to contain the “truth”, why would there be any outliers at all? Why the need to throw out any set of data if these descriptions represent the “true” descriptions of the Prophet? Furthermore, a difficulty arises in the criteria for exclusion here. Basically, it almost seems that if the information does not conform to the author’s expectation, it is subject for rejection.

Those reading this will forgive some of the disjointed nature of this review as it very much a work in progress. To digress just briefly, this book also has no functional historiography. The reader has no sense going into this read how it fits with what has already been done on the subject. There is some discussion of works such as Ephraim Hatch’s and William B. McCarl’s thesis on visual images of Joseph Smith among other works, but these references are scattered throughout the book. As a result, the reader can get the impression early on that this is the first attempt to undertake such a study when in reality, Tracy is working from and complementing other earlier works and adding to his own earlier work. This book is not a separate book, but referred to as the second of his earlier In Search of Joseph. Again, the reader is left largely in the dark as to how this work differs from the first. In truth there are substantial differences, additions and subtractions.

Moving on, Chapter 4 proposes to examine the forensic and anatomic information regarding Joseph Smith so as to confidently use the material in judging a proposed photograph. Tracy first opens up with a defense of the use of photographs of skeletal remains, specifically those of Joseph and Hyrum and attempts to show, with stories of skeletal excavations on Zion’s Camp and the display of the mummies in Nauvoo, that Joseph would have had no qualms with using the skulls as evidence. This seems to demonstrate that the audience of this book is indeed the general membership of the Church as the propriety of using skeletal remains in academic studies is accepted. An example is Shannon Novak’s recent book on the biocultural history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which devotes no space to justifying the photographing and analyzing of skeletal remains.

This fourth chapter is perhaps Tracy’s strongest. Much of this material was previously published in the first edition of this book, In Search of Joseph. Here Tracy attempts to assess the reliability of the death masks and the skulls as forensic tools with which to evaluate a proposed Joseph Smith photograph. First, Tracy discusses the reliability of the death masks. This is one of the few areas where Tracy engages (albeit briefly) specific arguments against his position on the masks by discussing briefly the work of Reed Simonsen, Chad Fugate and Jim Fugate. These individuals hold that the image discussed at length on page 160 is a true daguerreotype of Joseph Smith (Tracy holds that this is a daguerreotype of a painting) and propose that the death mask is not reliable due to facial fractures they postulate were sustained in the fall from the second story of the Carthage jail. These fractures are supposed to have altered the facial structure of Joseph’s face and therefore the mask. Tracy dismisses these claims by laying out accounts describing the condition of the bodies as they lay in state before burial. The four accounts that Tracy provides all mention that Joseph’s appearance was quite natural while Hyrum’s was swollen and not very natural. Hence, Joseph could not have sustained significant facial trauma or eyewitnesses would have made note of it. With the death masks vindicated, Tracy performs overlays to show that the Joseph mask better fits the skull originally designated as Hyrum’s and vice versa. Tracy also uses the phrenological data collected from Joseph and Hyrum’s heads during life in an attempt to show that the skulls have been misidentified. Tracy concludes at last, that indeed the Joseph skull is really Hyrum and vice versa. Though yet open for debate, Tracy provides convincing evidence that indeed the skulls have been misidentified.

Chapter 5 discusses the family characteristics that the prophet may have shared. The author’s hope is that by taking note of these similarities, that corresponding similarities on a proposed Joseph Smith photograph will help rule in a likely image. Tracy states, and I agree, that, “This chapter is perhaps the least helpful in understanding specifics about the Prophet’s appearance…” (p. 111). In this chapter Tracy shows images of Smith family members, whether paintings or photographs and invites the reader to take note of distinctive Smith family characteristics. Tracy then proposes a way to determine what characteristics of Joseph’s children might be linked to Joseph. Tracy puts a photo of each of Joseph’s four sons and places it next to a photo of Emma. He states, “By looking at these images it is assumed that those features that do not resemble Emma must be from the Prophet or an earlier ancestor. We invite our readers to form their own judgments and opinions” (p. 110). This type of comparison is so subjective, in my opinion, that it is basically unusable. Yet, Tracy goes on to use this as a criterion for ruling in and out potential photographs.

Returning once again to the subject of appropriate source material, I found that the first three and a half pages of chapter 8, on the history of photography during Joseph Smith’s life, were based on entries on the about.com website. I spent two minutes searching for “daguerreotype” on the BYU library site and drew a handful of books that seemed like reasonable candidates for mention in this book instead of a wiki-like website. One especially baffling use of a website as a source occurs in chapter 6, where Tracy discusses clothing and artifacts. First, in a chapter of 8 pages, only one paragraph is devoted to a summary of what fashion for men in the 1840s consisted of. The source for the paragraph is www.gentlemensemporium.com, which is nothing more or less than a website that sells “authentic historical clothing” with no sign of any historical summary of 1840s menswear. This is shaky ground at best and not at all satisfactory for use as a measuring stick to judge the clothing on proposed daguerreotype images. However, this is exactly what the author does. Without any further authority than this unreferenced paragraph about general trends in men’s clothing in the 1840s (not the early 1840s, just the 1840s) Tracy sets off to rule in or out not only the Scannel daguerreotype, but other proposed photographs of the Prophet.

In Chapter 7, Tracy sets out to discover which paintings of Joseph Smith are the best. “[Which] of all these [portraits] are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it” (p. 123)? At first, Tracy seems to propose a study of what sources were relied upon to produce each painting, and therefore determine which one is best. Soon after, however, Tracy brings forward the “top 5″ most popular images of Joseph Smith and proposes a study of why they were so popular. Instead of being either a study of what portrait might have best used the available source material to produce an accurate rendition of Joseph Smith as originally proposed, or a study of why the proposed “top 5″ paintings were popular, the chapter becomes some sort of mix between the two and in the process largely leaves both studies without solid answers. In the end, Tracy’s conclusions only address the popularity issue. He says that these 5 images are the best for two reasons: “First and foremost, each of these images has been endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…Second, and most important to this study…[quoting Doctrine and Covenants 9:8]…Those artists who have paid the price in “studying it out” in their mind…have painted some of the best portraits of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Tracy goes on to say that since these artists sought to bring the “true parts” of Joseph into their artwork, that the Spirit can more easily testify of his divine mission. “This is why members of the Church have enjoyed these images so much” (134). This chapter left me perplexed as to what its purpose was. Basically the author, rather subjectively, selected 5 portraits he thought were the most popular and set them up as the most spiritual, and therefore most true. What this has to do with the larger question of a possible daguerreotype of Joseph Smith or even determining how to create a new, better image of the prophet remains clouded as similarity to these portraits is not a criterion used in chapter 9 to rule in or out possible photographic images. This chapter begins and ends and feels somewhat out of place.

Just to recap, the first 8 chapters have been written in an attempt to create benchmarks for comparison with proposed photographic images, which will, in theory, rule in or out potential photographs. Chapter 2 discusses the primary portraits, those painted during Joseph Smith’s life. Chapter 3 deals with the word descriptions of Joseph Smith, which have been commented on at length. Chapter 4 examines the forensic evidence Joseph’s facial characteristics. Chapter 5 examines family characteristics. Chapter 6 discusses clothing, chapter 7 the best paintings of Joseph over the years, and chapter 8 discusses the history of photography. Of these issues, Tracy decides to use the criteria of clothing styles, written descriptions, primary portraits, family characteristics, and anatomical evidence to evaluate possible photos of Joseph Smith.

In the next and final part of this review I will discuss how Tracy applies these benchmarks to proposed Joseph Smith photos and we will finally get to discuss specifically the Scannel daguerreotype.

[To Be Continued]

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26 Comments

  1. yikes that is scary not good report yet from other discussions about Tracy and the Nauvoo bell I guess this is to be expected.

    Comment by JonW — May 2, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  2. Good grief, this book sounds like a complete disaster.

    Comment by Randy B. — May 2, 2008 @ 9:53 am

  3. What Randy said. Disaster.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 2, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  4. At least disasters occasionally have the benefit of being interesting. If I saw this book crashed on the side of the road, I wouldn’t even glance its way.

    Comment by SC Taysom — May 2, 2008 @ 10:30 am

  5. Does Tracy indicate that the manuscript was reviewed by outside scholars prior to publication?

    Comment by Justin — May 2, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  6. Did he really cite a website called gentlemensemporium.com? Really? Wow. Taysom’s right. This doesn’t even appear to be worth the time to look at.

    Comment by Christopher — May 2, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  7. Chris, honest to goodness, gentlemensemporium. Let me talk plainly. I have been excited to read this book for months ever since I heard it was going to come out, cuz I like the Scannel image. I was expecting pretty convincing evidence, at least that was what was promised. I fully expected when I got this book on Monday that I would be writing a glowing review. So imagine my shock when this is what I get instead. On Tuesday I was so mad as I read that I had to literally get up and walk around. On Wednesday I was just depressed all day. I went to the open house at the JS Building and just felt sad. Yesterday frustration returned as I struggled through writing this thing. Today I just feel nothing. I just want to get this review over with and get on with my life.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  8. Jared T was about 24 hours ahead of me. He saw yesterday that I was also reading this book, knew how far I had gotten judging solely by my own reactions of shock and anger and frustration, and predicted accurately what I would feel today (apathy).

    We need a support group for the seven-stages-of-reviewing.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — May 2, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  9. From your reviews this book sounds similar to Vicki Anderson’s book The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff which I pulled out the other day to look something up.

    * The authors felt some sort of mission to research and publish the books

    * The project involved questions of faith

    * A great deal of research was done

    * The editing leaves a little to be desired

    * The standards by which evidence and information are presented also leave a little to be desired, unless you’re a trained historian; then it leaves a lot to be desired

    But for us hoi polloi who can’t just run to the archives and look up all the instances of some historical question or the other, a book like this can serve a valuable purpose. Of course, you have to get past the stated or actual purpose of the book to the information contained in it.

    Where else could you find a list of the men and women whose work Wilford Woodruff and compadres did? (Besides going to the actual primary source)

    Where else would you find all this information about Joseph Smith in one place whether or not you agree with how it was presented?

    When a bunch of historians want to place a book in their respective driveways and go over it a couple of times, I’ll bow to your superior judgment and ignore this book even more than I would have without your reviews (if that’s possible and recognizing the possibility that people like my in-laws will love this book.)

    Comment by Researcher — May 2, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  10. Researcher, I’ve looked through Vicki Anderson’s book and I contend that this still is nothing like that book. It’s not about “leaving a little to be desired”. It goes beyond that in my opinion.

    Now, I haven’t gotten to the positives yet, I’m plowing through my objections for now. One of the things I’m most concerned about is that so many people will buy the book and will just go along with the author’s conclusions and won’t either notice or care about many of the issues I’m raising. But that’s not the author’s fault so much as it is the fault of the individuals.

    Now, the book is definitely attractive and has some things you won’t get anywhere else like photos of the skulls and an easily referenced story about their excavation, etc. It’s just that I don’t trust people to have the presence of mind to use what is helpful and ignore what is flawed, in short, what you do in separating content from the book’s aims.

    That’s the key here, and if you can pull it off I think it could be a helpful resource. If you can’t…well. But the answer, in my opinion, isn’t to suppress the book or ignore it, but to talk about it, which is what I’m trying to do. If by doing so I can just alert the average Joe member that some cognative skills are required to get through it, then I will be content.

    For my academic colleagues, my purpose here is not to shut down conversation, but to change it as I will discuss next.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  11. [...] Again: The Joseph Smith Photograph (Salt Lake City: Eborn Pub., 2008), with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 currently available – I’ll link to additional parts as they go up. What follows here is not a [...]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » That Daguerreotype Again (part 1 of 2) — May 2, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  12. Sheesh, Jared, I’m sorry that you had to go through this ordeal. You’ll be blessed, I’m sure ;)

    Comment by David G. — May 2, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  13. Today I just feel nothing. I just want to get this review over with and get on with my life.

    Oh, man.

    Comment by BHodges — May 2, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

  14. The reviewer of this book states at the beginning of his review, “I have to say that from the time I first saw the Scannel image almost 5 years ago, I liked it… I grew excited… When I found out there would be a book about it, I looked forward with anxious anticipation to its publication, which would lay out all the evidence and show convincingly that this was an authentic photo of Joseph Smith. I wanted to believe…”

    He then proceeds to call the book basically a train wreck from a historical view.

    Then at the end he says, “my feelings as exhibited here have come exclusively from having read the book.”

    I do not believe this last statment. The reviewer has already exhibited that he had emotional ties to the Scannel image from the beginning. He “wanted it to be him”. the reviewer even admits in the comment section of part 3, “I have been excited to read this book for months ever since I heard it was going to come out, cuz I like the Scannel image. I was expecting pretty convincing evidence.”

    It is totally obvious that the reviewer had emtional ties to the subject and the daguerreotype long before this this book was published.

    My feeling is that this review is more a way to vent his emotional anger because the book did not prove what he wanted emoationally for it to be. He “wanted it to be Joseph.”

    That said, I have to admit the subtitle of the book “The Joseph Smith Photograph” is mis-leading.

    As I was reading the specifics of this review I was thinking to my self “maybe Jared is the one to do a better historical study of this subject”. But he has changed my mind with his final comments, “My hope now is that further study by trained professionals who are sufficiently detached from the emotionalism of the subject can be performed which will clearly and convincingly determine one way or another whether the Scannel daguerreotype is an authentic photograph of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

    For two emotionally unattached reviews see:
    http://www.ldsbooklovers.com/bookreview.asp?rid=189&bid=2259&pid=18
    and
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1268516&sectionID=184

    For a reviewer who states in #7 of part three, “I just want to get this review over with and get on with my life.”, why did he just today contact Eborn Books to let them know he wanted to do a more formal review for the Journal of Mormon Studies? Does he just want to be done, or was this just another emotinoal comment.

    I have serious concerns of the emotional instability of the reviewer as he wrote it. His emotional attachement has truly tainted this review, however I am grateful for the review from a historians point of view. Perhaps he should have waited a few days to let his emotions subside and then write his review. I believe this would have created a much more objective historical review.

    Comment by Patrick — May 2, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  15. Though yet open for debate, Tracy provides convincing evidence that indeed the skulls have been misidentified.

    So does this mean that the family tombstones in Nauvoo are placed over the wrong individuals, and Hyrum is actually buried next to Emma?

    Comment by Ben — May 2, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

  16. I was waiting for Patrick to come and write something like that. Do you have any response to the actual critiques, or are you just going to give emotional reactions?

    Comment by Ben — May 2, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  17. Patrick, thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll stick around for further dialogue. I think you should go back and read through it all again. I think you’ll find that this review is remarkably free of emotionalism.

    I’m puzzled at your statement that this hasn’t been as “objective” a review as it could have been. How so?

    I think that for every finger pointed at me with regards to “emotionalism” there are at least four pointing back the other way. I hardly think that I could be more emotionally invested in this project than you, for example. Perhaps you should take your own advice and come back in a day or so when you’ve cooled off. Perhaps then you may resort to something more substantive than an ad hominem argument.

    The email you refer to I sent to Bret asking him to forward it on to you and Shannon. You have misrepresented what I wrote to Bret in good faith. The text of that email is as follows, I sent it last night after I put up the first or second part of the review:

    Bret,

    I just wanted to let you know that the first parts of my review are up at juvenileinstructor.org. If you would forward this to Shannon and Patrick, and whoever else you think to, I would appreciate it as I do not seem to have their email addresses handy.

    It is not turning out to be the review I set out to write. I was very sure that I would be writing a glowing review based on what I was hearing. As it turns out, I have felt quite disappointed with what is in there. As I mentioned at the store on Monday, I planned to look at it as an academic and just try to be as honest as I could and call things like I saw them.

    I want to encourage Shannon and yourself and any other interested party to jump on the blog and challenge what I have written or try to continue dialogue. This would be good because I have received a number of private requests to submit this review, once finished and a bit more polished, to the Journal of Mormon History. I am seriously considering that, and this would be a good time to discuss and respond to what I consider are overwhelmingly constructive criticisms on my part.

    Thank you,

    Jared T.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

  18. Oh, and by the way, you’re welcome for taking you and the book seriously. I’ve done little else this week since I got the book on Monday but read it, every page, every footnote, spending many additional hours looking up footnotes, reading In Search of Joseph, reading Ephraim Hatch, as well as anything I could find about the Scannel dag whether it be in the Saints Herald or in random blog posts. I began writing yesterday at 11 am and I stopped this morning at 4 am when I went to bed, waking up this morning at 7 am to get to work where I was able to continue until this afternoon when I finished. Between a one week old newborn, a two year old fireball, a recovering wife and a 40 hour a week work schedule, not including two hours per day of commuting between Provo and Salt Lake, and my senior thesis that I need to finish this month, along with a half dozen other projects I’ve been working on, and you really think that all this was was just some emotional hit job?

    Maybe you couldn’t understand what I said today that I just wanted to get on with my life. I’ve written what practically amounts to a 13 single-spaced page research paper in almost 24 hours. I wonder if no one else wouldn’t also want to get to something else too. Getting on with life doesn’t mean not revisiting this review, revising it, hopefully with constructive input from you and Shannon and others, and yes, possibly publishing it. Why? Because it’s important. I just don’t have the luxury of spending more time than I already have to get this out there. Fancy that, wanting to get some information “out there” to get dialogue going. Sounds familiar.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

  19. I appreciate Jared’s hard work to provide an informative, in-depth review. (Needle’s review, by comparison, is fairly cursory; he doesn’t seem aware of Hatch’s book, for example.) Comments about “emotional instability” are truly inappropriate.

    Comment by Justin — May 3, 2008 @ 9:18 am

  20. It sounds like Jared gave the book more attention than it deserves from a historical perspective, even if it is in fairly raw form. Patrick’s entry here does little to endear him to the historical community. By way of reality check and expectation management, most people would not expect an academic book from a decidedly non-academic press.

    Jared, I wouldn’t expend too much more energy on it (though you did make me nostalgic for when full-time meant 40-hours instead of 90), but a more formal review for JMH may be just the ticket for communicating your findings.

    From what you’ve described, I’d be most interested in a reception history of Smithian visual iconography as a window into various aspects of Mormonism than in another attempt to prove a particular image correct. Or more broadly, a treatment of painting the prophetic body. Do we leave the chipped tooth, the limp, the excessive fleshiness? How do we interact with the moral physiognomy of contemporary observers (his beady eyes, his libidinous cranium)?

    On a similar note, could someone write a history of Joseph Smith visitations? are there oral histories that could give us a sense for how recipients of visitations from Smith (who continue among us to the present day) see his face?

    Comment by smb — May 3, 2008 @ 11:02 am

  21. To the friends with whom I attended the open house who I know lurk here on JI: Now do you understand why I declined being introduced to Patrick that afternoon, and why I told you I was afraid he might burst into tears?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — May 3, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  22. Thanks Justin.

    Smb, thank you.

    Those are excellent ideas and all would be fascinating studies. If only a certain someone wasn’t going to be stuck in turn of the century northern Mexico for the next year or so. Not enough hours in the day…

    Comment by Jared T — May 3, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  23. [...] been accused of becoming “emotionally instable” by Patrick Bishop over on Part 3 because my delusions about the daguerreotype were not realized, as if I’m to blame.  Wow.  [...]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Book Review: Shall Millions Now Know Brother Joseph Again? (Post Script) — May 3, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  24. Jared,
    I appreciate your pointing out to me that I have four fingers pointing back at me. Please forgive my brash way of critiquing your review, especially the “emotionally unstable” part.
    I should have looked at my own life and perhaps realized that there is a “beam in my own eye”.
    I will not try and reword my thoughts of your review at this point, but will just offer my sincere apologies!!
    Patrick

    Comment by Patrick — May 4, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  25. In paragraph 3 of part 3 of this review, I think the word you want is “complementing,” not “complimenting” — although given what you say about the preceding chapters, the authors might not be above complimenting themselves.

    Comment by Marden — May 4, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

  26. [...] Review: Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again (The Joseph Smith Photo Book) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and [...]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From The Archives: Posts You Might Have Missed, March-April 2008 — July 2, 2009 @ 1:52 am