Or: All Web is Not Created Equal, have you noticed?
One of the sessions I attended at the AHA this month was Session 151, Social Media and History. It featured one of our JIers, Max Mueller, talking about tensions and complications in the church’s “I am a Mormon” campaign, including the fascinating case of one woman whose tattoos were airbrushed out of her profile pic (her profile is now gone, for other reasons). Great talk, by the way, along with several others that reflected on the ethical and methodological problems of using social media as historical sources for researching marginalized groups or threatened voices. In each of the presentations — Max’s on constructing Mormon online “diversity,” Jessica Lingel’s on underground music scenes, Sadaf Jaffer’s on online discussion boards for Pakistani atheists, and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s on sites made by and about Tibetans — the very existence of the sites to begin with, and especially their continued life on the web, is inherently unstable. It was actually a rather terrifying session, like watching 4 canaries in a coal mine (Hey! There’s a pocket of air over here! Oh wait, never mind). (more…)
Filed away in the Brigham Young Papers at the Church History Library, there is a document that records the vision of a nineteenth-century prophet. That visionary, however, was not Brigham Young. Rather, it was Arapeen, a leading Ute chief during the Mormons’ first two decades in the Great Basin. That the Saints believed that Arapeen had received a legitimate revelation is revealed in the language they used to categorize the document. John Lowry, Jr., the Manti resident who interpreted for Arapeen, and George Peacock, who acted as scribe, entitled the document “Vision of Arapine on the night of the 4th of Feb 1855.” Later, after it had been sent to Young’s office in Salt Lake City, an unidentified clerk scrawled “The Lord to Arrowpin” in the margins. Arapeen’s vision provides a fascinating window into the Utes’ hybrid religious culture that was in the process of formation in the years following the Mormons’ arrival in 1847. (more…)
At the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in June, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt delivered a fascinating Tanner Lecture on “Mormons, Freethinkers, and the Limits of Toleration” (a helpful summary of his remarks can be found here). Among other things, I was struck by Schmidt’s discussion of the occasional moments of agreement between Mormons and Freethinkers in the late 19th century. It was, most often, their mutual distrust and dislike of mainline Christians that afforded them these brief instances of mutual respect and accord.
I recently browsed through several issues of The Truth Seeker, a prominent 19th century newspaper devoted to “freethought and reform,” in search of something entirely unrelated to Mormonism. But as I did, I came across a couple of articles on Mormonism. In the May 15, 1886 edition of the paper, Samuel B. Putnam, the secretary of the American Secular Union, reported on his recent visit to Utah. Among other things, Putnam noted with pleasure that “there are many Liberals at Ogden,” including some former Mormons. “Mr. James B. Stoddard was born in Mormonism,” he reported. “He, however, has a keen and fearless mind, and has broken away from the trammels. He will do much for Freethought by his influence and ability.” (more…)
The Society for American Archives month has designated October Archives Month. To celebrate, here’s a highlight of the recent SAA journal. (more…)
…or how to hack your summer archives trip and come off victorious.
This post grew out of a conversation I had with fellow JI-er Christopher Jones during one of his lengthy jaunts around the Atlantic seaboard during his summer dissertation research. I have the good fortune to be located not too far from the American Antiquarian Society and could offer him room & board during his research trip there, and since I didn’t set foot inside an archives all summer I was living vicariously through everyone else’s treasure-hunting. We got to talking about archival research method: how we historians actually do what we do inside the archives, and reflecting on how we all get very little graduate-level instruction on the nitty-gritty of how to do this, and how it might benefit our JI community to have a broader conversation about it. (more…)
This is the third in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith’s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863. See the first two parts here and here.
Map of Manhattan Island: the cluster of attacks on property in the southwestern portion of the island is close to the Stevens House, where Joseph F. was staying with John W. Young.
In the previous post I argued that Joseph F. Smith seemed to be simply an observer for the first two days of the draft riots. Late in the night on July 14, 1863, however, the riots came dangerously close, momentarily changing the nature of his relationship to them. In this last post of my brief series, I have transcribed Joseph F.’s diary entries for the last few days of the riots and their aftermath. I think they provide an interesting, if brief, look into how the riots affected him. (more…)
This is the second in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith’s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863. See the first part here.
Image: CHARGE OF THE POLICE ON THE RIOTERS AT THE “TRIBUNE” OFFICE, Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863, p. 484 
Joseph F. Smith arrived in New York City on July 6, 1863, after an unremarkable journey from Liverpool (though he did mention with disappointment on July 4th that “no demonstrations were mad[e] to commemorate the aneversery of American Independence,” ). He had been recently released from his missionary duties in the British Isles Mission, and was fulfilling an assignment to see several groups of Mormon emigrants safely into the U.S. and on their way toward Utah. (more…)
Image: “The Riots in New York: The Mob Lynching a Negro in Clarkson-Street” 
One of the things that first interested me about Joseph F. Smith was his personality as a diarist. He liked to pen elaborate descriptions of impressive places he visited, such as the ancient Mo’okini heiau (temple) in Hawaii, the famous Mauna Loa volcano, or the Wentworth Castle and Estates near Barnsley, England. He cataloged what he saw as faults in others, ranging from family members, to LDS church enemies, to people he encountered as a missionary. He recorded seemingly insignificant details and used trite or repetitive phrases (some of which have crept into my own journaling vocabulary), in the process illuminating much about his education, priorities, biases, and spirituality. And we can’t leave out the infamous cat massacre that Amanda HK described in a post some time ago. (more…)
On September 24, 1890, Joseph H. Dean returned home from Samoa, where he had been serving as mission president. He returned to Salt Lake City to report on his duties to the First Presidency. After briefly speaking to Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon, Dean sat down with Joseph F. Smith. Dean knew Smith from Smith’s time in the South Pacific. “At his invitation,” Dean wrote in his journal, “I took supper with him, just he and I alone.” During supper, they spoke about:
“nearly every subject, among other things the advisability of my going to Mexico. The Church a ranch or rally there, where a member of the Church in good standing can settle and have all the land he can take care of. He [must] till the land, however, but pays a nominal [fee] for the payment of the interest in the money invested. That is so that no outsiders can get footing there and also so that an apostate could not stay there, as the laws of the state give the owners of the land the privilege of “firing” any renter that doesn’t suit them. A many can have as many wives there as he pleases so long as he only acknowledges one as such, that is, there is a tacit understanding between the church and the Mexican government, that we only practice plural marriage but must outwardly appear to have by one wife. Good land, delightful climate, and all together a desirable place to locate. I fell favorably impressed with the idea of going there.” (more…)
In my last few posts I have looked at discourse around early female Mormon missionaries. Below is the text of “Lady Missionaries,” published in The Young Woman’s Journal in 1904, six-and-a-half years after the first Sister Missionary was set apart. The author is Joseph W McMurrin, one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, and thus one of the chief administrators in the Church’s missionary program. Note, however, that only about a third of the 1,500+ words come from McMurrin; the balance are from mission presidents. Since the article quotes four of the six US mission presidents, I think the article gives a reliable snap-shot of the leadership view at the time. (more…)
By Alex D. Smith
“To be burned unread if I die, unless Tom cares to read it. No one else. Mind! I will haunt any one who does!
E. D. K.”
I have waited with eager anticipation for Elizabeth Dennistoun Kane to fulfill this threat inscribed on the first page her 1860 diary. Elizabeth, if you are listening, at your convenience. (more…)
After the battles over New Mormon History in the 1980s and early 90s, Mormon historians (and I mean historians who are Mormon, not just historians who study Mormons) have been hesitant to discuss the relationship between faith and history. Or so I argue in a paper I’m presenting this weekend at the Conference on Faith & Knowledge (schedule here). In preparation for my paper, I’ve revisited a number of classic historigraphical texts from decades ago, and have been surprised by two things: 1) the amount of attention this thorny issue was given by earlier scholars in the field, and 2) the lack of engagement to a similar degree by today’s generation. There are, I think, several reasons for this, which I attempt to outline in the paper. But in this post I merely want to present a couple quotations from Richard Bushman’s classic essay “Faithful History” (pdf here), published almost five decades ago, and invite discussion. (more…)
A friend of mine excitedly posted a link the other day on facebook with the accompanying note that “Warren G. Harding’s recipe for waffles is freely available on Google books.” The link took me to a 1922 cookbook entitled The Stag Cook Book, Written for Men By Men (or, alternately, as the cover to the right shows, with the slightly different subtitle A Man’s Cook Book for Men). Dedicated to “That Great Host of Bachelors and Benedicts Alike, who at one time or another tried to ‘cook something’; and who, in the attempt, have weakened under a fire of feminine raillery and sarcasm, only to spoil what, under more favorable circumstances, would have proved a chef-dœvre,” it reminded me of Tona’s fascinating and fun post from last week on “etiquette and advice manual[s] updating 19th and early 20th century counsel for the 21st century man.” Here, I realized, was a very real example (if one in which the author/editor’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek) of the sort of literature artofmanliness.com tries to update for the 21st century.* And it didn’t disappoint. In addition to Warren G. Harding’s waffle recipe (in which we learn that “President Harding is a staunch upholder of the gravy school and likes his in the form of creamed chipped beef”—none of that sissy honey or maple syrup for the ringleader of the Ohio Gang), we’re also given access to Charlie Chaplin’s steak and kidney pie speciality and Houdini’s scalloped mushrooms and deviled eggs. So what does any of this have to do with Mormon history, you ask? Well, among the other contributors to the volume was Mormon senator Reed Smoot, who provided his peach cobbler recipe. Without further ado, here it is in all of its sugary goodness: (more…)
I’ve watched with interest the ongoing debates this week over the proposed “Wear Pants to Church Day” spearheaded by a group of Mormon feminists. I’ve little desire to wade into the treacherous waters that conversation has become, but thanks to our resident Strangite expert Robin Jensen, I now know that the history of Mormon women and the controversial wearing of pants extends back much earlier than the late 20th century. (more…)
I have to admit, as completely unpalatable as I find Nicolas Cage (despite his influential corner of internet memes), every once in a while I wish that archival research was a little less sitting and reading a little more jumping to action and making remarkable and miraculous connections—preferably in some deep lost underground tunnel holding documents no one has seen for a couple hundred years or more. (Dr. Jones, Jr. is clearly more acceptable than Cage, were it not for that crystal skull and his inability to get tenure, but I don’t really need to get in a row with cannibalistic natives.) Despite this desire for excitement, most archival finds and brief moments of epiphany occur only after a lot of work amidst the mundane. (more…)
In March of this year, the newly rebranded BYU Studies Quarterly published an article I wrote entitled “Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace: James Covel and the Historical Background of Doctrine and Covenants 39–40.” The article, which began as a short and poorly-written blog post here at JI a few years earlier, represented the culmination of a year in the archives pouring through manuscript sources and rolls and rolls of microfilmed newspapers and church records from three different Methodist churches (assisted by the indefatigable staff at the United Methodist Archives and History Center in Madison, New Jersey), piecing together the life and preaching career of a man I initially knew next to nothing about. It also represented the culmination—or so I thought at the time—of my research on connections between Methodism and early Mormonism. I’d moved on to what I imagined at the time as an entirely unrelated project: my dissertation, which examines the growth and development of Methodism in North America and the Caribbean from 1760 to 1815. (more…)
We’re delighted to feature this contribution from JI’s good friend and former blogger Heidi Harris as part of our “I Found it in the Archives” series.
From my experience, historians don’t consciously believe archives are a neutral space in the historical research process, but there is not nearly enough literature on the filtering process that occurs within an archives. I’m not speaking of the difficulties inherent in historic documents. All historians are taught to focus a critical eye on a source, look at why it’s created, and to weigh its biases. But I think historians are ill-trained in analyzing the archival influence of various collections. Scholars need to think about and engage with the fact that historical documents are processed by archivists with their own prejudices, (changing) professional standards, and varying historical knowledge. What have historians missed due to not understanding processing and preservation practices? This opens up a tremendous array of questions scholars can glean in their own research. Below is but a small example of this kind of thinking. It’s in no way earth-shattering, but I think uncovers some illustrative evidence historians should remember. (more…)
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Archival research and the resulting discovered sources often provide the critical foundation for scholarly articles and books. There is something wonderful about stepping into the archives and having the past delivered to your table in Holinger boxes and non-acidic folders; not to mention that you often discover answers to questions you had not thought to ask.