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…)
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…)
This post comes out of my experiences this fall teaching a senior seminar on “Writing Recent History” (which my students are finding especially challenging), and thinking about what that might mean in the Mormon context. And it’s also prompted by something that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said about Claudia Bushman at the Exponent II 40th celebration last month that caught my ear and which I’ve been thinking about ever since. Laurel said that one of the motivations for starting the journal was Claudia’s desire to “contain our anger by coming up with a project.” (more…)
Okay, so this is from a different era. Still, I think it applies!
1863 was a troublesome year for Abraham Lincoln. His Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, but it needed to be vindicated by victories on the battlefield. However, Grant’s prolonged siege of Vicksburg and the game-changing victory at Gettysburg wouldn’t see completion until early July.
Those victories were inconceivable mid-1863, especially after costly Union losses at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the previous winter and spring. Lincoln had another problem on his hands, too: political trouble in Missouri, brewing since the start of the war and coming to a head in the summer of 1863. The Border State had a large population of slave owners and had been occupied by a heavy Union military presence since early in the war. The various Unionist factions that arose in the state continued to press Lincoln to support their respective camps, either in spreading immediate emancipation to Missouri or allowing slavery to exist with a more gradual emancipation plan. When a delegation of the more radical faction visited Lincoln in Autumn to appeal for his support, he refused to add presidential clout to either group.
Frustrated with the politicking in Missouri, but unwilling to join sides, Lincoln remarked to a reporter that he had “adopted the plan learned when a farmer boy engaged in plowing. When he came across stumps too deep and too tough to be torn up, and too wet to burn, he plowed round them.” In other words, he opted for the course of least resistance rather than directly dealing with the most difficult of situations—and possibly unwinnable ones— as in Missouri.
Wait—he said that about Missourians? (more…)
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…)
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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…)