As I worked on a hypothetical comps list for Mormon history, it quickly became apparent that there have been a large number of important articles over the decades—a point that was made even more vivid in the responses. This post aims to outline the most important, best written, required-for-a-legitimate-overview-of-Mormonism articles over the past half century.
This is a complicated task, for several reasons. First, there is a ridiculous amount of articles on Mormon history out there. There are more journals devoted to various aspects of Mormon studies than perhaps any other similarly-narrow subtopic in academia; JMH, Dialogue, and BYU Studies publish four issues a year, Mormon Historical Studies and Element publish twice a year, JWHA puts out one solid issue annually, just to name the most prominent—and that doesn’t even take into account the numerous published article collections or even those articles published in non-Mormon centric journals. Put simply, there is just a plethora of material to choose from. (See Kent’s recent post here.)
Second, due to the nature of article-writing, articles have a somewhat limited shelf life. For one, articles are often supplanted by books, as the original publication is more of a work-in-progress manifestation. Thus, it is rare that an article ends up standing alone on its own merit after a few decades.
Third, articles are, by design, often specialized and quite narrow. So when dealing with a large movement that spans nearly two centuries, it is difficult to determine which ones are “most” essential. If we were to focus on a specific period or topic, we could make an equally long list for just that category. So I generally tried to focus on articles that dealt with broader issues or had larger implications.
As always, these sorts of lists reveal more about the person putting it together than anything else. My interests and biases are readily apparent (see: origins). An earlier draft of this list had about thirty more articles–and could have easily had much more–but I figured I should get it down to the much more manageable number of 40 (or so).
But without further ado, the following is my “essentials” list, with some of my own remarks in brackets:
Richard Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-98): 183-204.
Todd Compton, “A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith’s Thirty Three Plural Wives,” Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (Spring 1996): 80-136. [I am still somewhat uneasy with this inclusion, though I can't think of a better article that deals with early Mormon polygamy. Perhaps Fluhman's recent MHS article? I'm open to suggestions.]
Stephen J. Flemming, “‘Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism.” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 129-164.
Steven C. Harper, “Infallible Truths, Both Human and Divine: The Persuasiveness of Mormonism for Early Converts,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 10, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 99-118.
Michael W. Homer, “Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry: The Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 1-113.
Christopher C. Jones, “The Power and Form of Godliness: Methodist Conversion Narratives and Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): forthcoming. [With Bushman's "Visionary World," Chris's article does the best job at situating Smith's first vision within JS's context. Also, it highlights the porous relationship between early Mormonism and the broader American culture---a key element in the future of Mormon studies.]
D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844,” BYU Studies 16 (Winter 1976): 187-233. [Though dated and flawed, I can't come up with another text that goes into more depth over the crisis following Smith's death. Perhaps include the collection of essays edited by Hamer and Bringhurst?]
Alan Taylor, “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830,” American Quarterly 38 (Spring 1986): 6-34.
Richard S. Van Wagoner and Stephen C. Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,’” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 49-68.
Gordon Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” New York History 61 (October 1980): 359-86.
Matthew J. Grow, “The Suffering Saints: Thomas L. Kane, ‘Democratic Reform & the Mormon Question in Antebellum American,” Journal of the Early Republic 29 ((Winter 2009), 681-710.
D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Spring 1985): 9-105.
Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” Journal of Mormon History 15 (1988): 59-87.
Ronald W. Walker, “Grant’s Watershed: Succession in the Presidency, 1887-1889,” BYU Studies 43, no. 2 (2004): 195-229.
Polly Aird, “Without Purse or Scrip in Scotland,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39, no. 2 (Summer 2006).
James B. Allen, “Would Be Saints: West Africa Before the 1978 Priesthood Revelation,” Journal of Mormon History 17 (1991): 207-247.
Philip Jenkins, “Letting Go: Understanding Mormon Growth in Africa,” Journal of Mormon History (Spring 2009): 1-26.
Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “Looking West: Mormonism and the Pacific World,” Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 40-63.
[Badly needed: an article dealing with Mormonism in Latin America. Suggestions?]
Thomas G. Alexander, “Historiography and the New Mormon History: A Historian’s Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Fall 1986): 25-49.
Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Winter 1969): 11-25.
Jan Shipps, “Richard Lyman Bushman, the Story of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and the New Mormon History,” Journal of American History 94, no. 2 (September 2007): 498-516. [Also include Bushman's response.]
Grant Underwood, “Re-visioning Mormon History,” Pacific Historical Review 55 (August 1986): 403-426.
Catherine A. Brekus, “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): forthcoming.
Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842-92,” Journal of Mormon History (Summer 2009): 88-117.
Dave Hall, “A Crossroads for Mormon Women: Amy Brown Lyman, J. Reuben Clark, and the Decline of Organized Women’s Activism in the Relief Society,”Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 205-249.
Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 1-85.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “An American Album, 1857,” The American Historical Review 115, no. 1 (2010): 1-25.
Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology,” Sunstone 5 (July/August 1980): 24-33. [Deeply flawed, but one of the earliest and most influential articles on Mormon historical theology.]
Matthew Bowman, “The Crisis of Mormon Christology: History, Progress, and Protestantism,” Fides Et Historia, Journal of the Conference on Faith and History 40 (Summer/ Fall 2008).
Samuel Brown, “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): forthcoming.
Samuel Brown, “The Early Mormon Chain of Belonging,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no 1 (Spring 2011): 1-52 (forthcoming). [Sam's work is at the forefront of the reinterpretation of early Mormon theology---a reinterpretation that could not have arrived too soon.]
Richard Sherlock, “‘We Can See No Advantage to a Continuation of the Discussion’: The Roberts/Smith/Talmage Affair,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Fall 1980): 62-78.
James Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought.” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43-61.
Lester E. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Spring 1973): 11-68.
Kathleen Flake, “‘Not to be Riten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon,” Ritual Studies 9 (Summer 1995): 1-21.
J. Spencer Fluhman, “An “American Mahomet’: Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and the Problem of Prophets in Antebellum America,” Journal of Mormon History 34 (Summer 2008), 23-45.
William G. Hartley, “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offces, 1829-1996,” Journal of Mormon History 22 (Spring 1996): 80-136.
Jan Shipps, “‘Is Mormonism Christian?’ Reflections on a Complicated Question,” BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 438-465.
Jonathan Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): forthcoming. [Seriously, be very excited.]
Stephen C. Taysom, “A Uniform and Common Recollection: Joseph Smith’s Legacy, Polygamy, and the Creation of Mormon Public Memory, 1852-2002,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 113-144.
Ronald W. Walker, “Walkara Meets the Mormons, 1848-52: A Case Study in Native American Accommodation” Utah Historical Quarterly 70, (Summer 2002).
William A. Wilson, “Freeways, Parking Lots, and Ice Cream Stands: The Three Nephites in Contemporary Society,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 28 (Autumn 1988): 13-26.
[I figured I would throw this category in so I could include what I argue to be the three best collection of essays available---at least, if I were teaching a course on Mormonism, these are the three collections I would assign. Also, there are a handful of articles in each of these collections that deserve to be on the list and considered "essential."]
Terryl L. Givens and Reid L. Neilson, ed., Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson, eds., The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (Urbana and Chicago, Il: University of Illinois Press, 2006).
Stephen C. Taysom, Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011, forthcoming).