A few weeks ago, I posted my review of Jedediah Rogers’s new book, The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History (Signature, 2014). Today, we are pleased to feature a Q&A with the author. Enjoy!
What first grabbed your attention about the Council of 50?
The devil is in the detail, as they say, so while I was familiar with some of the council’s larger themes, it was the little things that struck me: the council prohibiting “cutting Spanish rusty” or converting corn into whisky; Hosea Stout wittily suggesting in an April 11, 1883, meeting that a legal defense for a bigamist might be that “he cohabited with only one at a time”; Moses Thatcher’s reported opposition to “the proposition to anoint John Taylor as Prophet, Priest and King”; and so on.
More generally, I was grabbed by the tension between rhetoric and reality. The council discussed grandiose ideas—playing a pivotal role in the End Days, working to elect Joseph Smith as U.S. president, destroying an army and navy with an invention of “liquid fire”—that to some modern observers may seem absurd. Council members, interestingly, seemed to have thought them all probabilities. Council deliberations sometimes contained violent rhetoric, including some early utterances by Young on the doctrine of “blood atonement,” while simultaneously centering on the millennial dream of a utopian society. Historiographical debates suggest another dynamic: was the council a mere symbolic formality or did it represent the Mormon quest for real political power? Like most things historical, the answer in this case is not either/or. (Mike Quinn cautions historians not to confuse symbol and substance; indeed, within the structure of Mormonism the Council of Fifty was subservient to the First Presidency and the Twelve, at least under the reigns of Young and Taylor. Taylor’s anointing, Quinn argues, is a prime example of the symbolic nature of the Fifty. Still, readers will find ardent rhetoric of council members convinced they were part of something grand operating in the temporal realm. And we must not downplay the significance of the council in organizing and leading the trek west and as the governing body in the Salt Lake valley from 1848 to 1850. While their minds may have been, at times, hovering in the clouds, they also worked in the soil, and they expected results from their labors.) (more…)
Keep an eye out, now! A small handful of roundup links on matters of interest from the past few weeks…
TLC’s My Husband’s Not Gay
Just when you’d thought we’d exhausted all the angles for a Mormon-related reality series, we now have My Husband’s Not Gay, from TLC (of Sister Wives and My Five Wives fame). Shot in Salt Lake City, My Husband’s Not Gay premieres tonight at 10 ET, and reportedly it revolves around the lives of four LDS men who, despite feeling attraction to men, do not identify as homosexuals. Indeed, three have chosen (presumably on the basis of their religious convictions) to marry women, and the show will trace the conflicts between sexual desire, human identity, and religious conviction.
In anticipation of the premiere, the show has generated a fair bit of controversy. Gay advocates have turned up the heat on TLC, denouncing the show as “downright irresponsible”; “dangerous for LGBT people”; and “damaging for Mormons, especially gay Mormon youth.” A sizable campaign has also been petitioning for the show’s cancellation. TLC, for its part, shrugged off the criticism earlier this week, and the LDS Newsroom struck a moderating tone. On the basis of his critic’s sneak preview, NYT TV critic Neil Genzlinger characterizes the show as classic incendiary reality tv, although he does note “a few interesting and genuine-sounding moments in which the couples or their friends explore the collision of faith and feelings.” Those kinds of enlightening moments, however, he expects to be inevitably “drowned out.”
Other multifarious tidbits:
Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on Ordain Women‘s new photo illustration series envisioning female officiation in priesthood ordinances.
Regional media continue to track the unfurling of the Book of Mormon musical across the country in smaller markets, the responses of Latter-day Saints and the Church’s proselytizing response.
A new (and largely nonplussed) review of Avi Steinberg’s recent “bibliomemoir” The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri.
P.S. To all last-minute applicants for the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Theology Seminar, 2015, a reminder that Jan. 15 is your day of reckoning.
A few weeks ago, Ben published a round up of the best books published in Mormon History in 2014. This week, we are publishing a list of the forthcoming books. There are some amazing books coming out this year. Paul Reeve has already published his long awaited Religion of a Different Color as a Kindle Book. A hardback book will be out within a month. Thomas Carter’s emphasis on the material world offers a fascinating change of pace from the work that is usually published within Mormon history. His book promises to help us understand how Mormon theology affected the physical settlement of Utah. Signature Books was unable to produce a list of forthcoming books but as you will see, provided some interesting rumors. (more…)
Columbia University, New York, April 9 – 10, 2015
Deadline: Jan 23, 2015
Call for Papers: Materialities of American Texts and Visual Cultures
Hosted by: Columbia University’s Department of Art History and Archaeology and Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York, NY. Co-Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the American Print History Association. (more…)
2016 Church History Symposium
Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History
March 3–4, 2016
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…)
In today’s post I will look at three images published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in the early 1880s that focus on the alleged plight of female converts to Mormonism from rural Europe.  All three are familiar to modern scholarship. To avoid going on too long, I will put the detailed descriptions in the footnotes and mention a few key points in the main post. (more…)
I’m no New Testament scholar. At all. But I had to look a few things up for my dissertation in my attempt to trace ideas in Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations. In particular, Joseph Smith made some interesting statements about Jesus that were very much at odds with Protestantism. A handful of ideas in particular stood out and overlapped: that Jesus became God during His life, either through his baptism or through an additional temple rite and that Jesus did so even though he was a pre-existent deity. And I found it interesting that Morton Smith made all these same claims. (more…)
Happy New Year’s Eve! Before we ring in the new year, we thought we’d look back at the year that was at JI. Below you will find the 10 most-viewed posts from the past twelve months. (more…)
Welcome back to our series, wherein we answer questions from our readers about plural marriage. Where possible, I’ve linked to all the available sources for readers, so that others can investigate each question more fully, if they wish. Today’s question addresses the rumor concerning a physical altercation between Emma Hale Smith and Eliza R. Snow in Nauvoo.
In the 1982 issue of BYU Studies, three important Mormon women’s historians – Maureen Beecher, Val Avery, and Linda King Newell – explored the “oft-told tale” that Joseph Smith’s wife Emma pushed Eliza R. Snow down the stairs in a fit of jealousy. The story as they construct it is one that has several variants: “The characters involved are Joseph Smith, his wife Emma Hale Smith, and a plural wife, usually Eliza Roxcy Snow. The place is invariably Nauvoo, the scene either the Homestead residence of the Smiths or the later roomier Mansion House. The time, if specified, is either very early morning, or night, in 1843, April or May, or in 1844. The action involves two women in or coming out of separate bedrooms. Emma discovers the other woman in the embrace of or being kissed by Joseph. A tussle follows in which Emma pulls the woman’s hair, or hits her with a broom, or pushes her down stairs, causing either bruises, or a persistent limp, or, in the extreme versions, a miscarriage. There may or may not be a witness or witnesses.” (more…)
In my research of Navajo educational history, I have come across several student case files that include “religion” as a major category in individual profiles. Growing up with Navajo family and friends, I remember references to how they had to choose their “religion” at boarding school during the 1950s. (more…)
Jedediah S. Rogers, ed., The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2014).
Secret ecclesiastical organizations usually draw a lot of attention, yet few secret ecclesiastical organizations have garnered as much speculation and mythologization as the Council of Fifty. Anyone with even a cursory interest in Mormon history has heard of the council, often wrapped up with rumors of kingly coronations, clandestine governments, and power struggles. Academic engagement with the organization has ranged from the ambitious (and as it turns out, overstated) Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (Michigan State University Press, 1967) by Klaus Hansen to the more nuanced articles by Michael Quinn and Andrew Ehat. Recently, the LDS Church has announced plans to publish the long-secluded minutes from the original Nauvoo council as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. But the council left a larger printed impact than what is found in that minute book; further, the council lasted much longer than merely Nauvoo. To help chart the development and relevance of this quixotic council, Jedidiah S. Rogers has edited The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, which compiles a large number of documents that shed light on the secretive organization from its formation in 1844 through John Taylor’s resuscitation of the council in the 1880s. There are a lot of things that could be highlighted from the volume for discussion, but as a historian of American religious and political culture, I’d like to point out two themes that stood out to me. (more…)
The coming of Christmas has slowed Mormon-related news this week. TLC announced that it will be airing a special called “My Husband’s Not Gay,” which will follow the lives of several men whose primary sexual attraction is towards men but who have chosen to marry women. The announcement of the program has revived discussions about Josh Weed and his willingness to discuss his relationship with his wife Lolly. Think Progress (linked above) hopes that the program will avoid the suggestion that homosexuality is something to be overcome but isn’t holding its breath. As someone who supports same sex marriage,* I agree with the sentiment and share their overall pessimism. It makes me yearn for the TLC of my high school years, which aired Baby Story every morning at 11:00 a.m. The last episode of Mormon Expression in which John Larsen will be hosting the podcast also aired this week. Adam Archer will take over soon.
*I should note that not everyone at JI agrees with my support of same sex marriage.
Solstice was this week (which is also my birthday), a day which to me always represents a fresh start, the year’s pivot point back towards the light. This dawning feels especially significant, as the start of an unfamiliar new phase: I’ve just begun a sabbatical. (more…)
Note: the post below includes images of pejorative racial and ethnic stereotypes from 1912.
Today’s image, “The Mistletoe Tradition at Salt Lake City,” came to my attention via Bunker and Bitton’s The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914, where it illustrates a period (1908-1914) when portrayals of Mormons declined in frequency and hostility. “Mistletoe…” comes from the British Punch’s Almanack for 1912—an appendage to the more famous Punch—and Bunker and Bitton only included the Mormon part of the full-page, three-panel gag about cultural exchange in British colonialism.  The whole page is below. (more…)
Welcome back to our series, wherein we answer questions from our readers about plural marriage. Where possible, I’ve linked to all the available sources for readers, so that others can investigate each question more fully, if they wish.
Apologies for the delay in answering questions (finals, life, etc.), but if you have any more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.
For other posts in this series, see
Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook (Embodiment and Sexuality)
WVS (D&C 132 Questions)
Miscellaneous Questions (more…)
All the most important links for the past 3 weeks. You know the drill: if we missed anything, let us know in the comments. If you have opinions on the news articles, let us know in the comments. (more…)
One of my favorite hyperbolic descriptions of Brigham Young (“…In the course of an unusually long life, he was never known to do a generous or unselfish action…”) includes the line: “If we search history for his prototypes, we find him a mixture of Mokanna, the veiled prophet of Kohrassan, and that terrible chief of the assassins, the Old Man of the Mountain.”  I recently wrote about the Mormon Mokanna; today I address the other half of the mix. In the mid- and late-nineteenth century, critics of Mormonism sometimes compared Mormons to the “Old Man of the Mountain,” the leader of what Marco Polo and many since understood to be the fanatically dedicated and fantastically skilled Hashashin / “Assassins.” (more…)
With this post we begin an occasional series entitled “Images.” We’ll post an image—contemporary photograph, political cartoon, post card, picture of an object, book cover, whatever—briefly describe it, and then invite comment on the image and/or its context. Hopefully we’ll accumulate a small collection of crowd-annotated Mormon-related images. Furthermore, the text descriptions of the images might help researchers find images via text searches. (more…)
Just a few books from this last year that should be found on your bookshelves.
It’s that time of year again.
This is the sixth annual installment of my “Restrospect” series, which attempts to overview what I thought were important books and articles from the last 12 months. (Previous installments are found here, here, here, here, and here.) Every year, I wonder if I want to do this post again; every year, I decide it is once again worth it. (Though no promises for next year.) Mostly, it is an excuse to catch up on what has been published and to chart historiographical trends–something that really is only possible when you look at articles as well. I’ll also continue my tradition of offering my selections for MHA’s awards.
The usual caveat: my selections represent my own interests, and I admit I likely have many blindspots. So please fill in the gaps with your comments.
Of course, if you want more substantive engagement with recent scholarship in Mormon studies, you’d read the recent issue of Mormon Studies Review, especially since digital subscriptions are only $10. But you already knew that. (more…)
« Previous Page
The December 2014 Mormon History Association newsletter (Vol 49, No 4) is available online here. For your convenience, I will hit some highlights. (more…)
— Next Page »