I add my praise for the church’s essays on gospel topics, including the essays on polygamy. However, I disagree with two points that the essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy made: that polygamy was revealed to Joseph Smith during his translation of the Old Testament and that Smith engaged in eternity only sealings. Such points have been asserted by a number of scholars so my critique isn’t so much one of the essay but of these two commonly asserted claims. (more…)
In case you missed it last week, the Mormon History Association unveiled two important and noteworthy things:
1. They have a new website. It looks quite spiffy, so make sure to explore it a bit. It is still obviously a work in progress, as several pages and uploads don’t seem to work, but I’m sure they will be fixed in due time.
2. There is now a lot more information about this year’s annual conference, taking place in early June in Provo. This includes a conference program which looks absolutely spectacular–perhaps the most stacked program I’ve seen. The weekend includes great plenary sessions (one by Colleen McDaniel and a presidential address by Laurel Ulrich), a number of “50th Anniversary Sessions” (including one, chaired by yours truly, on the legacy of John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire, and another on the legacy of Leonard Arrington, to name only two), and even a Gold and Green Ball. And since there are not as many pricey meals as usual, you can take your money and register for some of the fantastic pre- and post-conference tours, including a women’s history tour hosted by our own Andrea Radke-Moss and Jenny Reeder. So if you haven’t already, renew your MHA membership, register for the conference, and book your hotel room.
There are, of course, too many great panels at the conference to attend them all, but if there are any that excite you, please share them in the comments.
There is much to highlight, so let’s get started:
110th Translation of the Book of Mormon Published (LDS Church Growth)
“Kosraean is the 110th language into which the Church has translated the Book of Mormon. Other translations of the Book of Mormon that have been completed within the past seven years include Malay, Slovak, Serbian, and Yoruba.” See also: Kosraean language
In 1991, the iconoclastic historian Jon Butler brought forth one of the greatest of his many “historiographical heresies.” Well known for being an ardent revisionist, Butler had called the previous year in his important book Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990) for narratives that paid more attention to the enduring and even escalating power of religious institutions in nineteenth-century America. Institutional power, he suggested, had been unduly marginalized in the pursuit of other interests. In 1991, however, Butler took this logic all the way and proposed an entirely new model for American religious history, one that was sure to astound many of his colleagues. In the heyday of the new scholarship on American evangelicalism and during the very apotheosis of Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Butler insisted that—of all groups—Roman Catholics could serve as a productive baseline for American religious history. Catholicism in America, he argued, more than the hurly burly of American evangelicalism, could help historians account for hidden aspects of the religious past. 
Characteristic of his other sterling contributions to the field of Mormon History, Jared Farmer’s historiographical essay entitled “Crossroads of the West,” provides us with an illuminating evaluation of the relationship between the history of Mormonism and that of the American West. As a native of Utah and a fixture in the field of Western history, Farmer is uniquely qualified to assess the ways that the writing of Western history has shaped and influenced the historiography of Utah Mormonism.
Surprisingly, Farmer is fairly critical of the close relationship between the historiographies of Mormonism and the American West, suggesting that this closeness has often limited and inhibited our narratives of Utah Mormonism. Farmer argues, “From a long-range point of view, the conflation of Mormons and the American West has not been good for historiography. It has distorted Utah history, making it less diverse than it rightfully should be. It has reinforced parochialism inside the Beehive State and reinforced prejudices outside” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 157). Farmer’s critique is, of course, primarily aimed at those whose brand of Western history is still dominated by heroic stories of pioneering, settlement, and struggles between cowboys and Indians, what has been termed the Old Western History. It is a reminder to such historians that this brand of history generally lacks both sophistication and nuance, reinforcing racial stereotypes than denigrate Utah’s Native groups. Such efforts, Farmer warns, become little more than “faith-promoting history with footnotes” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 162). However well researched and written, such contributions are summarily disregarded by outsiders as historical fluff that adds little to the broader discussions of American History and the West.
Farmer’s critique of the parochialism of Mormon history is well founded. Despite the fact that European immigrants made up a significant percentage of those who participated in Mormonism’s westward migration, there are surprisingly few evaluations of the impact that this diversity had upon the development of Utah. Such a gap leaves a whole in the historiography that begs to be filled. Given the traditional challenges that immigrants have faced in the United States, the existence so many international communities in Utah offers intriguing opportunities for historical research. Similarly, Farmer justly criticizes the rather woeful disregard for Native Americans within the historiographies of both Utah and Mormonism. Drawing upon Patricia Limerick’s call for continuity in the study of the American West, Farmer pleads for a fuller study of Mormon interactions with Native Americans that includes both the nineteenth and twentieth-century interactions. Such historiographical shortcomings are hallmarks of the Old Western History, and demonstrate the significant problems created by plugging Utah Mormonism into Western History tropes.
Even the inclusion of Mormonism in the New Western History has been problematic in Farmer’s view. Whereas Farmer hoped that Patricia Limerick’s The Legacy of Conquest might have critiqued the Mormon historiography for its “excessively Turnerian” tone, Limerick’s focus cast Mormonism as a social and religious minority that evidenced the complexities of the West (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 163). In other words, Farmer suggests that Limerick missed an opportunity to offer needed critiques to Mormon history because Mormonism suited her thesis better being cast as a minority than as an example of the kind of Old Western History that needed revision. Accordingly he offers a number of suggestions where Mormon history could be dramatically improved.
First, drawing upon his critique that Western history had made Mormon history less “less diverse than it rightfully should be” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West,” 157), Farmer hopes that the future will yield more nuanced treatments of Native Americans, including what he hopes will be the definitive volume on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Secondly, he hopes for a brighter future for the history of Mormon women; one that will move beyond the mere publication of biographies and documents and demonstrate the interactions between Mormon and non-Mormon women in Utah. Third, he hopes that future historians will make greater efforts to integrate environmental history into the history of Mormonism, addressing topics such as the MX Missile issue. Finally, he suggests that historians need to come to terms with the questions of violence in Utah, uncovering whether the territory was “more or less or simply differently violent than other western settlement zones and periods” (Farmer, “Crossroads of the West, 169). In Farmer’s eyes, such developments will not fully materialize unless and until a greater number of non-Mormon historians follow the example of John Turner and take up the task of researching and writing Mormon history.
On the whole, Farmer’s suggestions are invaluable to both Mormon and Western historians alike. His suggestions for future areas of research and writing provide historians with a number of potential topics that would allow Mormon history to transcend its parochial nature and take on a greater national and historiographical significance. Among the ideas he suggests are: 1) A detailed analysis that places Mormon history within the framework of a “Greater Reconstruction” laid out in Elliott West’s The Last Indian War, and 2) A study that examines the practice of Mormonism from the useful perspective of the differences that naturally arise between a center and its peripheries. Such studies would have the potential to make Mormon history a more enticing field to unaffiliated historians, who might then take advantage of Mormonism’s rich—if at times, daunting—archival holdings. By thus expanding the breadth of Mormon history, perhaps there are opportunities to make it more than a mere subtopic of Western history in the future.
See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:
William Russell’s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.
His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell’s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with “affectionately” as the farewell?). Russell’s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA’s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith’s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.
Two aspects of Russell’s essay are worth expounding upon individually. (more…)
In my last post I looked at comparisons between Mormons and Thugs in the late nineteenth century. Today I look at Mormon reactions and the broader imperial context. (more…)
Today’s contribution to JI’s Roundtable on the Journal of Mormon History’s 50th anniversary issue comes from longtime friend of (and occasional guest contributor to) JI, David Howlett. David is currently visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College and author of The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Here he previews his own article published in JMH50, entitled “Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.”
Early career scholars (new PhDs and graduate students) across the country are studying Mormonism in greater numbers than ever before. At venerable institutions like the University of Virginia and Claremont Graduate University, MA and PhD students may even study with experts whose job descriptions include the field of Mormon studies. However, these same early career scholars and their post-PhD comrades face a strange paradox: never before have there been so many opportunities to do original research on Mormonism for so many people who compete for so few paying jobs.
My article in the most recent Journal of Mormon History focused on three “fields” in which an early-career Mormon studies scholar finds herself positioned: the field of publishing, the field of employment, and the new fields of study in Mormon history itself. For this brief abstraction of my relatively short article, I will only address two of these social fields: publishing and employment. (more…)
In this personal essay, MHA president Laurel Thatcher Ulrich compares her own path into Mormon history (from Mormon Idaho native to historian of early-American women) to that of Jan Shipps (from “Gentile” to historian of Mormonism). Shipps had called herself an “inside-outsider” in Zion; here, Ulrich calls herself an “outside-insider.” She is referring to the fact that she never intended to write Mormon history; rather, she had come to see herself professionally as a scholar of 17th- and 18th-century New England women. Of her recent research into her religious roots, Ulrich concludes that her training as a colonial historian has enabled her to see connections between Mormon history and American history that she otherwise would not see. She tantalizes us with allusions to her forthcoming book on the relationship between early-Mormon polygamous families and American women’s activism. Of particular interest to me in this narrative of her personal and professional development, though, is the way that distance has worked to her advantage in the writing of Mormon history. (more…)
This post resurrects an older occasional series here at JI devoted to interesting finds in the archives (manuscript, digital, or otherwise).
I’ve recently been reading Philip Gura’s recently released biography of William Apess, an itinerant Methodist preacher and American Indian activist in the early 19th century. While I was hopeful that Gura would note Apess’s fascinating encounter with Mormon missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde in 1832 (he regrettably doesn’t), I nevertheless recommend the book to readers here. As Jared Hickman has noted in his article on “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse” (see our Q&A with Hickman on the article here), the Book of Mormon and Apess’s writings speak to one another in interesting ways, and Gura’s biography fleshes out the meanings of Apess’s corpus of biographical, polemical, and prophetic writings, and the life of the man behind them, like nobody has before. (more…)
On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on. (more…)
As if the announcement of MHA’s 50th anniversary issue roundtable wasn’t exciting enough, we are also happy to bring back JI’s March Madness bracket tournament. You can find our group at this link. You will need to create your own (free) ESPN account and fill out your bracket by Thursday’s first game. Each participant is allowed up to two brackets. The winner gets bragging rights, as well as a digital trophy that we may or may not create by the Final Four.
Also, creative bracket names are encouraged.
The first issue of the Journal of Mormon History this year is a special volume in honor of the Mormon History Association’s 50th anniversary. It is guest-edited by Spencer Fluhman and Douglas Alder, and includes reflections on the past half-decade, a number of smart and provocative essays demonstrating the vibrancy of the field, and predictions concerning where Mormon history may go from here.
Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply to participate in a three week seminar from June 22-July 10 in Provo, Utah, surveying early Christian thought, Mormon theological foundations, contemporary social issues– and how we might find connections among all three. A rare opportunity to integrate the sometimes esoteric realms of Mormon theology with the practical, lived reality of our political engagement in the real world. Generous stipend for those selected.
Click here to download the attachments for more details and application instructions. The deadline has been extended from March 15 to March 22.
You might remember the “Thuggee cult” as the very bad guys in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), though there were some, uh… literary licenses taken with the religious practices. As understood by nineteenth-century Westerners, Thugs murdered hundreds of thousands of people in India from the 1300s to the 1800s—mostly by strangulation in furtherance of highway robbery—in fulfillment of religious duty. Today I sketch some ways Thugs figured in nineteenth-century rhetoric about Mormons.  (more…)
Today we continue our series about polygamy in LDS history, addressing the following question from a JI reader:
I’ve read that some marriage sealings were performed outside of temples. Where were these ceremonies performed and by whom? (more…)
This post is a continuation of last year’s “Mormon Studies in the Classroom” series. See the author’s previous post here, on Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom.
At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, my principal approached me about teaching an elective class related to any of my interests as an educator. I drafted and submitted a proposal for a class titled “History Detectives” (no relation to the PBS show), only to find that few students signed up for it. To make a short story long, I ended up teaching Creative Writing instead (despite the glaring lack of classes on my college transcript that contain either “Creative” or “Writing” in their titles). I had a good time with Creative Writing, though, and geared up to teach it a second time. (If you’ve never heard of lipograms, you should check them out! Pretty fun stuff.)
As the second semester of the 2014-2015 school year began, my principal asked if I could resurrect the History Detectives class and take on some of the middle school students that had nowhere else to go for an elective, either because they hadn’t paid their class fees, were behavior problems for other teachers, or simply needed an elective. I quickly scrapped the Creative Writing syllabus I had planned, and resurrected my plans for History Detectives. Here is the course description: (more…)
For today’s image we begin with an 1863 edition of Don Quixote illustrated by Gustave Doré and engraved by Héliodore Pisan.  Doré’s images are among the most famous and most influential illustrations of Quixote. The frontispiece illustrates how Quixote fixated on stories about knights: “His fancy grew full of what he used to read about in his books.”  (more…)
On January 22, 2015, the ASU Graduate Women’s Association hosted a panel, “Having Children in Graduate School,” which included me. During this panel, we discussed issues regarding parenthood among graduate students. As a mother of three children, I was impressed to hear about the experiences of other graduate students facing similar challenges to me. These concerns are real and widespread. I left that gathering empowered and motivated to bring these important issues to the attention of other higher education institutions and scholars. #GWAGradParent (more…)
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In my dissertation, I argue that the following statement in an 1835 letter from Oliver Cowdery to William Phelps was an important step in the development of the Mormons’ theology related to baptisms for the dead:
Do our fathers, who have waded through affliction and adversity, who have been cast out from the society of this world, whose tears have, times without number, watered their furrowed face, while mourning over the corruption of their fellowmen, an inheritance in those mansions? If so, can they without us be made perfect? Will their joy be full till we rest with them? And is their efficacy and virtue sufficient, in the blood of a Savior, who groaned upon Calvary’s summit, to expiate our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness?
Yet, I wondered who exactly Cowdery meant by “our fathers, who have waded through affliction and adversity,” etc. Early Mormons expressed a lot of concern for ancestors who died before Mormonism (a big reason for the embrace of baptisms for the dead), but Cowdery seemed to have particular people in mind. Val Rust’s Radical Origins: Early Mormon Converts and Their Colonial Ancestors (2004) argues that the early Mormon descended disproportionately from New England radicals who were often cast out and persecuted by other New Englanders but I was curious to what degree the early Mormons were aware of their radical ancestors and of their possible connection to them. (more…)
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