At the award-winning US Intellectual History Blog, David Sehat took on the monumental task of outlining the US History Canon (he had previously done a list on the 19th century here). Designed primarily as a template for a comprehensive exams reading list, it also aims to be a great source on standard debates in historiography. Here is the stated goal:
Come up with a list of truly canonical books that everyone who has gone to graduate school in U.S. history should have read. This is not just a list of intellectual and cultural history–it is supposed to include all the major works in modern U.S. history in all the different sub-specialties. In certain cases where an article was substantially the same as an important book, we added the article instead. We also left out many good books and books that would help to fill out a coherent narrative, trying instead to arrive at a truly canonical list. That is, of course, an impossible task, given the fragmentation and specialization of the historiography of the United States. But we thought it worth the effort in any case.
Of course, these types of lists are more to provoke discussion than to be a definitive statement. A so-called “canon” is more often a reflection of the compiler’s interests and background than an objective judging of the entire breadth of scholarship.
As a sucker for these types of lists, mostly because it gives a chance for reflection on the state of Mormon scholarship and it always reminds me of specific works I still need to read, I was hoping we could banter a little and come up with a similar type of list for Mormon history. The bloggernacle has had no shortage of these types of posts (see most recently here, but also here), but I hope we can build on those past threads and try to come up with an actual list.
Imagine that a PhD program in history or religious history allowed one field of a student’s comprehensive exams to be in LDS history,* what books would be required reading? I’m going to make the number shorter than typical comp lists, and make a cap at 25 books + 1 article. That means if you want to add a book, you need to state which book you’d remove. Also, the list needs to cover the entire two centuries of Mormonism, though this will be difficult since, as we have often noted on the blog, the lack of major works on the twentieth century. And this may be the first (of many) revelations of my own interests and background, but I give preference to books that shed light on broader themes and which use sophisticated academic methodologies—this is for a theoretical academic institution, anyway. But, these preferences don’t apply to all books that I think are important.
Despite for one exception each, I decided to leave out biographies, articles, and article collections, for several reasons. I also left out primary sources, because that would open up another can of worms. But this just means we will have to do another list for each of those categories!
Without further ado, the list, which I broke up into general themes and chronologies:
*Note: I am not saying that such a field should be available for one’s comprehensive exams. In fact, I think a student dedicating one of likely 4 comprehensive exam fields to Mormonism would be a terrible idea.
Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, revised ed. (1992)
Terryl Givens, A People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (2007)
Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons (1957)
Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (1985)
John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (1994)
Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (2005)
Terryl Givens, By The Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (2002)
Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism (1993)
Utah, Part I: Settlement
Leonard Arringon, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900 (1958)
Kathryn Daynes, More Wives than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (2001)
Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America (2001)
Paul Reeve, Making Space on the Mormon Frontier (2007)
Utah, Part II: Transition
Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1830 (1986)
Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (2003)
International Church / Assimilation
Philip Jenkins, “Letting Go: Understanding Mormon Growth in Africa,” Journal of Mormon History (Spring 2009): 1-26.
Edward Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (2005)
Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (1994)
Reid Neilson, Early Mormon Missionary Efforts in Japan, 1901-1924 (2010)
Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (2005)
Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion (1991)
Claudia Bushman, ed., Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (1997)
Douglas Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory (2000)
Jill Derr, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (2002)
Armand Mass, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (2003)
Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (1989)
E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (2003)
Alright, now for the debate: what did I miss? What would you add?
But remember the rules: if you add a book, you have to take one away. And hopefully we will make other lists that deal with articles, biographies, article collections, and primary sources.