Q&A with Brian Birch: “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism”

By August 29, 2016


When we highlighted the creation of a new course at the University of Utah sponsored by the Tanner Humanities Center, we reached out to the course professor and Marlin K. Jensen Scholar and Artist in Residence of the Tanner Center, Brian Birch, with a few questions. He has generously responded to them below.

Course Poster

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JI Heads Back to School 4

By August 23, 2016


History enrollments are on the decline nationwide. There are a number of possible explanations for this.  At my institution, the popular explanations number two, one a broader assumption that’s difficult to document and the other the result of internal campus politics.  The first is that the economic slump has made students increasingly hard-nosed and career-focused when they think about what they’re going to do with their education.  The second is that another department began a program that has sucked away a number of students who once majored in history with an eye toward law school.

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JI Heads Back to School 3

By August 22, 2016


I am a compulsive planner. Therefore, most of the work that I do in getting ready for the semester is planning out which readings and assignments will take the most effort and concentration throughout the semester, the next term, and the following summer. I firmly believe that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. A good spring semester starts with planning. A good spring builds on a good fall. And a good summer builds on top of a great school year.

Planning Process

While reading this post, it’s also important to keep in mind that I am constantly thinking about how to be a good husband and father while doing everything I need to do with school and work. Every person needs to figure out his or her own work/family balance. However, for me, I know I will have primary care for my daughter on Mondays and part of Fridays and will be with my family for most Saturdays and Sundays. My wife works part time as a CPA (which means full-time during busy season). It takes a lot of planning and flexibility, but it’s worked well for my family situation (so far). However, it’s taken a lot of trial, error, and help from friends and family.

[I wrote this before Amanda’s intro to the series, and I wanted to add something: GET OUT AND FIND SOME MENTORS. You may be waiting for that perfect professor to come along that will take you under their wing. I’ve been lucky enough to have supportive and kind mentors at every level of my education, but I’ve benefited just as much, if not more, from “horizontal mentoring.” Ask questions to the people at your level, just ahead, or just below. Make academic friends on Facebook/Twitter/anywhere you go. You’ll learn and teach more effectively if you’re learning from and teaching those around you, too.]

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JI Heads Back to School-Part 2

By August 18, 2016


Here’s part one from Amanda in the series.

I just shaved for the first time in a month. Although, in my defense, I think I grow a decent beard.

This summer has beeacademian a hodge-podge of various things I needed to do, thrown into a bucket from which I pull one thing at a time, blindfolded. I’ve vacationed, taken a class, gotten a job, experienced loads of car trouble, did maintenance on a house, and even watched Star Wars in a park. Each day was different than the previous. The ambitious reading list I made going into the summer remains incomplete, and I’ve just only come to grips with that. The randomness of summer life was perplexing and refreshing.

Heading back to school for me means getting into a routine again (probably something I should have done better over the summer). I’m starting year two of my PhD program, my final year of classes… huzzah! I’m genuinely excited to be in them. This time of year always reminds me of beginning a Harry Potter book, with the fervor of magical possibilities on the train-ride to Hogwarts, or the Trax-ride to the University of Utah. Who knows what life will be like by the end of the year? The possibilities for progress are grand, indeed.

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JI Heads Back to School

By August 17, 2016


It’s almost eleven o’clock in the evening right now, and both of my daughters are in bed. The youngest – a baby about three months old – conked out hours ago. The older one was a bit harder to put to bed. She insisted that she didn’t want a bath and, like many three year olds, begged to have the light left on when she crawled into bed. My husband did the work of reading to her and cuddling with her until she fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was working on a syllabus that is now months overdue.

A few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook breaking down the ethnicity and gender of the current professoriate. According to the post, there were

176,485 full professors in the United States.
72% of these positions were held by white men.

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It takes a village — or a ward: A Brief Rundown of Mormon References in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Deseret News Op-ed

By August 10, 2016


IMG_7274This morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton took the significant (unprecedented?) step of penning an op-ed in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Clinton has been polling competitively in Utah (though the most recent polls show Donald Trump with a widening lead), and the Clinton camp clearly thinks they have a real shot in the Beehive State.

The Democratic nominee’s competitiveness in Utah is due almost entirely to Trump’s well-chronicled problems with Mormon voters (and the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who also recently wrote a Deseret News op-ed attempting to clarify (read: fix the fallout from) his unbelievably stupid comments suggesting that religious freedom might allow Mormons “to shoot somebody else” because “God has spoken to them,” to say nothing of the recent announcement of Washington D.C.-based Mormon and former CIA agent Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for President). But in her op-ed today, Clinton (clearly aided by a staffer very much in-the-know about Mormonism) attempted to make the case for why Utah voters (read: Mormons) should vote for her (and not just why they shouldn’t vote for Trump).

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Mormon Enigma Summer Book Club

By August 9, 2016


We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Summer Book Club! Each post in our series can be found below:

  • Week 1: Emma and Joseph, 1825-1827; The “Elect Lady” 1827-1830 [June 6]
  • Week 2: Gathering in Ohio, 1830-1834; Seas of Tribulation, 1834-1838; Strife in Missouri; Sanctuary in a Swamp, 1839-1841 [June 13]
  • Week 3: A New Order of Marriage, 1841-1842; In Search of Iniquity, Spring-Summer 1842; Aid to the Fugitive, June-September 1842 [June 20]
  • Week 4: More Wives and a Revelation, September 1842-July 1843; The Poisoning, June-December 1843; “Voice of Innocence,” January-June 1844 [June 27]
  • Week 5: A Final Farewell, June 12-28, 1844; The Lady and the Lion, Fall 1844; Inherit the Legacy, October 1844-October 1845 [July 4 or 5]
  • Week 6: The Sun Casts a Shadow, Winter 1845-1846; War in Nauvoo, February-December 1846; The Major, 1846-1849 [July 11]
  • Week 7: Change in Nauvoo, 1850-1860; Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son, 1860-1870 [July 18]
  • Week 8: Josephites and Brighamites, 1870-1877; The Last Testimony, 1873-1879; Epilogue [July 25]

We hope you’ll join us next summer! Feel free to suggest a book for next year’s series in the comments.


Working with the LDS Church History Library

By August 8, 2016


This summer I’ve been rewriting my manuscript on Mormon liturgy and cosmology, and I have thought many times how much more difficult it would have been without the extraordinary increase in documents accessibility over the last decade. I live a thousand miles away from Salt Lake City, research mostly in the evening, and only am on-site at the various archives for short moments. I know there were some heady times in the LDS Church archives decades ago (without which we could not do what we do now, even), but I think it is currently the best time to be researching Mormon history. Camelot Shmamelot.

In this post I thought I would share some pointers as a guide for those interested in similar work. This post is focusing on the LDS Church History Library (CHL), and includes some recent correspondence I have had with Keith Erekson, director of the CHL. Also, please note that the CHL will be closed to the public for renovations from October 10, 2016 to February 21, 2017.

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Review, Martha Bradley-Evans, GLORIOUS IN PERSECUTION: JOSEPH SMITH: AMERICAN PROPHET, 1839-1844

By August 1, 2016


Martha Bradley-Evans, Glorious in Persecution: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1839-1844 (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2016).

Glorious-in-Persecution-681x1024Martha Bradley-Evans is perhaps the most under-appreciated historian of Mormonism. Over the past few decades she has produced a number of significant books as well as mentored a number of young scholars. Several of her volumes were published with Signature Books, where she also serves on their editorial board, so it made sense for the Smith-Pettit Foundation to tab her to be one of three authors to produce an exhaustive trilogy on Joseph Smith’s life, which was originally scheduled for the year of his bicentennial in 2005. As it is with many scholarly projects, however, things took much longer. Finally, a couple months ago, Bradley-Evans’s volume, which was to be the third in the biographical series, was released. (The volume that covers Joseph Smith’s early life, authored by the late Richard S. Van Wagoner, will appear shortly.)

Even if this book is officially a solo volume, it still features the markings of its original intent, both in scope and context. First and foremost, it seeks to be an exhaustive overview of the final five years in Joseph Smith’s life, as all three “biographies” were meant to present 2000-odd pages devoted to every facet of Mormonism’s founding prophet—a must-have resource for any devoté, and a handy resource for anyone interested in the topic.[1] And secondly, Bradley-Evans’s approach and content reflect more the period in which the project was originally conceived—over a decade ago—than the period in which it was finally published. But more on that later.

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CHL Internships: Historic Sites and Joseph Smith Papers

By July 28, 2016


Historic Sites Intern

POSITION

Intern, 28 hours per week, 1 year. Deadline: 8 August 2016

PURPOSES

This successful applicant will work with the full-time staff of the Historic Sites Division of the Church History Department to research and write historical reports regarding the sacred places of the restoration. The Intern will also assist with other projects, as needed. This is an exciting and unique opportunity for someone interested in Church history and for those pursuing a career in the history field. We are looking for a motivated and hardworking self-started to join our team!

This is a paid internship, which is anticipated to last one year (12 months). This position is a part-time (approximately 28 hours per week) hourly, nonexempt position. The candidate must be currently enrolled in, or recently graduated from (within the last 12 months), an undergraduate or graduate degree program.

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Death and the Historian’s Empathy

By July 27, 2016


My grandmother’s best friend was murdered on October 15, 1985 by Mark Hoffman. Kathy Sheets was not the intended target of the bomb that ended her life but that didn’t really seem to matter to the bombmaker, forger, and murderer. Hoffman also murdered Steve Christensen, one of my grandfather’s business partners, in an attempt to divert attention from his money problems related to forging early American documents. Many of Hoffman’s most famous forgeries were documents supposedly created by 19th century Mormons, including letters, receipts, currency, and legal affidavits.

I have known of Mark Hoffman’s crimes since I was very small. My grandparents kept a photograph of Kathy Sheets in their home and she looks startlingly like my grandmother. In fact, for many years I did not know the photograph was of Kathy, I just thought it was my grandmother.

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A Brief History of Mormon Prayers at the Republican National Convention

By July 26, 2016


Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.20.41 PMLast week, Nathan Johnson, an African-American convert to Mormonism who currently serves as second counselor in the Kirtland Ohio Stake Presidency, offered the invocation on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson’s prayer attracted a fair amount of attention, both because of Mormons’ widespread distaste for Donald Trump and his campaign and because of the prayer’s content. But Johnson was not the first Latter-day Saint to pray at the Republican National Convention. In fact, four out of the last five have featured invocations by Mormons: Steve Young (2000), Sheri Dew (2004), Ken Hutchins (2012), and Nathan Johnson (2016). Only the 2008 convention lacked a Latter-day Saint prayer.[1] 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare their respective prayers, to note any commonalities between them (beyond use of thee, thou, and thine), and to consider the contexts in which they were given. What follows below is a transcription of each invocation, followed by my preliminary attempt to briefly historicize each.

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Emma and Polygamy– Summer Book Club Week 8: Mormon Enigma, Chaps. 21-23

By July 25, 2016


This is the eighth installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. You can read installments one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven here.. This part focuses on chapters 21 through 23 (Epilogue), which follow Emma at the end of her life through her passing in April of 1879 and continuing her legacy.

Chapter 21, “Josephites and Brighamites: 1870-1877” continues with Joseph III’s leadership of the new Reorganized Church, and his attempts to proselytize for membership in Utah and California, first through assigned missionaries and later by sending his own brothers to Utah.  These meetings in the 1860s and 1870s were awkward and politely cautious at best, and volcanic at worst.  Mormons in Utah seemed fascinated by these visits from the offspring of their beloved dead prophet, even holding out hope that they might reconvert to the “true church.”  Cousins met cousins on politely civil ground, but the visiting “Josephites” from Illinois and the established “Brighamites” in Utah could only dance in cold, tense circles around each other, until some visits escalated into blow-ups, sometimes over succession, but always over polygamy.  Of course, Brigham Young consistently placed blame for all of this squarely on Emma.  This chapter highlights how the visits of the sons only heightened Brigham’s pent-up anger toward Emma.  At one meeting with Church leaders, someone tried to remind Brigham that “We love these boys for their father’s sake,” but still he blew up, insisting that Emma was “the damnedest liar that lives,” (285) and that she had tried to kill Joseph twice through poisoning.  Honestly, I was struck by the very sexist way these grown men on both sides used this aging woman as a pawn in their tit-for-tat over plural marriage. Just as Brigham was absolutely obsessed with proving the divinity of plural marriage and it connections to Joseph, so did Joseph III have a “recurring preoccupation with separating his church and family from the taint of plural marriage.”  (291)  The two could never be reconciled.

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Pioneer Day Talks– Some Helpful Dos and Don’ts for a July Tradition

By July 22, 2016


It is that time of year again, when members all over the world are asked to give talks honoring July 24, 1847– the official date when a company of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley via Emigration Canyon.  For Mormons, this is a significant date of historical and spiritual meaning: it marks the moment of relief after years of persecutions in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; it represents finding formal safety in their exile, freedom from religious persecution, distance from the oppressors, and arrival and rebirth in a land of spiritual and physical  possibility. In Utah, Idaho, and other western states where members might be more likely to trace some ancestry back to the original pioneers, the third Sunday in July is usually set aside to honor the pioneer experience in a religious setting.

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Summer Reads 2016

By July 20, 2016


A few weeks ago, Tom Cutterham at The Junto shared what he was reading this summer. I thought it would be fun to post about what I and other JIers are reading this summer–both to find new books to read and because I’m interested in what folks choose to read for pleasure. Please share what you’re reading in the comments! 

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Summer Book Club Week 7: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 17-19

By July 18, 2016


Click here for part onetwothree, fourfive, and six of this year’s summer book club. 

This week’s chapters address Emma’s experiences in Nauvoo after the population of Nauvoo became thoroughly non-Mormon (Ch 19: “Change in Nauvoo,” 1850-1860) and as her sons (and Joseph Smith, the prophet’s sons) became established as adults and potentially key figures within Mormonism (Ch 20: “Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son,” 1860-1870).

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Review: Philip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850

By July 14, 2016


Protestant CommunalismPhilip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 

A little more than five years ago, I posted some thoughts on Scott Rohrer’s chapter on Mormonism in his Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). I was particularly intrigued by his inclusion of Mormonism in a volume on Protestant migrations, and a lively conversation and debate over whether Mormonism is, was, or ever has been Protestant ensued in the comments.

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Summer Book Club Week 6: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 16-18

By July 11, 2016


Click here for part onetwothree, four, and five of this year’s summer book club. 

 This week’s chapters address the transitions in Emma Smith’s life from Winter 1845-1846 through the removal of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo in 1846 to the Elect Lady’s marriage to Lewis Bidamon and his travels throughout 1849. Brilliantly, the authors open these chapters with a letter forged by James Bennet and/or associates of his, published in the New York Sun. In the fraudulent letter, someone impersonating Emma claims that the current governing leaders of the Mormon Church were “tyrants” and that she planned to raise her children in another faith. Furthermore, the letter-writer claimed to have never believed her husband’s revelations or his religious innovations.

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Two Thoughts on Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Utah, 2016)

By July 8, 2016


Gregory A. Prince, Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016), and
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), with William Robert Wright.

 

Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History is perhaps most usefully read in tandem with Prince’s earlier book published with the University of Utah Press, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (with William Robert Wright; 2005). The covers of the two books resemble each other; their size, in both height and width as well as thickness, are all designed to present them as visual twins. I think we might be able to read them as an intellectual pair as well.

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Heavenly Ledgers and Ghostly Specters: Two Recent Articles

By July 7, 2016


Mormonism and Media Studies, at least from a historical perspective, has been a relatively neglected topic. Recently, however, two major academic journals have published articles that engage Mormon history from the perspective of German media theorist Friedrich A. Kittler. The first article is by John Durham Peters, the A. Craig Baird Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. It is entitled “Recording beyond the Grave: Joseph Smith’s Celestial Bookkeeping” and it appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Critical Inquiry. The article is unfortunately only available to subscribers, but here is an excerpt: 

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