2017 in Retrospect: An Overview of Recent Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 4, 2017

Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevant. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.

The Instant Classic

Readers of this blog should already be familiar with Ulrich’s new book. (And hopefully everyone has already read our summer book club devoted to the masterpiece.) If you’re interested in my take, my review is found in Dialogue. In short: it’s perhaps the most significant book in Mormon studies since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and perhaps surpasses even that. Make sure to read the roundtable devoted to Ulrich in the most recent issue of Mormon Studies Review; and while you’re there, make sure to subscribe to the field’s best review journal.

Women’s History

  • Carol Cornwall Madsen, Emmeline B. Wells: An Intimate History (University of Utah Press).
  • Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook, eds., At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women (Church Historians’ Press).
  • Jennifer Reeder, “‘To Expound Scriptures, and to Exhort the Church’: Nineteenth-Century Mormon Women and Public Discourse,” Mormon Historical Studies 18, no. 1 (2017): 1-24.
  • Keith Lawrence, “Nineteenth-Century Women’s Hymns and American Spiritual Democracy,” Literature and Belief 36, no. 1&2 (2016): 217-249.

The Mormon history field has long-awaited Madsen’s sequel to the first volume in her Wells biography. Luckily, we weren’t disappointed: Madsen is the historian worthy of one of Mormonism’s most important historical figures. Speaking of great historians, our own Jenny Reeder adds great insight into how the devotional discourse of Mormon women, which in turn is based off of the excellent sermons collection. (See also the accompanying website.) And as a former student of Keith Lawrence, I wasn’t surprised by his careful analysis of women’s hymns during Mormonism’s first century.

New Perspectives on Race

  • Max Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Unviersity of North Carolina Press).
  • Tonya Reiter, “Black Saviors on Mount Zion: Proxy Baptisms and Latter-day Saints of African Descent,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 4 (October): 100-123.
  • Matthew W. Dougherty, “None Can Deliver: Imagining Lamanites and Feeling Mormon, 1837-1847,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 3 (July): 22-45.

Max is JI family, so we are thrilled to cheer on his solid first new book. Read our own Matt B’s review here, and my overview here. Reiter’s and Doughetry’s essays are similarly excellent contributions to the continuing effort of revising traditional Mormon narratives.

Re-Thinking Mormon Finances

  • D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power (Signature Books).
  • Christine Talbot, “Mormons, Gender, and the New Commercial Entertainments, 1890-1920,” Journal of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era 16, no. 3 (2017): 302-324.
  • Matthew Godfrey, “Wise Men and Wise Women: The Role of Church Members in Financing Church Operations, 1834-1835,” Journal of Church History 43, no. 3 (July 2017): 1-21.

Given how how religion and capitalism is nowadays, it makes sense that there should be an uptick in work on Mormonism and money. Quinn’s volume is the long-anticipated conclusion to his Mormon Hierarchy trilogy, and details how the church’s relationship with money has changed over the years. (See my overview here.) Future work will have to be more conversant with new trends in race and gender, the latter of which is covered in Talbot’s provocative and smart essay about the progressive era, as well as Godfrey’s look during the Kirtland period.

Territorial Utah

The first few decades of Utah settlement have received a ton of scholarship, but there always seems to be new avenues for analysis. Rogers’s book is a fascinating examination of how Utah fit into national discussions concerning federal rule, popular sovereignty, sectional politics on the eve of the Civil War. (I reviewed it here.) The documentary volume from Turley/Johnson/Carruth sheds light on the legal trials related to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the article by all-stars Gordon and Shipps, which I digest here, offers a fresh perspective on the episode. David Walker is one of the brightest up-and-coming scholars of American religion, and this paper is a very smart take on how Mormons and non-Mormons worked together to boost railroad tourism.

Joseph Smith Papers

  • Rogers, Brent M., Elizabeth A. Kuehn, Christian K. Heimburger, Max H Parkin, Alexander L. Baugh, and Steven C. Harper, eds. Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Vol. 5 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew C. Godfrey (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press).
  • Ashurst-McGee, Mark, David W. Grua, Elizabeth Kuehn, Alexander L. Baugh, and Brenden W. Rensink, eds. Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839, Vol. 6 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew C. Godfrey (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press).

Yeah, yeah, I know, “Just like every year, the JSP produced two new phenomenal volumes,” blah blah blah, “high standard for documentary editing,” [insert other yearly praise here]. But seriously, these are great volumes. I’m especially excited that the documents series has reached the Nauvoo period.

Mormonism Amongst American Religions

These books aren’t focused on Mormonism, but they all use Mormonism as one of their central case studies within a larger analysis. They are also very good. (I reviewed Jortner’s book here, and Mullen’s book here.)

The Borderlands

  • Colleen McDannell, “Mexicans, Tourism, and Book of Mormon Geography,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 50, no. 2 (Summer): 55-86.
  • Barry A. Joyce, “The Temple and the Rock: James W. Lesueur and the Synchronization of Sacred Space in the American West,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 2 (April): 131-148.

I’d argue that some of the best scholarship on Mormonism in recent years engage the southwest borderlands: the porous boundaries between America, Mexico, and indigenous populations. These two articles are an example of that. (I gave a brief overview of Joyce’s article here.)

International Mormonism

  • Julie K. Allen, Danish But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850–1920 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017).
  • James A. Toronto, Eric R Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer, Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy (BYU RSC Press).
  • Susan W. Howard, “William Jarman: That Anti-Mormon Apostle of the British Isles,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 1 (January): 59-86.
  • Reid L. Neilson and Scott Marianno, “The Little Head Stones Became Monuments: Death in the Early Samoan Mission and the Creation of the Fagali’i Cemetery,” BYU Studies Quarterly 56, no. 1: 45-73.
  • Po Nien (Felipe) Chou, Petra Chou, and Tyler Thorsted, “The Chinese Scriptures,” Mormon Historical Studies 17, no. 1&2 (2016): 85-119.

The study of global Mormonism is always the “most-important-yet-always-nascent” field within Mormon studies. This work helps us get closer to that hope’s fulfillment. You can see the JI review of Allen’s book here. And the final two articles come from an issue of Mormon Historical Studies that was entirely devoted to the topic.

Interdisciplinary Mormonism

  • Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “The Clock and the Compass: Mormon Culture in Motion,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 2 (April): 1-20.
  • Grant Wacker, “Reckoning with History: Richard Bushman, George Marsden, and the Art of Biography,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 2 (April): 21-45.
  • Mason Kamana Allred, “Circulating Specters: Mormon Reading Networks, Vision, and Optical Media,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85, no. 2 (2017): 527-548.
  • James R. Swensen, “Reflections in the Water: An Exploration of the Various Uses of C. R. Savage’s 1875 Photograph of the Mass Baptism of the Shivwit,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 3 (July): 96-121.

A key tenet of Mormon studies is interdisciplinary approaches, and these four articles give a taste of diverging methodological skills. Maffly-Kipp’s MHA presidential address, which I summarize here, re-visions how we could frame Mormonism’s past in a way that would be much more inclusive. Wacker’s paper is from the Smith-Pettit Address last year, and asks penetrating questions about the biographer’s craft. Allred’s JAAR article is a brilliant meditation on Mormonism and the modes of media. (Also check out the MSR roundtable on a similar topic.) And Swensen’s overview of a famous photograph of a Native mass baptism is both revealing and fascinating.

Mormon Theology

  • Terryl L. Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought, Part II: Church and Praxis (Oxford University Press).
  • Elizabeth Mott, “Mormon Canonizing Authority and Women’s Gender Theologies, 1890-1942,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 1 (January): 111-151.
  • Stephen Taysom, “‘Satan Mourns Naked upon the Earth’: Locating Mormon Possession and Exorcism Rituals in the American Religious Landscape, 1830-1977,” Religion & American Culture 27, no. 1 (Winter): 57-94.
  • Christopher James Blythe, “Ann Booth’s Vision and Early Conceptions of Redeeming the Dead among Latter-day Saints,” BYU Studies Quarterly 56, no. 2: 105-122.
  • Johnny Stephenson and H. Michael Marquardt, “Origin of the Baptism for the Dead Doctrine,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring/Summer): 132-146.

The evolution of Mormon thought is always a field rife for reanalysis. Givens’s Feeding the Flock is the sequel to his earlier volume on the origins of Mormon theology. Mott’s article is a much-needed attempt at placing women’s voices at the center of the Mormon theological narrative. Taysom’s is a sophisticated analysis of demon narratives within the LDS faith, which is teased in this phenomenal Maxwell Institute podcast. And the final two articles are competing arguments concerning the Mormon ritual of baptism for the dead.

The Council of Fifty

  • Matthew Grow and Eric Smith, eds., Council of Fifty Minutes: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History (BYU RSC Press).
  • Christopher James Blythe, “The Church and the Kingdom of God: Ecclesiastical Interpretations of the Council of Fifty,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 2 (April): 100-130.
  • Christopher Blythe, “The Council of Fifty Minutes and Latter Day Saint Studies on Succession,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring/Summer): 83-94.
  • John S. Dinger, “The Council of Fifty, Orson Hyde, and the ‘Last Charge’: A Re-evaluation,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 2 (Fall/Winter): 62-82.

It’s been a year since the Council of Fifty minutes were released, so we are starting to see the new work based on its contents. The Grow/Smith volume has a collection of short and provocative takes—I overviewed my chapter here–and the other articles listed take on particular angles.

Nauvoo Mormonism

  • Jeffrey David Mahas, “‘I Intend to Get Up a Whistling School’: The Nauvoo Whistling and Whittling Movement, American Vigilante Tradition, and Mormon Theocratic Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 43, no. 4 (October): 37-67.
  • Jeffery O. Johnson, “Messaging the Public: Joseph Smith, Willard Richards, W. W. Phelps and the Boston Bee,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring/Summer): 147-156.
  • Quinten Barney, “Joseph Smith’s Last Weeks: Insights from the Journal Entries of Alexander Neibaur,” Mormon Historical Studies 18, no. 1 (2017): 65-76.

Speaking of new takes on the Nauvoo period, here are a few more! (Sorry, I have Nauvoo on my brain nowadays.)

Making of Modern Mormonism

  • Matthew Harris, “Ezra Taft Benson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Emergence of a Conspiracy Culture within the Mormon Church,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring/Summer): 51-82.
  • Newell G. Bringhurst, “David O. McKay’s 1954 Confrontation with Mormonism’s Black Priesthood Ban,” JWHA Journal 37, no. 2 (Fall/Winter): 1-11.

We are all anxiously waiting for Harris’s forthcoming volumes on modern Mormonism, including a documentary history on Benson, but for now we’ll just have to be satisfied with a glimpse through this article. And Bringhurst continues to piece together the slow unraveling of Mormonism’s racial restriction.

Miscellaneous

This is the catch-all of work I couldn’t fit into particular categories. Mason, whom I convince is a robot due to his productivity, provides a brief historical overview that would work great in the classroom. Benson’s book is a comparative analysis of two figures typically analyzed together. Stone’s article is a preview of his forthcoming biography of Bickerton, and Walker’s exemplifies his continued engagement with the Smith family (broadly defined).

What a year! Glad to have the JI family along the road.

What did I miss? Please highlight your favorite books and articles from the last year in the comments.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Historiography JIers in Print


  1. The Study of Mormon Studies (SOMS) Bibliography published by the Maxwell Institute and Mormon Studies Review is probably worth a mention. It’s a compilation of sources that have the nature, purpose, value or future of Mormon Studies as a primary theme. Print and new media sources are included. It’s here: https://atom.lib.byu.edu/soms/advanced/

    Comment by Heather — December 4, 2017 @ 9:47 am

  2. Ben, thanks for your review as always. What book have you not reviewed!?

    Comment by Hannah J — December 4, 2017 @ 9:53 am

  3. Great summary and write-up, Ben. Thanks!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 4, 2017 @ 10:43 am

  4. Thanks, Ben, for this write-up!

    Comment by Max Mueller — December 4, 2017 @ 11:20 am

  5. This was so nice to read. I was especially glad to learn of Julie Allen’s book. (Somehow I didn’t know about it.)

    Comment by Rachel — December 4, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

  6. Thanks so much for doing this.
    I found it very useful. But darn it, in Mormon history there is always too much to read!

    Comment by Mario S. De Pillis, Sr. — December 4, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

  7. Nice job, Ben! I enjoyed reading your overview.

    Comment by Matt Harris — December 4, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

  8. What a year it’s been! Thanks for including Mike and I on your list. Some good things here I still need to get to!

    Comment by johnny stephenson — December 5, 2017 @ 12:00 am

  9. Thank you, Ben, for your perennial service.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — December 5, 2017 @ 10:39 am

  10. Thanks much Ben for this overview! It’s always a treat at the end of the year.

    Comment by Daniel Stone — December 6, 2017 @ 9:37 am

  11. The Arrington Diaries were a highlight this year. Wait . . . they didn’t come out yet. Well, Gary’s work is always worth the wait. Hopefully, 2018!

    Comment by Terry H — December 8, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

  12. Thanks, Terry H. It looks like early next year–maybe February/March.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 8, 2017 @ 9:49 pm

  13. Great selection! Thank you for writing this up.

    I was surprised to not see Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History on this list. But great list otherwise! https://uofupress.lib.utah.edu/leonard-arrington-and-the-writing-of-mormon-history/

    Comment by Hannah N. — December 11, 2017 @ 10:10 am

  14. Hannah: that’s because we highlighted the book last year!

    Comment by Ben P — December 11, 2017 @ 11:31 am

  15. Whoops! Realized it was an older book after I posted the comment. Thank you!

    Comment by Hannah N. — December 11, 2017 @ 11:40 am


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