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Scholarly Inquiry: Q&A with Thomas Simpson

By May 26, 2016


[We are pleased to share another Scholarly Inquiry, this time with Thomas Simpson, an instructor at Philips Exeter Academy. We have highlighted his scholarship here at JI twice before. His long awaited book, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940, is forthcoming from University of North Carolina Press. Make sure to pre-order his book from this site and use discount code 01DAH40 to get 40% off.]

simpson_american

1) How did you become interested in this topic?

Partly through deep and close family connections to Latter-day Saints, including many who have gone to BYU and earned graduate degrees from universities outside the Intermountain West. But I didn’t get seriously interested in the academic study of Mormonism until I was in graduate school at the University of Virginia. I was preparing for doctoral examinations, and intending to write a dissertation on the Social Gospel, when I became consumed by the question of Mormonism’s evolution from a small, persecuted sect into a vibrant, global faith. Shortly after I passed my exams (hallelujah!) my adviser, Heather Warren, gave me the green light to develop a proposal for a dissertation in Mormon history. I started searching through Davis Bitton’s Guide to Mormon Diaries & Autobiographies – initially looking for evidence of Mormon reactions to the Woodruff Manifesto – and I noticed something peculiar: a pattern of Mormons migrating to elite universities, as early as the 1870s. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I wanted to know more.

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In Memoriam: Ronald W. Walker, 1939-2016

By May 9, 2016


WalkerWord is beginning to spread that Ronald Walker, long time practitioner of Mormon history, passed away early this morning after a long struggle with cancer. Walker was immensely influential not only within the historical community, but also with many of us here at Juvenile Instructor on a personal level. We will have a post with individual tributes soon, where it will be clear that his personal relationships far outweighed even his academic work, but right now I want to give a brief overview of his scholarly accomplishments.

Originally from Montana and California, Walker received degrees from BYU, Stanford, and the University of Utah. At first part of the CES as an institute teacher and curriculum writer, Walker joined Leonard Arrington’s “camelot” in 1976. (Walker later helped fashion Arrington’s legacy through projects like co-editing his reflections.) When the history division was dissolved and moved to BYU in 1980, he became a professor of history and part of the newly-founded Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, and later became involved with the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies as well. He was exceptionally prolific during this period with articles, edited collections, and frequent involvement with BYU Studies. Walker retired from BYU in 2006 to be a full-time independent historian with a laundry list of projects to complete. 

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Spencer Fluhman Named Director of The Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

By May 4, 2016


FluhmanWhen the Juvenile Instructor was originally conceived in Fall 2007, it was by five BYU students who had at least two things in common. First: we loved Mormon history. And second: we were all significantly influenced by Spencer Fluhman, then an assistant professor of Church History at BYU. (A third point of similarity was we all loved to waste time on the bloggernacle.) Besides being a charismatic and gregarious professor, Dr. Fluhman represented the witty and integrative field of Mormon studies to which he contributed. Since that time, Juvenile Instructor flowered into what it is today, and Fluhman emerged as a leading figure in not on Mormon studies but American religious history. He moved over to the history department, published his award-winning A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 2012) which Jon Butler declared “the quintessential history book” (see our Q&A with Fluhman about the book here), and then was announced editor of the newly re-launched Mormon Studies Review (which I wrote about here). Three volumes of MSR have appeared since then, each containing reviews and essays from leading scholars in Mormon and American religious history, and the journal is now the premier arbiter for books in the field. (Note: I’m biased.)

Today, BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship announced Spencer Fluhman as the new director. You can read the official announcement here.

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Mormonism and American Politics: Curriculum for a Community Seminar

By April 21, 2016


slc-templeThis last year, as part of my position as a fellow with the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy here at the University of Missouri, I ran a seminar aimed for members of the Columbia, MO, community on Mormonism’s relationship with American politics. We just held our final meeting last week, and the entire seminar was an absolute blast. (But I may be biased.) I thought others might be interested to see what we read and discussed, and this post might serve as a resource for other scholars and onlookers.

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The LDS Church History Library Publishes Digital Version of the George Q. Cannon Journals

By April 14, 2016


CannonIt would be hard to overstate the importance of George Q. Cannon to nineteenth-century Mormonism–if you haven’t done so yet, you must read David Bitton’s exhaustive biography of the man–and there are few documentary records more important that Cannon’s diaries. Over a decade ago, the first of what was to be a long series of published editions of Cannon’s journals appeared, covering his California mission. Two years ago, the second volume of the series, covering his Hawaiian mission, finally arrived. If they continued at that rate, we might finally make it to the last volume by the end of the century.

Yet that patient publication rate ended today with the official online release of the LDS Church Historian’s Press digital edition of Cannon’s journals, which provides content for nearly all of the voluminous journals’ content.

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Write for Journal of Mormon History

By February 3, 2016


jmh_42_01_coverHere’s a message from JI’s good friend and recently-appointed editor of Journal of Mormon History, Jessie Embry:

Greetings JI readers. I enjoy seeing the interesting discussions that you have on the blog. I hope that you will consider expanding some of them and submitting them as articles to the Journal of Mormon History. There is not a back log anymore, and I am eagerly looking for seminar papers or chapters of your dissertations to enlighten the Mormon History Association members and other Journal of Mormon History readers. Guidelines for submitting articles are available on the MHA webpage. If you feel that you have something that is not quite ready for publication, I would enjoy working with you on it. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jessie L. Embry

Editor, Journal of Mormon History

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Previewing 2016: Looking Ahead to Forthcoming Books in Mormon History

By January 6, 2016


A few weeks ago I highlighted the year of 2015 in Mormon historiography. But I’m not here to talk about the past. In this post, I highlight a number of books I’m especially excited to see published in 2016. This list is not comprehensive—it’s nigh impossible to keep track of everything in the Mormon publishing world—but I hope it captures a taste of what we have in store over the next twelve months.

Even beyond this next year, there is still a lot more to be excited about. Kathleen Flake’s book on gender, power, and Mormon polygamy and Laurel Ulrich’s book on polygamous women’s diaries are certainly going to shake the field, but they are not quite ready for release. (Word is Ulrich’s book is in the pipeline for a year from now, though, and should arrive by AHA 2017). And we all know the works-in-progress by stars like Spencer Fluhman, Quincy Newell, Steve Taysom, and others that we eagerly anticipate. But I think we have enough here to satiate our appetite.

Without further ado…

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Top 10 Most-Read JI Posts in 2015

By December 29, 2015


If you’re like me, you’re currently prepping for a wild New Year’s party. (In my case, it’s cozying up with a handful of books and perhaps some orange juice.) However, you hopefully also have time to catch up with the 10 most-read JI posts from the last year. Below are the ten posts that received the most viewers over the last 12 months, and I’m sure they are worthy of another read.

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2015 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 7, 2015


Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the seventh such post, and previous installments are found herehere, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2015, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevent. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.

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New Journal of Mormon History Issue, Featuring a Roundtable on John Brooke’s REFINER’S FIRE

By October 30, 2015


JMH CoverThe latest issue of Journal of Mormon History is hot off the press this week and is now available to download for those of you who are members of the Mormon History Association. (And if you’re not a member, you can fix that right now.) Below are the articles in the issue:

  • RoseAnn Benson, “Alexander Campbell: Another Restorationist”
  • Nancy S. Kader, “The Young Democrats and Hugh Nibley at BYU”
  • Gregory A. Prince, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Historical Context: How a Historical Narrative Became Theological”
  • Gary James Bergera, “Memory as Evidence: Dating Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages to Louisa Beaman, Zina Jacobs, and Presendia Buell”
  • Elise Boxer, “The Lamanites Shall Blossom as the Rose: The Indian Student Placement Program, Mormon Whiteness, and Indigenous Identity”

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Introducing MHA’s New Executive Director

By September 29, 2015


MHAAs many readers know, the Mormon History Association recently conducted a search for a new executive director. A few weeks ago they chose Rob Racker, a long-time MHA attendee and Utah-area business consultant for the job. I was fortunate to spend a bit of time with Rob this last weekend at JWHA and he seems like an excellent choice. Below is a brief exchange for JI’s readers to get to know Rob a little better.

[Also, consider this your urgent reminder that MHA conference submissions are due in two days!]

What is your own background, especially your intersections with the Mormon history community?

My interest in Mormon History and studies/culture has spanned over my entire adult life, but especially over the last 20+ years. I have a business/consulting professional background mostly helping companies with financial management and systems issues, so the interest and passion in Mormon History is mostly been from an amateur perspective. I remember reading Sillitoe and Roberts’ Salamander and  Naifeh and Smith’s The Mormon Murders shortly after the Mark Hofmann episode and later Juanita Brooks’ Mountain Meadows Massacre. After these and a few other books I couldn’t get enough of the “warts-and-all” kind of church history vs. the purely devotional perspectives learned earlier in my life. My first MHA Conference was in 1996 at Snowbird and I have been hooked ever since. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie of the diverse personalities, opinions and approaches found within MHA.

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Proposing Panels for MHA’s Annual Conference: A Few Thoughts

By September 1, 2015


MHAWe are one month away from the deadline for MHA’s call for papers, so I thought this was as good a time as any to talk about the conference in general and conference papers in particular. I hope every reader of JI has had the privilege to attend MHA’s annual conference. It truly is a phenomenal time, with a mixture of solid papers and warm comraderie. It is quite unlike most historical conferences I attend where few people actually attend sessions and most people remain in the halls, at restaurants, and doing anything but hearing papers. There is certainly plenty of socializing and networking at MHA, but the thing that sets it apart is people actually care about the sessions, papers, and presenters. It’s refreshing, honestly. There are at times poorly-attended sessions, but more often than not the rooms are mostly filled, and not too infrequently they are overflowing with more anxious attendees than there are chairs. This is one of the conference’s great strengths.

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Coming to the October Ensign: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone

By August 4, 2015


Wanna know what Joseph Smith’s seer stone looks like? BEHOLD:

seer-stone-joseph-smith-ensign-liahona-october-2015_1512979_inl

Picture of Joseph Smith’s seer stone, found in “Joseph The Seer,” https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng.

Minutes ago, coinciding with a Joseph Smith Papers Project press conference announcing the publication of Revelations and Translations Volume 3, Parts 1 & 2, the Church’s website for their flagship magazine, The Ensign, posted an essay that will appear in the October issue. This essay, titled “Joseph The Seer,” was written by Richard Turley, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and our very own Robin Jensen. It discusses the translation of the Book of Mormon and gives a very candid and frank account of Joseph Smith’s usage of a seer stone. It also includes the picture above.

So, this is probably a big deal. Again, you can read the essay here. I’ll update with quotes an other relevant information as it becomes available.

UPDATE:

Here are a few choice quotes from the essay, which I again encourage everyone to read:

“Seeing” and “seers” were part of the American and family culture in which Joseph Smith grew up. Steeped in the language of the Bible and a mixture of Anglo-European cultures brought over by immigrants to North America, some people in the early 19th century believed it was possible for gifted individuals to “see,” or receive spiritual manifestations, through material objects such as seer stones.

The young Joseph Smith accepted such familiar folk ways of his day, including the idea of using seer stones to view lost or hidden objects. Since the biblical narrative showed God using physical objects to focus people’s faith or communicate spiritually in ancient times, Joseph and others assumed the same for their day. Joseph’s parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, affirmed the family’s immersion in this culture and their use of physical objects in this way, and the villagers of Palmyra and Manchester, New York, where the Smiths lived, sought out Joseph to find lost objects before he moved to Pennsylvania in late 1827.

And:

In later years, as Joseph told his remarkable story, he emphasized his visions and other spiritual experiences. Some of his former associates focused on his early use of seer stones in an effort to destroy his reputation in a world that increasingly rejected such practices. In their proselyting efforts, Joseph and other early members chose not to focus on the influence of folk culture, as many prospective converts were experiencing a transformation in how they understood religion in the Age of Reason. In what became canonized revelations, however, Joseph continued to teach that seer stones and other seeric devices, as well as the ability to work with them, were important and sacred gifts from God.

And:

In fact, historical evidence shows that in addition to the two seer stones known as “interpreters,” Joseph Smith used at least one other seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, often placing it into a hat in order to block out light. According to Joseph’s contemporaries, he did this in order to better view the words on the stone.

By 1833, Joseph Smith and his associates began using the biblical term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to any stones used to receive divine revelations, including both the Nephite interpreters and the single seer stone. This imprecise terminology has complicated attempts to reconstruct the exact method by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. In addition to using the interpreters, according to Martin Harris, Joseph also used one of his seer stones for convenience during the Book of Mormon translation. Other sources corroborate Joseph’s changing translation instruments.


Guest Post: Jeff Turner, “The First Vision in Mormon Missions”

By July 23, 2015


[We are pleased to have yet another guest post from Jeff Turner, incoming PhD student at the University of Utah. See his previous posts on early Mormon missions here and here.]

E5J19.pd-P3.tiffAs I was looking through some old JI posts today, I thought, “There’s a ton of posts on the First Vision!” So it only made sense to write another one.

Kathleen Flake and James Allen have provocatively argued that the First Vision grew in usage around the turn of the twentieth century.[1] I hope to add to this story from the narrow lens of the use of the First Vision in Mormon missions.

In 1840, Orson Pratt wrote the first missionary tract that contained an account of Smith’s vision. It reads: “He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, hut a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind; and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.”[2]

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 9: Chapters 22-24

By July 13, 2015


This is the ninth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.

Installments:

  • Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
  • Part 2: Chapters 3-4
  • Part 3: Chapters 5-6
  • Part 4: Chapters 7-9
  • Part 5: Chapters 10-12
  • Part 6: Chapters 13-15
  • Part 7: Chapters 16-18
  • Part 8: Chapters 19-21
  • Next Week: Chapters 25-27

GeneralJosephRichard Bushman begins Chapter 23 by saying, “Eighteen Forty may have been the happiest year of Joseph Smith’s life” (403). This was because it was basically a honeymoon period between the tragedy of Missouri and the rising tensions in Illinois. In these three chapters we meet a triumphant Joseph Smith—a Joseph Smith who pled his case to the President of the United States, earned the respect of intellectual observers, built a bustling city, and flirted with Christian heresies—and is notably couched in a triumphalist narrative. You could feel that it was in these years, 1839-1841, that Joseph Smith became a national figure worthy of more than mere parochial attention. Bushman compares the pro- and anti-Mormon literature of the previous few years that rarely mentioned Smith to the growth of pamphlets that now identified, engaged, denounced, and praised the Prophet. “Joseph Smith was at last given a name and a role in print as the searching youth to whom God and angels appeared,” he explains (402). Smith was finally a figure with which to be reckoned.

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MHA 2016 CFP: “Practice”

By June 10, 2015


MHA logo

Mormon History Association 51st Annual Conference

Call for Papers

2016 Snowbird, Utah

“Practice”

The 51st annual meeting of the Mormon History Association will take place on June 9-12, 2016*. The conference theme is simple yet evocative: “Practice.” The work of Mormon history in the past few decades has delved deeply into theological, institutional, and cultural research. And yet the richness of the lived realities of the Mormon experience begs to be uncovered in new ways that cut across these familiar categories. “Practice,” in this sense, is used broadly in order to capture the dynamic participation of individual adherents within diverse strains of Mormonism throughout the past two centuries. Several decades-worth of scholarship in “lived religion” provides the tools to capture these fresh perspectives. Mormonism’s distinctive religious morphology and substantial corpus of records creates a promising field for new theoretical understanding. What role does “practice” play in Mormon religiosity? What is the relationship between hierarchical, correlated authority and grassroots implementation and innovation? How do Mormon practices change, evolve, and adapt over generations and throughout global communities? How are global Mormon religious norms shaped by indigenous culture in Salt Lake City, Kinshasa, or Manila?  

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A Retrospective on John Brooke, “The Refiner’s Fire”: #MHA50 Session Preview

By June 2, 2015


Refiner's FireAnniversary conferences are a wonderful time to have retrospective panels that aim to chart the field’s development and future. Therefore, for MHA’s 50th anniversary, I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a panel that looks back on Mormon history’s most successful (in terms of academic awards) and most divisive (in terms of praise/rejection) book in the last few decades: John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1994). A recipient of both Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s Best Book Prize, most Mormon historians denounced the book as methodologically flawed and, in some corners, as anti-Mormon. This led to a bifurcated legacy: on the one hand, most religious historians’ only exposure to Mormonism is through the book, given its wide academic popularity, while most Mormon historians have tended to dismiss it and pretend it never happened.

Two decades later, it is time for a fresh look of both the book and its reception. What does Refiner’s Fire tell us about Mormonism’s place in the academy in the 1990s? What does its reception tell us about New Mormon History’s relationship to the broader historical community? How have the two fields developed in the past twenty years?

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Roundtable on Paul Reeve, RELIGION OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: Introduction

By May 5, 2015


ReevePaul Reeve‘s recent work, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (Oxford University Press, 2015), was one of the few books that were highly anticipated yet exceeded expectations. To both celebrate and engage its arguments, we here at the JI have organized a roundtable that will take place over the next three weeks and offer a multivocal overview and analysis of what will certainly become one of the classics of the developing (sub)field of Mormon studies, not to mention the best book on the contested issue of the Mormon racial restriction’s origins to date. In this post, I will give a general overview and discussion of the work’s framework, and starting next week we will hear from Janiece J, Nate R, Joey S., and Amanda HK on the different sections of the book. In total, we hope to identify Religion of a Different Color‘s biggest strengths, historiographical contributions, and contested questions, as well as future avenues that scholarship on Mormonism and race can take in the next generation.

Religion of a Different Color uses Mormonism as a case study for understanding notions of “race” throughout the ninteenth century. We may assume that such a concept has always been clear, yet ideas of what constituted “white,” “black,” and a myriad of other racial qualifiers were constantly in flux in early America. More, even while these ideas were contested, their meaning was all the more important: being considered “white” gave access to the rights of citizenship and, far to often, the dignity of humanity. (In the 1850s, there was even a rise of the “Know Nothing Party,” a political base which centered around the principle of purely white citizenship.) This made the case of the Mormons all the more peculiar: by most estimations, they were clearly Angl0-Americans descended from the very ethnic lineages that were supposedly valid. Yet a combination of their actions and beliefs led Mormonism’s contemporaries to marginalize the sect any way they could, including through racial othering. Mormons were depicted as blending the racial lines between white and black, white and red, and eventually even white and yellow. In response, Mormons tried to prove their whiteness, and thus validate their rights of citizenship and civilization, by marginalizing the racial minorities within their own Church, most famously by instituting a restriction on black access to priesthood and temple activities.

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#JMH50 Roundtable: Richard Bushman’s “Reading the Gold Plates”

By April 9, 2015


JMH50Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”
Tona H on Richard Turley’s “Global History of the Church”

If Leonard Arrington was the dean of New Mormon History, Richard Bushman is the patriarch of Mormon studies.[1] Bear with me for a moment while I get into some nerdy insider historiographical speak. The term “Mormon studies” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes to the point that it loses all usefulness. Does it just mean any “study” of “Mormonism”? Does it have to be academic? Does it include apologetics? Is it, *gasp*, “objective”? Does “Mormon” imply the institutional experience of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answers to these questions vary depending on who you ask.

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MHA Updates: Conference Program & New Website

By March 30, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.29.48 AMIn 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.

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