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 here, here, here, here, here, here, here, 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.
By June 26, 2017
This is the fourth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week’s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.
The introduction of polygamy during Nauvoo has received plenty of attention. Starting with Fawn Brodie’s exploration of Joseph Smith’s dozens of wives, scholars ranging from Todd Compton, Richard Bushman, George Smith, Brian Hales, Martha Bradley-Evans, Lawrence Foster, and Merina Smith have offered interpretations of the complex topic. The paucity of solid contemporary documents and proliferation of problematic reminiscences–not to mention the presence of teenage brides and polyandrous unions–make it a briar patch for writers. However, a common theme has dominated much of the general narrative: Joseph Smith, either divinely appointed of personally driven, sought to extend his sacerdotal connections through plural marriages. Fellow male leaders, eager to please their prophet and capitalize on his teachings, entered their own polygamous marriages. This secretive practice drew outside ire whenever rumors leaked, but internally it caused solidarity and strengthened loyalty. In this traditional framework, Nauvoo polygamy revolved around power and confidence.
Laurel Ulrich’s treatment of polygamy in her new book, A House Full of Females, bucks this trend.
By February 7, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the third chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found here, here, and here.
The third chapter of Robert Orsi’s provocative and sophisticated book leaves behind the broad and sweeping trajectories of earlier chapters in order to focus on the mundane experiences of everyday life. Personal relics, individual relationship, holy encounters—this is where humans experience the gods. This is, of course, lived religion, a genre that Orsi has championed. But in this form it is focused on the personalized contexts in which “abundant events” are experienced. The chapter interweaves three different narratives–Chicago housewives in 1940s war-torn America who worried about their families overseas, a young Arizona girl who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father slightly later, and a social sciences grad student in the 1990s staring down her own leukemia–while meditating on the nature of gods’ presence in everyday life. Each of these three stories feature women facing insurmountable evil, yet finding refuge in a spiritual event, even if that moment of religious deliverance didn’t feature a headline-grabbing episode.
By January 5, 2017
Continuing JI’s annual tradition, this book highlights some of the forthcoming books in the next calendar year. (If you missed my recap of 2016, you can read it here.) 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.
Please share in the comments those book I have failed to mention. Quotations come from the book’s promotional pages.
Few books have earned as much anticipation as Ulrich’s. Ulrich is one of the leading historians of early America, and is particularly known for her examination of gender, material culture, and microbiography. I previewed the book over at my personal blog, and my longer review is forthcoming in Dialogue. (You should also look forward to a roundtable review on the book in this year’s Mormon Studies Review volume.) Here is the publisher’s overview: “A stunning and sure-to-be controversial book that pieces together, through more than two dozen nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, the never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon “plural marriage,” whose right to vote in the state of Utah was given to them by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy in 1870, fifty years ahead of the vote nationally ratified by Congress, and who became political actors in spite of, or because of, their marital arrangements. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, writing of this small group of Mormon women who’ve previously been seen as mere names and dates, has brilliantly reconstructed these textured, complex lives to give us a fulsome portrait of who these women were and of their “sex radicalism”–the idea that a woman should choose when and with whom to bear children.”
By December 28, 2016
Word is spreading that B. Carmon Hardy, one of the stalwarts of the Mormon History Association, passed away on December 21st. (Details are still forthcoming; I will provide a link to an obituary when one becomes available.) This caps off a rough year for the world of Mormon history, as we’ve already lost Ronald Walker, Milton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. Professor Hardy received his PhD in history from Wayne State University in Detroit and, after a brief stint at Brigham Young University, spent a productive career at California State University, Fullerton. Like most Mormon historians of his generation, Hardy built his reputation on non-Mormon topics—including co-authoring a well-received textbook on world history—before turning his attention to Mormonism later in his career. While his earliest work was on Mormon colonies in Mexico (see this overlooked Pacific History Review article on the topic), he made his biggest mark on the history of Mormon polygamy.
By December 6, 2016
Just some of the significant volumes from 2016. Also, my awesome bookends inherited from my grandparents.
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 here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, 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.
I think it’s safe to say it was another solid year for the field.
By November 28, 2016
This past semester I taught both an undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in American Religious History. These types of courses are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that they give you an excuse to read books you’ve indefensibly managed to avoid up to this point. This was especially the case for me, given my ignorance of twentieth century history. Most prominently, I’ve been, for a long time, embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Robert Orsi‘s books. It was far past time to rectify that problem, so I assigned his Madonna of 115th Street for my undergrad class and Thank You, Saint Jude for my grad seminar. Both were phenomenal: not only did they spark discussion with my students, but I was amazed at the new methodological possibilities presented in his work. They lived up to their reputation. I may not be a scholar of lived religion, but I can certainly see its merits.
But reading and discussing the books raised a question in my mind: could there be a Robert Orsi for Mormon studies? Or, put another way, could there be a history of Mormonism written in the style of Orsi’s books on Catholicism? There are a few reasons why I hope for the possibility.
By October 20, 2016
[We are pleased to promote this forthcoming conference, which includes a number of JI’s good friends. Looks like fun!]
As the academic study of Mormonism continues to develop, scholars, students and practitioners of this tradition are increasingly interested in how Mormonism speaks to broader theological and philosophical questions. At this unique conference, scholars will present research on ethical dimensions of war, peacebuilding, and the application of violence. Presenters will engage these topics from a variety of angles that consider LDS scripture, theology, philosophy, and the historical development of the Christian tradition.
By October 17, 2016
We’ll eventually get back to posting original content on this blog at some point in the future; in the meantime, we’re happy to continue serving as a clearinghouse for exciting developments in the field. Just last week, Stanford University Press gave final approval for a new and exciting book series: Religion in the American West. The two editors are Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Quincy Newell, both friends of the blog and stalwarts within the Mormon History Association. They are keen to receive manuscript submissions from those who seek to place Mormonism within its western context. Below is their official information:
Religion in the American West features creative and innovative scholarship at the crossroads of Western history and North American religion. Beginning with the observation that patterns of religiosity in the West differ in fundamental ways from those in the eastern United States, this series offers a space to analyze and theorize the religious history of the West in a focused, sustained manner. Bringing together history, religion, and region in critical ways, books in the Religion in the American West series illuminate crucial themes such as transnational movement, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion, religion and the environment, and the construction of the category of religion itself. By attending to religion in the trans-Mississippi West from the pre-contact era to the present, this series will enrich our understanding not simply of isolated western locales, but of the development of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world.
Let’s flood them with submissions!
By August 1, 2016
Martha Bradley-Evans, Glorious in Persecution: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1839-1844 (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2016).
Martha 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. 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.
By June 20, 2016
[This is the third 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 the first two installments here and here. This part focuses on chapters 7-9, which cover the introduction of polygamy, formation of the Relief Society, and Emma’s quest to help her husband during extradition attempts. Buckle up.]
A few years ago I attended a sunstone conference where Linda King Newell, co-author of the book under discussion, spoke on her experience writing, publishing, and defending Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. She gave lots of good details, and reinforced how tense the whole ordeal was: the fight to get access to archival sources, the attempted censorship on the part of the Church, and the many people who helped them along the way. But the anecdote that stood out to me the most concerned the writing process—and the process of writing about polygamy, to be exact. (Following words are paraphrased from memory.) “I remember Val [Avery] calling me one day,” Newell explained, “and she said she was working on the polygamy chapter and had to lie down.” Valeen paused for a bit, then added, “one of the wives was fourteen. Fourteen. I have a daughter that age.”
By June 14, 2016
This post resurrects an old and unfortunately infrequent JI series, “Reassessing the Classics,” where we look at important books from days of Mormon history past. And the post’s title is partly a lie–it’s actually been 51 years since the book’s publication, but 50 is a much nicer number.
I recently commenced a book project on Nauvoo that has provided the opportunity to return to one of our field’s earliest and most important works, Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). One of the first books on Mormon history to be published by a university press–it was preceded by, among others, Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom–it was a very early academic treatment that inaugurated the New Mormon History movement. It also still reads remarkably well. But of course it wears the marks of its age. In this post I want to highlight not only the strengths and weaknesses of this work deservedly called a “classic,” but also highlight some historiographic developments in the past half-century.
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.]
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.
By May 9, 2016
Word 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.
By May 4, 2016
When 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.
By April 21, 2016
This 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.
By April 14, 2016
It 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.
By February 3, 2016
Here’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
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…
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.