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.
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 here, here, 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.
By October 30, 2015
The 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”
By September 29, 2015
As 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.
By September 1, 2015
We 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.
By August 4, 2015
Wanna know what Joseph Smith’s seer stone looks like? BEHOLD:
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.
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.
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.
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.