By September 18, 2017
This review was written by Courtney Jensen Peacock, a PhD student in American Studies at Heidelberg University.
Book Review: Grow, Matthew and R. Eric Smith, eds. The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History. Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo, UT: 2017.
The release of the Council of Fifty minutes by The Joseph Smith Papers project last year (Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846) is a fantastic example of the exciting new developments currently occurring in Mormon studies, as more sources are becoming available for the first time to both scholars and the public. The release of new primary sources is always cause for celebration, but the fact that the Council of Fifty minutes cover the late Nauvoo period make them especially valuable. Scholars working on the Nauvoo period have always struggled with a shortage of available contemporary sources, which has hindered a full understanding of this crucial time in the development of Mormonism’s distinct theology and culture. The publishing of the Council of Fifty minutes, along with other sources recently released by The Joseph Smith Papers or published elsewhere, has and will contribute to important and innovative analyses of the Nauvoo period and nineteenth-century Mormonism.[i]
By July 17, 2017
This is the seventh entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor, written this week by Charlotte Hansen Terry. Charlotte earned her BA and MA from the University of Utah and will begin her PhD at UC-Davis this fall. 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.
While chapter six of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females depicts a people in motion, chapter seven looks at a people in place. Ulrich mainly uses the writings of three people (Hosea Stout, Mary Richards, and Patty Sessions) to unpack the winter of 1847 in Winter Quarters. What is especially interesting about Ulrich’s work in this chapter is how she weaves together the diaries and autobiographies composed by these authors. Since autobiographies are a product of the moment in which they are written, “they are not only windows into [the author’s] early lives but reflections of their minds as they endured the winter of 1847 in a refugee camp.” (160) The experiences of these writers in Winter Quarters shaped how they wrote about earlier periods of their lives at the same time that looking back helped these writers find meaning in their current situation.
Both Hosea Stout and Mary Richards worked on their diaries and autobiographies simultaneously while in Winter Quarters. Ulrich uses their writings to show the different ways that Winter Quarters was experienced, even by those moving in the same circles. She brings both of these historical figures to life by masterfully weaving together their reminiscent and daily accounts. Their actions in Winter Quarters are made all the more compelling since they are placed in context with their previous experiences. Mary Richards emerges as a particularly wonderful character, especially with her sharp wit.
Since Patty Sessions did not write an autobiographical account in Winter Quarters, Ulrich uses the writings of her son Perregrine Sessions to make sense of certain references in Patty’s diary to her earlier life. Patty emerges as a woman who is deeply concerned for her family. Ulrich uses Patty as way to explore the powerful spiritual manifestations that occurred among a certain group of women during this period. Since Patty was generally quite limited in her descriptions of her life, her longer entries on the “religious rhapsody” of the “visionary sisterhood” become all the more powerful and significant. (162) Eliza R. Snow’s diary is also used to provide more information on these gatherings where women employed the spiritual gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Patty’s diary entries show the importance of familial relationships in these spiritual gatherings, and encouragement of these gifts in younger generations. I was left wanting more analysis of these spiritual gatherings, as well as the networks of women coordinated by the matrons of the community that are touched on in this chapter.  By placing the descriptions of these spiritual manifestations alongside the writings of others in Winter Quarters who never hint at these occurrences, I wondered how widespread this “visionary sisterhood” was.
Here are some questions to consider while reading this chapter. How can we better approach autobiographies in our own research projects? How can this chapter serve as a model for weaving together the various writings from historical characters in our own work? How do we balance the accounts of experiences in a certain place, particularly when our sources describe overlapping worlds but with such different details?
 Another important piece to read on this period is Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “Women in Winter Quarters,” in Eliza and Her Sisters (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1991), 75-97.
By November 2, 2016
We are pleased to have a guest post from Nathan Waite, who is the manager of the Joseph Smith Papers web team
Note: You may be thinking this is nothing more than a shameless promotional post for the Joseph Smith Papers. And you’re partially right. It is unquestionably a plug to visit josephsmithpapers.org, but it’s also a brief look at the history and historiography of the Joseph Smith Translation. And if you make it to the end, I’ve got a question (an actual I-don’t-know-the-answer-and-really-want-to-know question, not a rhetorical one) about the shifting landscape of digital research.
On Monday, the Joseph Smith Papers Project published all the original texts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. The LDS Church has never published the JST before this—and the JSP is not the same thing as the LDS Church, but we’re part of the Church History Department, which makes this feel like a significant milestone, a first for the church.
By April 13, 2016
We’re pleased to host this research query from Amber Taylor, a PhD student at Brandeis University. Please feel free to suggest readings in the comments below. Amber can also be reached at ambercecile3 AT gmail DOT com.
I am working on the history of the LDS Church in Palestine and Israel. One of the larger historical arcs that I am working with is the Church and globalization – how that has affected the Church’s position regarding the people and politics of Israel-Palestine. As of yet, I have found very little material on the Church and globalization itself – I recognize that this is a rather recent topic, and Mormon studies as such is a rather emerging field. I have read various articles by Arnold Green that address various aspects of Mormon views on Jews/Judaism and Muslims/Islam. I am also familiar with works by Steven Epperson and Grant Underwood on similar topics. Likewise, I have the book Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century from the Sperry Symposium, and have been perusing Reid Neilson’s work, as well as Marie Cornwall’s and Tim Heaton’s Contemporary Mormonism. I am wondering if anyone can point me to other scholars – including articles and books – that have looked at the way that the 20th century globalization of the Church has affected the way that leaders have talked of peoplehood and chosenness, and other such good things related to that.
Also, I have been considering the notion of “Zion” as a major aspect of my research. I am attempting to set my dissertation in a comparative framework, looking at the Church in its American setting, and examining the ways that American views of the Holy Land, Jews, and Muslims related to the Mormon views – and how both the broader American cultural setting and Mormon particularity affected one another. Specific to the concept of Zion, American culture (especially Protestant culture) has, from its very origins, been prone to talk of America and American Christianity in terms of “Zion,” or had themes of Zion weaved throughout it in myriad ways. Likewise, the concept of American exceptionalism is, of course, bound up with this. But the Mormons went a step further – they established an actual Zion, a physical space with teleological meaning. Their peoplehood as Israelites, and their actual American Zion, makes the question of the Mormon presence in Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel rather intriguing. America has always had a fascination with the Holy Land and its import in latter-day fulfillment of prophecy, yet the Mormon ethos is unique. What were/are the Mormons actually doing in the Old Zion, if they had their Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American continent? What purpose does the BYU Jerusalem Center actually serve in all of this? Can anyone recommend any literature on this, specifically relating to the two Zions and what LDS leaders have said about them, what they mean in terms of physicality, sacred territory, and gathering?
Thank you for your help.
By February 26, 2016
Matt Grow is Director of Publications in the Church History Department and co-editor (with Jill Derr, Carol Madsen, and Kate Holbrook) of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (The Church Historian’s Press, 2016). He is also a general editor for the Joseph Smith Papers and he has authored or co-authored multiple award-winning books. He received his Ph.D in American history from Notre Dame in 2006.
While the initial reason for creating the Church Historian’s Press in 2006 was to provide a publisher for The Joseph Smith Papers (hereafter JSP), the proposal contemplated that the “imprint could also be utilized in the future for the publishing of other approved Church history works of highest quality.” With the publication of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, that day has arrived. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society is the first volume published by the Church Historian’s Press outside of the JSP, signaling the commitment of the Church to Mormon women’s history.
By February 8, 2016
Matthew McBride is the Web Content Manager of the Church History Department, author of A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple, and a graduate student at the University of Utah.
Over 30 years ago, Mel Bashore began to create a list of Mormons who migrated to the Great Basin, pre-railroad. According to legend, the “database” was stored for years in a Word document. Eventually, the data was made available on the web as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels database. In addition to becoming an instant hit with family historians, the database has become an indispensable resource for historians of 19th-century Mormonism and sparked scholarship on the trail experience.
The pioneer database began as an incomplete set of data gathered by Bashore and other researchers—tens of thousands of trail pioneers were unaccounted for. With time and the help of missionaries and the community of family historians and trail scholars, it has grown by thousands of pioneers to become far more comprehensive. This combination of crowd sourcing and careful verification (which continues under the leadership of Marie Erickson at the CHL) was the model that inspired the new Early Mormon Missionaries Database, launched last Thursday at RootsTech.
By February 2, 2016
We’re pleased to present this guest post from Sam Brunson, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, regular blogger at By Common Consent, and tax and business law geek extraordinaire.
Both in and out of the church, people are fascinated by tithing. On the one hand, according to Pres. Kimball, “it’s not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect.” On the other hand, while one-tenth is precise and easy to calculate, the church never defines what “income” means, leading to internal debates over, among other things whether we should pay on our gross or net income and whether we tithe on barter or gifts we receive.
By August 28, 2015
Robin Scott Jensen is the mastermind behind the Joseph Smith Papers’ Revelations and Translations Series, which just released its third volume reproducing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Jeffrey G. Cannon is the JSP’s photo archivist and as such is the point man for the numerous textual and contextual illustrations that appear in JSP volumes. When R3 was released, photographs of Joseph Smith’s seer stone dominated attention here on the blog. This guest post sheds light on the history of the printer’s manuscript by focusing on the 1923 effort to photograph the entire manuscript for conservation purposes and the recent addition of the complete set of 1923 photos to the JSP website.
With all the excitement about seer stones in the weeks since the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was released, it is easy to overlook the fact that the volume also contains hundreds of high-quality, full-color photographs of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Another set of important images was also recently posted exclusively to the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.
By April 20, 2015
Today’s post comes from Bradley Kime, who will graduate this spring with a Masters in history rom Utah State University. Bradley has published in the Journal of Mormon History and is an editorial fellow at the Western Historical Quarterly. He will begin his PhD program in religious studies at the University of Virginia this fall (WAHOOWA!).
For the last few years, Stephen Webb has generously praised LDS Christo-centrism. Back in 2012, before the publication of his Mormon Christianity, he offered the First Things crowd a positive take on Mormonism’s eternally embodied Savior titled “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ.” When First Things recently posted the article on their Facebook feed, the 108 comments (and counting), almost entirely from creedal Christians across the Protestant-Catholic spectrum, were overwhelmingly negative. One comment summed up the general consensus: “You know who else was obsessed with Christ? Arius.” In other words, earnestness doesn’t equal orthodoxy, and calling a spade a spade is important. Almost as a chorus, First Things readers reaffirmed that the Mormon Christ was a heresy, notwithstanding Webb’s misguided generosity.
By April 3, 2015
This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.
The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.
This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don’t know what percentage it was, but it couldn’t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to “remove” his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy.
By April 2, 2015
Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Flynn, a longtime student of church history who currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona. Shannon holds a B.A. in history from the University of Utah and had published four book reviews in the Journal of Mormon History. Today’s post is the first in a two-part series that draws on his experience and presents documents (with accompanying translations) from his time serving as a missionary in Brazil Sau Paulo South Mission from 1977-79.
While the significance of Brazil and its unique cultural heritage and hierarchy of race often receives at least a passing mention in discussions of the ending of the ban in June 1978, often lacking from historical accounts of this era are the first-person perspectives and (especially) documents of the sort provided by Shannon below. Part II of the series will be posted tomorrow.
I was called to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission from the first week of March 1977 to the first week of March 1979. Because of visa problems, I did not arrive in Brazil until October 13, 1977. I was assigned to the Maua area of Sao Paulo during the month of June 1978. It was there that I heard of the announcement of extending the priesthood to all worthy males. The impact this had on missionary work and the progress of the church cannot be underestimated — it was a sea change. Previous to that time the way the church dealt with blacks and the priesthood had been a vexing problem since the first missionaries landed in Joinville in 1926. In the first few years blacks were almost never proselyted but that eventually changed and methods were developed to handle the ensuing problems. Previous to the time I arrived there was a lesson that was added to the regular discussions that dealt with the problem of determining whether the investigator had black lineage (scans of the documents, together with accompanying translation, can be found here). This lesson was given at the conclusion of the regular discussions. I don’t ever remember using this exact catechism style of discussion but we would try to accomplish the goal of determining the lineage of the persons being taught. Missionaries elsewhere in Brazil used similar lessons during this time — in a 2013 guest post at Keepapitchinin.org, Grant Vaughn provided scans of the lesson he taught in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission from 1976-78. Moreover, I would assume that most missions before my time had something of a similar nature.
By March 23, 2015
Today’s contribution to JI’s Roundtable on the Journal of Mormon History’s 50th anniversary issue comes from longtime friend of (and occasional guest contributor to) JI, David Howlett. David is currently visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College and author of The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Here he previews his own article published in JMH50, entitled “Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.”
Early career scholars (new PhDs and graduate students) across the country are studying Mormonism in greater numbers than ever before. At venerable institutions like the University of Virginia and Claremont Graduate University, MA and PhD students may even study with experts whose job descriptions include the field of Mormon studies. However, these same early career scholars and their post-PhD comrades face a strange paradox: never before have there been so many opportunities to do original research on Mormonism for so many people who compete for so few paying jobs.
My article in the most recent Journal of Mormon History focused on three “fields” in which an early-career Mormon studies scholar finds herself positioned: the field of publishing, the field of employment, and the new fields of study in Mormon history itself. For this brief abstraction of my relatively short article, I will only address two of these social fields: publishing and employment.
By November 24, 2014
This installment in the JI’s Mormonism and Natives Month comes from Jeffrey Mahas, a researcher for the Joseph Smith Papers and a graduate student at the University of Utah.
As David G. pointed out in his earlier post, it is often difficult for historians to come to terms with how Natives interpreted and reacted to nineteenth-century Mormon proselytizing efforts. We know that American Indians held a unique place in Mormon theology as the “remnant of Jacob”—descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon whose destiny was to unite with the gentiles converts to the gospel and build the New Jerusalem together. We can even reconstruct how many of the Mormon missionaries who carried this message to Indians interpreted this message but it is far more difficult to know how Native peoples reacted to these teachings. Although Mormon proselytizing to American Indians began almost immediately after the formal organization of the church and continued intermittently throughout Joseph Smith’s life, there were few Native converts and fewer written texts from their perspective. We are often left with the writings of the Mormon missionaries who carried their message and then face the difficult task of trying to reconstruct a possible Native perspective from the impressions of the missionaries.
By October 31, 2014
Today’s post, the latest in our series where we answer questions about plural marriage, is about textual questions related to Doctrine and Covenants 132. Again, we are grateful to those who asked questions, wrote answers, and helped edit and format the post. Thanks especially to WVS, who answered the questions today. WVS has been a long-time bloggernacle denizen, blogging at his solo blog–boaporg.wordpress.com and at bycommonconsent.org. His fascinating multi-part analysis of the textual development of D&C 107 was recently published in Dialogue. He later wrote an in-depth series of posts at BCC on D&C 132, which he is currently expanding into a book.
By October 30, 2014
Friend of the JI and Joseph Smith Papers editor and historian Alex D. Smith has agreed to send along this brief comment on the recent announcement that the entire text of the Book of the Law of the Lord–a Nauvoo-era donation record book that also includes JS’s 1842 journal and the text of several revelations–has been made available on josephsmithpapers.org. As Alex notes, this is kind of a big deal. Like the Book of Commandments and Revelations (published in 2009) and the Council of Fifty Minutes (forthcoming in 2016), the publication of the Book of the Law of the Lord on the project’s website reflects the ongoing trend of including previously unavailable historical documents as part of the Joseph Smith Papers. Alex co-edited the second volume of the Journals series, which included annotated transcriptions of the the Book Law of the Lord journal entries, and he wrote an important article on the the Book of the Law of the Lord in The Journal of Mormon History (38, no. 4 [Fall 2012]). He is currently hard at work on Journals, vol. 3 (slotted to appear next year) and Documents, vol. 7, covering early Commerce and the founding of Nauvoo, September 1839-January 1841 (expected in early 2018).
By June 11, 2014
Today’s post comes from Kate Holbrook. Kate is a Specialist in Women’s History at the LDS Church History Department. She completed her Ph.D in Religious Studies at Boston University this spring and most recently contributed a chapter entitled “Good to Eat: Culinary Priorities in the Nation of Islam and Latter-day Saint Church” in Religion, Food, and Eating in North America published by Columbia University Press this year.
Relief Society endeavors have changed during the organization’s 172-year history. Some narratives frame the shift in Relief Society activities as a loss, arguing that the organization possessed greater visibility and autonomy during its first 150 years than it does now. We celebrate the achievements of our LDS foremothers in medicine, in politics, in organizing the affairs of the kingdom. Their contributions were often visible and measurable, affecting not just their families or their local congregations but the entire church, and indeed, society at large. In contrast, the work of Relief Society in the twenty-first century can seem small—most efforts are confined to individual stakes, wards, or families. But the idea that modern Relief Society work is a diminished version of the original begs the question: how do we measure the success of a religious organization for women?
By June 5, 2014
Today’s post comes from Matthew McBride who is Web Content Manager with the Church History Department and author of A House for the Most High.
Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints considered proselytizing missions to be the exclusive domain of male priesthood holders. Women participated in tract societies, shared their beliefs with family and friends, and occasionally accompanied their husbands on missions. But these activities were calculated to keep women in proximity to the domestic sphere and were typically viewed as supportive of and secondary to the full-time missionary thrust. This changed in 1898 when women began to be called to serve full-time proselytizing missions, including the first single sister missionaries in the Church’s history.
By May 29, 2014
Susanna Morrill is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland where she teaches courses in United States religious history. She received her doctorate in the history of religions from the University of Chicago. Her work in the recent past has focused on how early Mormon women used popular literature in order to argue for the theological importance of their roles in the home, community, and church.
I finally got around to reading carefully the latest handbook of the Relief Society, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. It got me thinking about the symbolic connection between women and the home in Mormon and American culture. A little further afield, it got me thinking about feminine divinity in Mormonism and U.S. religious traditions and public discourses.
By May 12, 2014
Kari M. Main works as Curator at the Pioneer Memorial Museum. She has a master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program in Delaware and a master’s in American Studies from Yale. Her primary academic interests are material culture, women, religion, and the American West.
On Pioneer Day in 1933, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (DUP) held a ceremony to erect a roofed columnar structure over a juniper tree near the intersection of 600 East and 300 South. The women of DUP placed a bronze interpretive plaque which read:
By March 26, 2014
For today’s post we welcome back Susanna Morrill, friend and occasional contributor to the JI.
I have been thinking about Nancy Peirson’s journal since I first ran across it years ago during my dissertation research. It is a fantastic resource for tracking the earliest, lived religious practices of Mormons, especially medical and health practices. I am at the beginning of this project centered on Peirson’s journal; these are some initial thoughts on the subject. Nancy Peirson was baptized into the LDS Church in 1838 and remained a faithful Mormon until she died en route to Salt Lake City in 1852. Peirson was part of the Richards family, a sister to Willard Richards. Peirson recorded her life in a journal written from 1846 to 1852. Health, illness, and death are central themes in this journal. Regularly and carefully recording the health of her friends, neighbors, and family, Peirson became increasingly fixated on illness and disease as she dealt with a painful tumor on her side, a malady that probably led to her premature death. She created a network of Mormon correspondents, a network that was focused on discussions of health and illness. Most of these correspondents were her siblings: Willard, Rhoda, Levi, and Hepsy Richards (among others). In these exchanges we see how the family’s pre-Mormon Thomsonian health practices smoothed the way for their conversions to the LDS faith.