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Mormons and the Mythology of the “Greatest Generation”

By August 15, 2013

This post is my contribution to our August theme highlighting the history of 20th Century Mormonism. A quick disclaimer–in the post I critique the idea of “The Greatest Generation.” This does not mean that I am degrading the patriotism or valor of men or relatives that served in the military during World War II. Many served valiantly and admirably. I am writing to expose some of the blind spots created by solely focusing on the pluck of individual soldiers and their commanders. Also, I know this post is a little long, so gird up your loins and ring the bell when you get to the top (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?)

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Panel Summary: “Teaching Mormonism in the Digital Age”

By January 9, 2012

I spent this last weekend at the annual American Historical Association meeting and since the American Society of Church History is an affiliated organization and holds its meeting concurrently, I was able to sit in on the Mormon History Association panel entitled “Teaching Mormonism in the Digital Age.” What follows is a summary of the presentations given. Jan Shipps chaired the panel with Kathleen Flake, Patrick Mason, and Peter Thuesen participating. Jonathan Moore was supposed to participate, but ultimately was not able to make it. Dr. Flake tried to incorporate some aspects from his paper into her own. For me, the most exciting part of the panel involved the glimpses of Dr. Flake’s upcoming work which looks to be groundbreaking.  This rather long summary is from handwritten notes, so I make no claims to it being a perfect representation of the presenters’ ideas. Any mistakes are my own. I hope you enjoy.

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Book Review: Early Mormon Missionary Activities in Japan, 1901-1924 by Reid Neilson

By August 17, 2011

Neilson, Reid L. Early Mormon Missionary Activities in Japan, 1901-1924. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010


Dr. Reid L. Neilson, managing director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s history department, has written a fascinating account of the Mormon Japanese Mission at the turn of the 20th century. Neilson argues that the 19th century LDS missionary experience in the United States and Europe had calcified Mormon evangelizing strategies to a degree that ultimately determined their failure in the rapidly modernizing Japanese nation. While Neilson’s trajectory often wades a little shallow and missionary-centric, his transnational gaze at Mormon mission policy and practice, while situating his study in a comparative Christian missionary framework, offers important inroads for scholars of Mormon history who have too often found themselves mired in the nineteenth century American origins story of a 21st century global church.

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The Responsibilities of History (and Historians)

By September 1, 2010

JI bloggers invest significant amounts of time and effort in this blog, and this commitment becomes quite evident through the internal debates that sometimes occur behind the scenes as we discuss the future and purpose of this ever-changing form of new media in which we have become involved. Today we invite you behind the scenes to illustrate one of the great debates among historians today. In part, the discussions developed as many of us commented on Max’s excellent post on the proposed New York City mosque and community center, the debate about building it so close to Ground Zero, and how Mormons should react based on their shared history of religious persecution. Max adeptly historicized the issue of Mormons and the mosque in an effort to turn the overwhelming and sometimes baffling tide of Mormon opinion against its construction.

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Finding Mormon References in the Strangest Place

By June 1, 2010

This summer I am doing some freelance research for a family on one of their ancestors who edited a small community newspaper in Marion, Ohio from 1877-1883. The man, George Christian Sr., was Warren G. Hardings’ neighbor and his son became Harding’s secretary during his senatorial and abbreviated presidential years. Although Christian probably is not particularly relevant to the readership of this blog, I have been surprised to see how often Mormons make an appearance in Christian’s newspaper, the Marion Mirror.

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The Corporatization of the University (Updated)

By November 16, 2009

The Graduate Student Employment Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois is going on strike tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. I know this blog is primarily about the study of Mormon History, but inasmuch as almost all of its contributors are involved in Graduate Education I thought they might be interested in the following letter I wrote to my undergraduate students as an explanation for the strike. I think it tries to explain and interrogate the rapid corporatization of universities all over the country. I promise I will write something about Mormon history soon 🙂 We would also appreciate any support from those of you in Illinois.

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Repudiating Scholarly Violence in Mormon History

By April 6, 2009

Before I start this post, I just want to apologize to all my fellow JIers for my unproductive participation in the blog as of late. Because my primary area of research falls outside of the Mormon History paradigm, I often have to wait for the spirit to move me towards some sort of meaningful post. I still want to put together some concluding thoughts on Mormonism and ethnicity one of these days, but it seems like my dissertation research has kept me pretty busy the last little while. I am hoping to attend at least some of the Mormon History Conference in May since Springfield is quite close to Champaign. Several posts on the Bloggernacle of late (not particularly on JI but as a blog devoted to Mormon history I think this is a good forum for addressing the issue) have made me think about the reality and role of bias in the production of historical scholarship.

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Examining Mormon Ethnicity (Part II)

By December 8, 2008

I realized after thinking about my previous post that I did not really summarize what scholars mean by defining Mormons as an “ethnic” group or “ethnicity.” Different historians have explained the idea in different ways. For example, Dean L. May’s explanation emphasizes the shared migratory experience of the pioneers and the voluntary spatial isolation represented by Mormon settlement in the West. [1] Jan Shipps similarly argues in her Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition that “by virtue of a common paradigmatic experience as well as isolation, [Latter-day Saints have acquired an ethnic identity so distinct that it sets the Saints apart in much the same fashion that ethnic identity sets the Jews apart. [2] Patricia Limerick outlines the components of Mormon ethnicity as “the creation of a community in which religious belief laid the foundations for a new worldview, a new pattern of family organization, a new set of ambitions, a new combination of common bonds and obligations, a new definition of separate peoplehood.” [3] All of these definitions sound very apt until you start to think about the process of defining and the ways that these definitions either include or exclude.

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Identifying with Romney? My Historiographical Rant Against Mormon Ethnicity

By November 17, 2008

Having recently completed my Preliminary exams, and thus ended my self-imposed blogging moratorium, I have decided to put up a first offering in a series of posts regarding the ethnicity paradigm and Mormon identity.

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Model Minorities?

By August 25, 2008

I have recently been exploring Chiung Hwang Chen’s 2004 book Mormon and Asian American Model Minority Discourses in News and Popular Media which, along with her and her husband Ethan Yorgason’s 1999 Dialogue article, makes the case that the media has portrayed both Asian Americans and Mormons in the last fifty years utilizing what Asian American scholars have identified as a model minority discourse. [1] Although Chen is not a historian, the way that she tracks changes in representation over time feels quite historical and, in some ways, might be considered a continuation of what Terryl Givens was trying to do in The Viper on the Hearth. [2] Although I have some critiques of the book which I will get to later, I thought it might be relevant to also consider some of the advantages to her approach.

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From the Trenches: Religion as a Category of Analysis

By July 31, 2008

I am taking a very laid-back readings seminar this summer at the UI revolving around the question of race and the city. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when the discussion turned to questions relevant to those who frequent this blog. I thought I might offer a short narrative, in part to let those who have never had the “privilege” of a attending a graduate seminar know how random they can be, and also to present some questions raised in my mind as a result of the discussion.The topic for this particular session focused on the racial and class dynamics inherent in the conception and reality of the suburb. One of the books that we read by Dolores Hayden talked about recently planned communities like Seaside, Florida where the Truman Show was filmed. For those of you who didn’t know, the city where Truman lived actually exists as an idealized upper-class community by the ocean. The book also talks about Disney’s idyllic residential development in Florida named Celebration where people can live in sanitized bliss. As we spoke about the class and racial implications involved in the creation of such planned communities, my Professor mentioned the Florida town of Ave Maria of which I had never heard.

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How Wide the Divide? Historicity and the Priesthood Ban

By June 20, 2008

(Before commenting on this post I would ask that you read the entire post. The point of this essay is to promote civil discussion and dialogue. Extreme polemics and ad hominem attacks are not helpful for any discussion. Be careful how you use and define labels. The following comments are offered in the spirit of understanding-I hope that our readers will participate in the same spirit. Please think before you write.)

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Cognitive Dissonance and Scholarly Pursuits

By June 5, 2008

Much is said on the Bloggernacle about the cognitive dissonance that many feel as they try to reconcile the knowledge they acquire through scholarly treatments of Mormonism with what they hear in their church meetings every Sunday. In this post I would like to explore another form of cognitive dissonance that I find quite prevalent in my own quest to become a professional historian. I hope that you will permit me a moment of personal reflection about something that I think is relevant for those who produce and consume academic history.

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How Mormon was He?

By May 9, 2008

I decided to take a little break from my weighty posts of the last few weeks and ask everyone if they find anything particularly Mormon in the following passage:

I am proud that I am an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, for my background makes me appreciate more fully the wonderful advantages of this nation. I believe in her institutions, ideals, and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future. She had granted me liberties and opportunities such as no individual enjoys in this world today. She had given me an education befitting kings. She has entrusted me with the responsibilities of the franchise. She has permitted me to build a home, to earn a livelihood, to worship, think, speak, and act as I please-as a free man equal to every other man.

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Is There a Method to the Madness?

By May 1, 2008

I just thank everyone for their comments to my last post about the place of theory in the study of history and its implications for the study of the Mormon past. This post will focus on historical methodology and its implications in the study of Mormon history. Questions about historical methodology and Mormonism are what inspired my recent rhapsodies on process of historical inquiry. I was skimming through Prince’s provocative biography of David O. McKay, which I liked very much in many ways, but I was appalled at the way he described his methodology.

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Theoretically Speaking about Mormon History

By April 22, 2008

Before anything else, I want to wish everyone good luck or congratulations on their end of semester work–which ever option best fits your own situation. After having done my best to diagram the historical craft in my previous post and postulate what such observations might mean for the study of Mormon history, I have decided today to tackle the role of theory in historical inquiry. Once again, I am treating an extremely complex topic, but I hope to present my ideas in a clear and concise manner. As such, I will probably oversimplify some concepts for which I profoundly apologize-this topic has proven much more difficult than I initially thought.

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The Historians’ Craft: A Call for Understanding

By April 14, 2008

I hope this isn’t a topic that has been discussed here before. I have been thinking lately about what it means to practice academic history. The recent post and comments about the new Emma Smith film, in correlation with my seemingly never-ending journey along the path of professionalization, have caused me to ask myself if the history undertaken by trained historians is any different than the study of the past by others. I hope that I am not constructing a straw man, but it seems that some people in the church have developed a sort of hostility toward those that focus their academic studies on Mormonism. My personal opinion about such hostilities is that they represent a reflection of how non-historians don’t really understand historians and their methods. This misunderstanding causes them to label such historians as threats.

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Mormonism in Their Own Words

By March 27, 2008

I’m happy to be blogging for JI on a more permanent basis. I have always enjoyed being a token “model-minority” in Mormon country:)

I thought it might be interesting to post some the words of Japanese Americans used when dealing with Mormonism. Some of these quotations come from oral interviews and probably represent the Nikkei’s long-standing relationship with the the area’s dominant religion as well as their perceptions of history, while the other addresses how Japanese American ethnicity and Mormonism interacted historically. If you like this first set of sources, maybe I’ll do a post with more of them.

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Mike Masaoka and the Mormon Process of Americanization

By March 22, 2008

I have been trying to figure out how to summarize some of my findings about the way that Mormon identity affected Japanese Americans in Utah and Idaho during World War II for this post, but I have been having some trouble extracting the Mormon aspect of the story from the greater argument while still maintaining nuance and a grasp of the larger picture. Thus, I have decided to focus in on Mike Masaoka as both an emblematic and exceptional example of the way that Mormon identity interacted with Japanese American identity in Utah. Most of the narrative I am going to present represents my reading of his somewhat presumptuously titled, They Call Me Moses Masaoka and much comes from a chapter entitled “Moses in Mormonland.” Because the process of autobiographical writing inherently involves the construction and reconstruction of memory, I mostly use this narrative as an example of how a prominent Mormon Nikkei wanted to frame his and others’ experiences with Mormons. [1]

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Mormonism: Part of a Greater Whole?

By March 18, 2008

As I have been reading massive amounts of books on American History in preparation for my first PhD Comprehensive exam, I have started to ponder about the ways which historians have examined Mormonism as part of larger narrative in American History, Western History, the History of American Religion, or the History of Religion in general. I was reading through Battle Cry of Freedom the other day and was surprised to find that McPherson placed Joseph Smith and Mormonism into his narrative as part of the Western expansion that preceded the Civil War. His coverage isn’t extensive, but he does track the Mormons from New York to Ohio to Missouri and then to Salt Lake City. [1]

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