Articles by

SC Taysom

The Mormon Reformation in Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

By November 5, 2012

The Mormon Reformation is a period in LDS History that has long been of interest to scholars working in the field. Paul Peterson, Leonard Arrington, Thomas Alexander, D. Michael Quinn, Will Bagley, Paul Peterson, and others have all written about the reformation and have grappled with its cause(s) and meaning(s). In the interest of full disclosure, a chapter from my recent book Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds (Indiana University Press 2011) also addresses the subject of the Mormon reformation. John Turner takes a turn as well in his new biography of Brigham Young. Turner’s material on the reformation represents a fine synthesis of some of the most recent work on the subject, and as such it has value beyond the descriptive function.

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Biographically Thinking

By October 25, 2012

I am currently in the early stages of a scholarly biography of Joseph F. Smith. Biographies are sort of strange beasts, largely because they seem deceptively simple. A person lives and then a biographer writes about that life. The reality of course is much more complex. The biographer has to make a great many choices before doing any research at all. Biographers have to decide what sorts of questions they want to answer using the life of their subject. Are the questions just about the subject? Or will the subject be used to demonstrate larger themes ? Something in between? What about organization? Thematic? Chronological? As I wade through these and similar questions, I would like to tap the collective wisdom of JI’s readership. As readers, what kind of biographies do you prefer? What are your favorite biographies? What are your least favorites?

Joseph F. Smith: Prophet, Seer, Sleuth

By August 30, 2011

From The Archives:

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Measuring Church History, One Apostle At a Time

By February 24, 2011

I have been doing research in the Wilford Woodruff journals for a piece on Woodruff’s use of memory. Today I found an unusual entry from May 1887. On the 26th, Woodruff, along with Francis M. Lyman and John Henry Smith, were in the St. George Temple and decided to weigh and measure each other.

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A Review of Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder, eds., Post Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff.

By June 26, 2010

HBO’s popular Big Love series and David Ebershoff’s bestselling novel The 19th Wife stand as evidence that polygamy remains a perennial topic of interest for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that scholarly presses with heavily-Mormon themed catalogues continue to publish serious work on the subject. Utah State University Press’s excellent Life Writings of Frontier Women series has once again offered a sterling piece of documentary history with the publication of Post Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff, edited by Lu Ann Taylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder.

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From the Archives: Joseph Fielding’s Dream

By October 25, 2009

I read lots of Reformation sermons for my forthcoming book, but I had no way to use this extract from Heber C. Kimball’s 9 November 1856 address. I found it so wonderfully strange that I felt compelled to share it.

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Perspectives on Parley Pratt’s Autobiography: Pratt and the Enervating Power of Evil

By August 14, 2009

In my spare moments this summer, I returned to Pratt’s Autobiography just to see what would strike me. Probably because of my continuing work on Mormon theodicy, my interest in the changing Mormon conceptions of evil and the accompanying shift in apotropaic ritual, I was most interested in several passages dealing with Pratt’s view of evil in the world.

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From the Archives: Brigham Young on Joseph Smith’s Last Mistake

By March 27, 2009

The following comes from a meeting of a “Special Council” held in Salt Lake on 21 March 1858. It is evidence, among other things, of Brigham Young’s contrarian streak. I’m sure it raised eyebrows 150 years ago, although probably not as many as it would raise today:

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John Demos on Joseph Smith. Was he “lynched”?

By October 9, 2008

Occasionally we like to provide our readers who may not have the time or inclination to read widely in the scholarly literature of American history or other disciplines with a sampling of what scholars are saying about Mormonism. Today John Demos is in the spotlight.

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“What an Excellent Day for an Exorcism” Part 1

By July 11, 2008

David O. McKay performed his first exorcism when he was 25. It was, he wrote in his journal, a day “long to be remembered.”

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“What’s with this ‘Joseph’ stuff? Can you imagine Lutherans calling their guy ‘Martin?'”

By June 12, 2008

Many Mormon scholars have a funny quirk. They refer, in formal scholarly work, to the founder of their faith by his first name.

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Mormon Studies at the AAR (2008)

By June 11, 2008

The American Academy of Religion has just released its program for the 2008 annual meeting, to be held in Chicago in November. The Mormon Studies Consultation will be holding two sessions this year.

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“Dramatic, Eerie, Violent, Erotic,” Walter A. McDougall on Early Mormonism

By May 10, 2008

All of the regular bloggers and readers here at JI are connoisseurs of the variety of treatments that Joseph Smith and the Mormons receive at the hands of historians who are themselves not experts in the field of Mormon studies. Such treatments range from the ridiculous to the not-quite sublime, and coming as they do in broadly-conceived syntheses, they tend to be derivative and rely heavily on a hodgepodge of secondary interpretations (which authors they choose to cite seems often to depend on what they find on the shelves of their institution’s library–lots of Brooke, Quinn and Brodie usually). Pulitzer Prize winning historian Walter A. McDougall’s view of Joseph Smith and early Mormonism in the newly-released second volume of his multi-volume history of the U.S. is surprising in its creativity.

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Emma Smith Movie, Again.

By April 12, 2008

All of us have by now been made aware of the new movie about Emma Smith. If you’re not up to speed about it yet, please see here for David G.’s excellent review. This post is concerned, not with the film itself, but with the discussion of polygamy that was included in an article in the 11 April edition of the Deseret News.

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Interview with Thomas Alexander in Mormon Historical Studies

By March 13, 2008

This is just a note to point interested readers in the direction of the latest issue of Mormon Historical Studies which contains, among other wonders, a candid and fascinating interview with Thomas Alexander (conducted by former Alexander student David Hall). Even for those of us fortunate enough to count Tom as a mentor, there is plenty of material here that he hasn’t spoken much about before. Check it out.

Directions to the Steed Farm Please

By March 5, 2008

Everyone reading this blog probably has an opinion about Gerald Lund’s The Work and the Glory series. I know I do. But that is perhaps saved for another post. I actually have some very specific questions in mind. I have heard from multiple sources, always at least second-hand, the following story:

Place: Church History Site (I have heard variants from Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Palmyra)
Setting: Summer tourist rush
Dramatis Personae: Church history guide (usually a senior missionary), idiotic tourist and or a family of same.

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Thomas O’Dea, John A. Widtsoe, and the De-Horning Room

By February 10, 2008

In the summer of 1950, a young Harvard graduate student named Thomas F. O’Dea traveled to Salt Lake City and met with a veritable who’s who of Mormon intellectuals and church leaders.

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From the Archives: Brigham Young Educates Bancroft

By January 28, 2008

In the late fall of 1875, Frank M. Derby sent a note to Brigham Young’s office inquiring about Young’s interest in purchasing the latest masterwork of Derby’s client, Hubert H. Bancroft. Young’s reply, sent out over the signature of his secretary, George Reynolds is pithy but telling.

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