By March 19, 2018
As Joan Scott said, “Those who would codify the meaning of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history.”  Jonathan Stapley’s important new book, Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology explores the history of priesthood, one of Mormonism’s most fractious and fertile ideas, a word that contains worlds of complex meaning and diversity of lived practice about sacred authority and divine power. His work does so primarily by cleaving elements of Mormon priesthood into two general categories, which have too often become conflated in contemporary Mormon discourse and history: cosmology and ecclesiology . Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.
By August 6, 2017
This is the tenth 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.
Saskia pointed out that in chapter 9, Brigham Young had re-framed gendered duty: “building the Kingdom of God required men who were willing to leave their wives for missions and settlements, and women who were willing to be left behind and make do as best they could.” Chapter 10 follows the divergent experiences suffered by the households of three families separated by mens’ mission calls from three to seven years long.
It opens in August 1852. Joseph Smith’s 1843 revelation on plural marriage (now Doctrine and Covenants Section 132) was read and preached on publicly for the first time, and one hundred Mormon men were called on foreign missions. Eighty-four men departed for Britain or its colonies, seven to continental Europe, and nine to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). While today the majority of Mormon missionaries are young and single, these were “mature men” whose absence for three to seven years fractured households, interrupted marriages, and removed fathers from their children’s lives. The chapter follows three diarists as they traveled to their assignments and began the daunting task of converting people to a faith that had just openly jettisoned monogamy as a pillar of Christianity and civilization. Starting in 1852, Mormonism entered an era of open acknowledgement and defense of plural marriage and expanded its practice, opening its people to mounting opposition on religious, moral, political and legal grounds.
By April 17, 2017
For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it’s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager’s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we’re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child’s parable tracing one girl’s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.
By February 21, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fifth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are the Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.
Chapter 5 begins with a ghost story, or more properly, a story that probes the inextricable relationship–ongoing and mutually conscious–between living people and dead people in 20th century Catholicism. At the center of such relationships is the presence of a bloodied, tortured Christ, and all around the edges of this relationship are rituals of grieving, remembering, reconstituting, and “waking” the dead. Orsi’s haunting chapter narrative builds towards his own encounter with one family on the fringes of the “Catholic supernatural underground,” whose bedroom shrine for their deceased young child had become a portal to the world beyond for those who see(k) and served as a lay counseling center for people in search of connection with loved ones both living and dead.
By January 30, 2017
I had a different post planned for this week, but I’ll save it for a time that feels less urgent.
I’m going to speak candidly and personally, as a historian, a unionized public-sector educator, a woman, a Mormon, a white Eastern liberal elite, and a born-American citizen. (Just so you know where my intersectionalities lie). It’s abundantly clear that the election results and Trump’s inauguration have abruptly ushered us all into a new political and cultural landscape.
By January 12, 2017
When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who’ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism – indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn – never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it’s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people’s prized possessions.
One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it’s from the local archives, and there’s more where this came from. It’s uncatalogued. But it’s a gem, nonetheless.
The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.
By December 30, 2016
It’s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church’s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart’s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
By May 30, 2016
This past semester, I taught the history major senior capstone research seminar on “Religion in America” [Aside: WHEN will I ever learn to choose appropriately NARROW topics for senior seminar??]. Students’ paper topics ranged from the Branch Davidians at Waco, to the religious geography of the early British colonies, to recovering Jefferson’s personal theology, to protections for religious observance in the 21st-century military, to anti-Semitism in immigration policy of the 1920s and 1930s — 16 papers with the rather dizzying variety you might expect from so open-ended a course. Most of the students, though advanced in the major, had little prior experience tackling religious subjects in history classes, so that added a dimension of danger complexity to the whole enterprise.
By January 12, 2016
Doesn’t Hawaii in November sound perfect? Thought so. Check out this CFP, then; it looks broad enough to encompass historical approaches as well.
2016 MORMON MEDIA STUDIES SYMPOSIUM
CALL FOR PAPERS, PANELS, AND PRESENTATIONS
Theme: Mormonism and Global Media
Conference site: BYU Hawai‘i campus in Lā‘ie, Hawai‘i
Conference date: November 3 & 4, 2016
Proposal submissions due July 1, 2016
Sponsored by Department of International Cultural Studies and the College of Language, Culture and Arts, BYU Hawai‘i
Mormonism grows in a world with a variety of religion-society and religion-media relationships. Its historical, cultural, social, and political insertions into host countries may differ significantly from place to place. Thus Mormonism’s treatment by the media, its attempts to publicize itself through the media, and its members’ use of media technologies in religiously relevant ways—to name a few types of relationships with the media—may differ significantly from U.S. Mormon-media patterns. A conference on Mormonism and media surveys the current situation, raises new questions, and encourages new conversations about a globally growing religion and the part media play in particular cultures.
By December 28, 2015
This post begins with a rather cryptic instruction for Relief Society leaders, published in the Bulletin No. 13, July 1981, p. 2, which reads:
Homemaking Meeting Materials:
Relief Society leaders should ensure that all materials used in homemaking meeting are reliable and accurate. They should be especially careful about materials focusing upon color analysis for wardrobe planning. Materials presented in homemaking meeting should use basic color principles and promote an understanding of the use of color. Sisters should avoid “systems” of color analysis, many of which contain misinformation. 
Fellow JI blogger J. Stapley stumbled upon this puzzling little gem; I have a pretty solid hunch about it, but I also invite further interpretation / speculation about its meaning in the comments. The specific context might very well be forever lost in the mists of time, but it’s worth seeing if we can unpack this passage a little.
By December 21, 2015
The December 11, 2015 episode of the impeccably crafted history podcast BackStory is worth a listen, on the topic of “American Prophets.” In many ways, it’s a sequel to their “Born Again” episode on the history of American religious revival back in April, continuing the story of charismatic leaders and religious movements forging transformation and innovation in an intense cultural pressure cooker. In “American Prophets,” the hosts explore Neolin (Delaware / pan-Indian), William Seymour (Asuza Street, Pentecostalism), Brigham Young (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) and Elijah Muhammed (Nation of Islam). When added to the earlier episode’s portrayal of the First and Second Great Awakenings, Handsome Lake, Sam Jones, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham, we now have a nice two-hour audio documentary on diverse American new religious movements featuring a stellar cast of religious scholars. 
By August 2, 2015
At a recent meeting of the JI permabloggers which coincided with the MHA meeting in early June, we decided to move our Mormon Studies roundup from weekly to monthly. The feature will now appear on the first Sunday of the month. However, the roundup then promptly took a holiday in July, so apologies for the unintentionally long stretch from the last MS roundup to this one. After such a fast, we are back with a veritable feast of Mormon history-related news and events.
By July 24, 2015
This Pioneer Day, we’re republishing an edited version of a post from Tona H. that originally appeared in August 2013. Comments on the original pointed out that some youth treks definitely predated the 1997 Susquecentennial celebration, and more importantly: that a Google search of the word “trek” cannot distinguish between Mormon events and Hollywood film releases. The corrected post follows. For more on pioneer day from our archives, see here.
In 2009 our stake organized its first trek for youth conference and put it into the regular rotation for youth conference planning. In 2013, we repeated the event with roughly the same itinerary and logistics and presumably will keep it going in future years as well. Now, you may know that I live in New England, not in the Wasatch front region, the sagebrush plains of Wyoming, or along anything remotely resembling a traditional handcart route.
“Pioneer Trek” 
Even so, treks outside the historical landscape of the handcart companies have become commonplace: unusual enough to generate local news coverage, but frequent enough that a whole subculture has sprung up to support and celebrate it. With some similarities to Civil War reenactment and cosplaying in its emphasis on costuming, role play and historical storytelling, youth trek evokes and romanticizes selected aspects of the Mormon past to cement LDS identity and build youth testimony and unity. It is a unique (and, I’m arguing, actually very recent) form of LDS public history.
By June 22, 2015
This is the seventh installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.
• Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
• Part 2: Chapters 3-4
• Part 3: Chapters 5-6
• Part 4: Chapters 7-9
• Part 5: Chapters 10-12
• Part 6: Chapters 13-15
• Next week (Part 8): Chapters 19-21
Sparse comments last week suggest some understandable mid-book fatigue (it IS hefty, after all, and it IS the busy part of the summer for most of us), but never fear – just jump right back in. Chapters 16-18 form, in many ways, the emotional heart of Bushman’s biography and a microcosm of the thorny problems inherent in writing a finely textured history of a figure as iconic and enigmatic as Joseph Smith. They are Rough Stone Rolling itself, writ small.
By June 12, 2015
This year, MHA piloted something I hope we see more of in the future: a workshop as a pre- or post-conference tour alternative. A half-day workshop about documentary editing (aka “Geeking Out with Old Documents”) was dreamed up by JI’s own Robin Jensen of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and supported by BYU Special Collections, where the event was held. I helped make some of the initial introductions and arrangements as part of the MHA 2015 Program Committee, and then Local Arrangements took it and ran, and we all held our breath a little as the registration opened up (especially since it was up against the deservedly popular women’s history bus tour – which I hope we get a write up about! But I digress–), not knowing who would be interested in spending a day in the library learning the ins and outs of turning an original document (letter, diary, manuscript) into a readable resource for researchers, genealogists, and possibly even for publication.
Turns out: quite a lot of folks.
By May 31, 2015
The sixties beget all kinds of social experiments, and even Mormons were not immune to the call of the bohemian zeitgeist of their times. It may interest you to know that in the late 1960s there was an artists’ commune in the foothills of Alpine, Utah, calling themselves the Art & Belief Movement. Four artists – sculptor Neil Hadlock, figurative artist Dennis Smith, symbolist realist Gary Ernest Smith, and romantic realist Trevor Southey – and their families formed the core of the group. Though as transitory as many hippie communes of the era, this Mormon version is worth a closer look.
By April 13, 2015
While doing a close reading of Rick Turley’s essay for our #JMH50 roundtable series, I came across a tidbit that was new for me. He writes,
Beginning around 1970, our department had sponsored newsreel-style movies under the series title The Church in Action. These annual or five-year retrospectives used existing footage to feature newsworthy events like the international travels of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University’s dance teams. Useful though they were in featuring Church events in multiple countries, these films did not begin to capture the depth of Church history around the globe. 
As a scholar of religion and media, my ears perked up.
By April 6, 2015
Previous #JMH50 posts:
Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”
This post continues our series on the Mormon History Association’s 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Mormon History, considering the important insider account provided by LDS Church assistant Church historian and recorder, Richard E. Turley, Jr., titled “Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing the Global History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Turley, who is a prolific author and co-author, notably of the Church History Library-sponsored Women of Faith in the Latter Days series and the award-winning OUP book on the Mountain Meadows massacre, has directed the LDS Church’s Historical Department beginning in 1986. He oversaw the Church History department’s consolidation with the Family History department between 2000-2008 and most recently the Church History Department’s transition into its elegant and archivally sound new building in 2009.
In this essay, Turley takes readers behind the scenes at the Historian’s Office to describe its ongoing cultural and paradigm shift decentralizing church historical collection throughout the world. Though he attributes little of this great shift to his own values, decisions or leadership, it is apparent that his personal involvement was critical to this transition and his firsthand perspective is a valuable primary source in itself.
By December 27, 2014
Solstice was this week (which is also my birthday), a day which to me always represents a fresh start, the year’s pivot point back towards the light. This dawning feels especially significant, as the start of an unfamiliar new phase: I’ve just begun a sabbatical.
By November 17, 2014
And now for something completely different…
A few weeks ago, I introduced my first-year students to the Internet Archive, and we played a bit with the Wayback Machine, which has archived portions of the web since its beginning so we can know what digital environments looked like and how they’ve changed over time.
I also had occasion recently to pull out the files I collected while pursuing my undergraduate thesis on Mormon Indian Placement. I conducted that research between 1990 and 1992, which included some library research trips and a month of field research and collecting oral interviews. It was an interesting in-between time to engage in this kind of study. Research began at the literal card catalog in each library. I had access to computers, yes, but laptops were clunky and large, and could not wirelessly connect to anything. So I bought an electric typewriter on which to make my field notes. I carried a cassette tape recorder for interviews, and after I collected them all, I got some funding to rent a transcription machine with a foot pedal stop/start to help me transcribe them and save them on our home desktop. I backed up everything on 3.5″ disks (called floppies, for you millennials). Thinking I might need to present my research at some point, I brought a camera loaded with 35mm film and took a couple rolls of slides. Now all those things are stored in two very heavy cardboard boxes in my attic. I.e. accessible to no one, barely even me.
Tucked among my papers I found this small brochure from the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, listing ALL of its available computer research databases, most of which were installed on the library’s terminals (i.e. not accessed real-time via internet yet) and some of which required the user to switch out numbered CD-ROM disks manually. I thought it such a quaint artifact of early electronic academic resources that I took the liberty of uploading it to the Internet Archive, where it now lives. I’ve also Flipsnack’d it below (sorry it’s sideways, they don’t do landscape orientation apparently). The brochure was published in 1990, which I guess depending on your age seems like either a lifetime ago, or not very long ago at all.