Articles by

Tona H

Return to Elkton

By November 6, 2014

This post comes out of my experiences this fall teaching a senior seminar on “Writing Recent History” (which my students are finding especially challenging), and thinking about what that might mean in the Mormon context. And it’s also prompted by something that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said about Claudia Bushman at the Exponent II 40th celebration last month that caught my ear and which I’ve been thinking about ever since. Laurel said that one of the motivations for starting the journal was Claudia’s desire to “contain our anger by coming up with a project.”

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Exponent II Turns Forty

By September 22, 2014

Exponent II's board in 1974 and 2014 (credit: Heather Sundahl)

Exponent II’s board in 1974 and 2014 (credit: Heather Sundahl)

Exponent II began in 1974 in the Cambridge neighborhood of Harvard Square. On its fortieth anniversary, its founders – silver, sassy, and more than a little surprised that what they had wrought was still going strong – returned to one of the neighborhood’s church halls packed with guests to celebrate the organization and its achievements. I was so, so happy to be there, too.

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Cheese-Frosted Cauliflower and Other Delicacies

By May 19, 2014

Food is really important to Mormon life, and specifically to the life of Mormon women. Women, by long-seated and seemingly immovable cultural tradition in many (most? all?) world cultures, are the preparers and servers of food. This is especially true across many religious communities, not just Mormonism – church suppers grace all Protestant faiths; Catholic feast days and Jewish holidays and Muslim observances (just to name a few) are built around food and have both women and specialized food preparation at their center. Food made and presented by women marks Mormon occasions: births, funerals, baptisms, weddings, potlucks, “linger-longers,” and of course the ubiquitous and generic “refreshments” concluding nearly every Mormon event I have ever attended.

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MHA Newsletter Update, Spring 2014 edition

By April 9, 2014

The Mormon History Association Spring 2014 newsletter is now available, and we wanted to continue our tradition of highlighting its contents and announcements.

Registration is now open for the San Antonio conference (MHA’s 49th), expertly organized by Brian Cannon, and the lead story reminds us that there is a long history of church connections with Texas dating back to 1844 and continuing through the followers of Lyman Wight, missionary efforts in the 1850s, and vibrant local growth in the 20th century. The conference will take place at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk hotel, and self-guided tour maps will be available for those wanting to see the city on foot. There are still some seats open in the pre-conference tour to the Spanish Missions, and in the post-conference tour to the Wightite sites, state capitol at Austin, and LBJ locations.

Starting in July 2014, MHA welcomes its new executive directors, Debra J. and David B. Marsh of Sandy, Utah, who are profiled in this issue. Debbie is a professional genealogist and historian who will be defending her PhD dissertation at the University of Utah this summer on the Carthage mob. David is a longtime CES educator and church curriculum designer with degrees in psychology, family studies, and sociology of religion, currently working for the church’s Priesthood Department.

Calls for Papers and Upcoming Events, in order of their submission deadlines –

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Elegy for Missing Data, in Advance

By January 13, 2014

Or: All Web is Not Created Equal, have you noticed?

One of the sessions I attended at the AHA this month was Session 151, Social Media and History. It featured one of our JIers, Max Mueller, talking about tensions and complications in the church’s “I am a Mormon” campaign, including the fascinating case of one woman whose tattoos were airbrushed out of her profile pic (her profile is now gone, for other reasons). Great talk, by the way, along with several others that reflected on the ethical and methodological problems of using social media as historical sources for researching marginalized groups or threatened voices. In each of the presentations — Max’s on constructing Mormon online “diversity,” Jessica Lingel’s on underground music scenes, Sadaf Jaffer’s on online discussion boards for Pakistani atheists, and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s on sites made by and about Tibetans — the very existence of the sites to begin with, and especially their continued life on the web, is inherently unstable. It was actually a rather terrifying session, like watching 4 canaries in a coal mine (Hey! There’s a pocket of air over here! Oh wait, never mind).

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Musings on Archival Research, Methods and Workflow

By August 23, 2013

…or how to hack your summer archives trip and come off victorious.

This post grew out of a conversation I had with fellow JI-er Christopher Jones during one of his lengthy jaunts around the Atlantic seaboard during his summer dissertation research. I have the good fortune to be located not too far from the American Antiquarian Society and could offer him room & board during his research trip there, and since I didn’t set foot inside an archives all summer I was living vicariously through everyone else’s treasure-hunting. We got to talking about archival research method: how we historians actually do what we do inside the archives, and reflecting on how we all get very little graduate-level instruction on the nitty-gritty of how to do this, and how it might benefit our JI community to have a broader conversation about it.

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Youth Trek, Public History, and Becoming “Pioneer Children” in the Digital Age

By August 7, 2013

In 2009 our stake organized its first trek for youth conference and put it into the regular rotation for youth conference planning. So 4 years later, we repeated the event this summer 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 or along anything remotely resembling a traditional handcart route. 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 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.

I’ve now attended and had a hand in planning both of the treks our stake conducted, so I’m of two minds about the whole experience. A double-consciousness, if you will.

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Troubling the AHA’s Embargo Waters

By July 26, 2013

There’s a naval and mercantile metaphor in there somewhere, even if my post title doesn’t quite capture it. This is a short post just to call attention to the squall on today’s horizon about open access, digital dissertation publishing, and the tough choices facing history grad students navigating the internet’s rough seas. A perfunctory glance at my Twitter feed this morning shows that although the AHA issued a policy statement way back on the 22nd against timely open access digital publication of dissertations, today was the day it surfaced big-time. Breached the waters, you might say. It’s perhaps a tempest in a disciplinary teapot, but still: young scholars, best to take note.

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It’s May, Happy New Year! Or, How I Spend My Summer Vacation

By May 18, 2013

Sorry this post isn’t very Mormon-y, but it’s part of my occasional postings that try to make academia’s processes more transparent, especially to benefit prospective & junior faculty. So this public service announcement brought to you by the merrie month of May, hopefully it’s timely advice to someone out there.

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Dreaming up a DH Research Agenda for Mormon Studies

By April 2, 2013

On my spring break I took a one-day “staycation” to Day 1 of a local gathering of digital humanities scholars, hosted by the smart folks at Northeastern University’s NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks (, tweeting at @NUlabTMN). It was one of the best conferences I’ve been to – seemed like mainly literary scholars but also historians, librarians, and coders, and it involved a good blend of showcasing completely awesome ongoing initiatives, asking big existential questions about knowledge production, and teaching hands-on skills. Myself, I learned a bit about network analysis using Gephi (no relation to Nephi) and how to georeference a high-resolution historical map image using ArcGIS. I felt like a boss (as my students would say) by the day’s end.

And it got me thinking.

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Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Vol 2

By March 23, 2013

Review of: Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman, eds., Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Two, 1821 – 1845 (Deseret Book, 2012).

I really cannot improve upon the opening lines of the introduction to this projected seven-volume series:

Although approximately half the people in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women, their lives of faith and dedication are just beginning to receive the attention they merit. This series, Women of Faith in the Latter Days, aims to enhance awareness of these women through inspirational accounts written for a general readership.

The newest edition, the second in the series, considers thirty women* born between 1821 and 1845, and it’s a blockbuster volume both in the women who are included and in the list of authors who set their hand to crafting readable yet accurate and historically contextualized narratives of their lives. The essays purposely introduce both “well-known and previously obscure” women, presenting them in alphabetical order, a notably democratic editorial decision. They epitomize the pioneer women whose piety and self-sacrifice could have easily become fossilized in sentimental hagiography. But that’s not what this series is about, thank heaven.

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Thinking Historically… and Why it Matters

By March 20, 2013

I spend a lot of my work-life time pondering what it actually means to think historically, and how to get undergraduates to do it. I have been much influenced by the work of Sam Wineburg, who has studied this quite a lot, and I find it interesting that there are multiple models or frameworks for what “historical thinking” means and why it’s important. Let’s look at a few of these lists, and think about how the concepts might apply to increasing the level of historical thinking literacy among “non-professionals” outside of history classrooms.

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A Booklist for Mormon Women’s History

By March 9, 2013

Suppose that you were interested in Mormon women’s history, and suppose that you owned a library card and a computer. Now suppose you wished a smart group of LDS scholars would make you a list of classic texts and maybe comment a bit on why each book is worth a read. And while they were at it, throw in a roundup of web and digital resources for Mormon women’s history, too.

Voila! Today is your lucky day. The JI authors have been busy crowdsourcing this annotated bibliography of our must-read books and online archival resources for the history of Mormon women.

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Women’s History Month at JI

By March 3, 2013

Rachel Emma Woolley SimmonsAlthough we may not be able to top black history month, which had a stellar lineup of contributors, posts, and CFPs and then ended with a major change to the LDS scriptures concerning the church’s conscious remembering (literally, re-membering) its early African American priesthood holders and rejecting any revelatory basis for the priesthood ban – and here, let me interject a hearty hallelujah! – we would like to begin (lamb-like) with some thoughts, questions, and considerations for women’s history month in March. My tongue-in-cheek hope would be that, if our mojo is similar, Joseph Smith’s 1842 revelation to the Relief Society recorded in Eliza R. Snow’s Minute Book becomes D&C 139. By April 1st.

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Never an Atlas so Handsome

By February 6, 2013

First, a confession: I’m a stats dropout. It was the one course in college that I dropped. If someone had told me that it was something a historian actually should know, maybe I would have stuck with it (or maybe not). These days, I’m a dolt when it comes to sigma values and such, but I do love a good visualization of statistics. And if digitization and “big data” are the next frontiers in humanities research, then statisticians, especially those who can find compelling ways to visualize data, will find themselves in high demand.

Nowadays, data-crunching needs computers of mind-blogging speed and the results are enlivened with visualizations of breathtaking complexity and beauty (one of my favorites turns the NY subway schedule into a haunting musical map). But in the late 19th century, the U.S. government crunched monumental stacks of data, like those collected in the decennial census, using just paper and pencil, index cards and a whole bunch of person-hours — but nonetheless managed to make some of the most stunning data visualizations ever conceived. The “golden age” just may have been the successive publication of three big statistical atlases using information gathered in the 1870, 1880 and 1890 censuses, replete with gorgeous lithography and chock-full of Progressive social scientific hubris.

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“Manvotionals” and (Gentle)manly Nostalgia

By January 16, 2013

This Christmas we got a lovely gift under the tree from my sister that was especially appropriate for our family, and which we really liked. It was a gift set on the “Art of Manliness” with two books and a set of coasters in a self-described “classic cigar box.” One book was an etiquette and advice manual updating 19th and early 20th century counsel for the 21st century man dispensing “classic skills and manners,” and the other was a collection of readings described as Manvotionals, clustered around “the seven manly virtues” (in case you’re keeping track, those are: manliness – which, I have to say, seems a little redundant, plus courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline and honor). My teen sons have already devoured both books and the collection’s appeal is undeniable – the books come pre-scuffed in that new-but-looks-old-book way that is so popular these days, abundantly illustrated with graphic elements and engravings that look borrowed from Gilded Age business periodicals and 1920s Arrow collar ads.

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On Ending a Course

By December 20, 2012

I’ve just finished teaching my fall course on American religious pluralism—in fact, I was supposed to post about this yesterday but I’m still grading their final exams and submitting grades. It’s that time of year to think about what worked and what didn’t, and how I might do things differently next time.

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Book Review: Major Problems in American Religious History, 2nd edition

By November 30, 2012

Major Problems in American Religious History, 2nd ed. Documents and Essays edited by Patrick Allitt. Major Problems in American History Series. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013. vii-xx, 519 pp.

Patrick Allitt (Emory University) has updated the American religious history volume in Wadsworth/Cengage’s Major Problems series for 2013 – the original edition was published in 1999, so a second edition was long overdue. And it turns out that it was worth the wait, if you can swallow the $95 price tag.

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Mormons as Part of the Pluralist Kaleidoscope

By October 12, 2012

So when I created my fall course on American religious pluralism I built it around five units. In this post I thought I’d share those, and invite conversation about where Mormonism shows up in my course or where it could be discussed in a similar course.

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My Fall American Religion Course

By October 6, 2012

I’m finally surfacing from the hectic start of semester and wanted to write a couple of posts about the history course I’m teaching in American religious pluralism this fall at Worcester State. It’s an upper-level history elective called “Religions in America,” and in previous versions I’ve taught it mainly as an introduction to American religious diversity… sort of a “religious literacy” exercise in which students depart the course knowing a little something about many things rather than having deep knowledge of a few things. This term, however, I’ve focused the course more narrowly on the history of the idea (and imperfect implementation over time) of American religious pluralism.

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