The Juvenile Instructor is pleased to announce a round table discussion of one of the most important works to appear on Mormon history in recent memory–John G. Turner‘s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Turner’s biography, published by Harvard University Press, represents perhaps the apex of what I’ve called elsewhere a “Brigham Young Revival,” as historians have revisited the second Mormon prophet with renewed vigor after a long period of scholarly neglect. In the early twentieth century, historians found Brigham Young to be a far more interesting figure than Joseph Smith, since the former embodied scholars’ fascination with the frontier as the source of American culture and distinctiveness. Smith, by contrast, was usually cast as a womanizing deceiver who preyed upon credulous dupes, whose achievements paled in comparison to those of his successor. By the 1940s, however, scholars began to see Smith in a more positive light, producing several important studies and biographies, while the interest in Young waned. In the post-Civil Rights era, Young’s primary importance for historians lay in his racial policies and controversial theological teachings. Only Leonard Arrington published a major work on Young during this period, whose 1985 Brigham Young: American Moses reflected an earlier era of frontier historiography.
At the turn of the century, though, scholarly interest turned again to Brigham Young, just as Richard Bushman was completing his definitive biography of Joseph Smith. With the approaching 150th anniversary of Mountain Meadows, scholars and journalists debated Young’s culpability and whether the contemporary church retained any liability for the wrongs of the past. The appearance of Rough Stone Rolling in 2005 invited reflection on whether Young deserved a second biographical look. Publication of volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers likewise prompted speculation over whether the church and Larry Miller would bankroll a Brigham Young Papers Project. Scholars trained in the reinvigorated field of Western history also investigated Young’s impact on the Great Basin’s indigenous peoples and environment.
In this context, John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet makes a significant intervention in the literature on Mormonism. The book’s publication at the height of the “Mormon Moment” likely magnifies and sharpens Turner’s contributions. Over the next month or so, JI bloggers will be lending their considerable expertise to analyze and dissect various themes in Turner’s work, including controversial aspects such as Young’s role in implementing the priesthood and temple ban on black members, his practice of polygamy and treatment of women, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In addition, we’ll look at not-so-controversial yet crucial themes such as Young’s conversion and religious life, his role in settling the West, and his personality. Professor Turner has kindly agreed to respond at the conclusion of our round table.
David G.: Introduction
Christopher: Brigham Young’s Early Life and Conversion
Ben P: The Succession Crisis
David G.: Mormon-Indian Relations
SC Taysom: The Mormon Reformation
JJohnson: The Mountain Meadows Massacre
Robin: Documenting History