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Book History

Fake News, Leaked Documents, and the Book of Mormon: Part I (1829)

By February 6, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 8.15.27 PMFake news has been in the — well — news. Over the course of the runup to the 2016 presidential election, everything from conspiracy theories to wholly fabricated stories about the two major parties’ candidates spread like wildfire, dominating the stories liked and shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And it hasn’t let up since Donald Trump was elected, with his administration labeling mainstream news outlets like CNN and the New York Times “fake news,” all while Trump and his spokespeople routinely lie, contradict themselves, and fabricate wholesale massacres to advance their agenda. 

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What is “Early” Mormon History?

By January 13, 2017


9780307594907On Wednesday evening, I attended a public lecture by noted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in which she talked about her recently-released book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. We have a review of the book forthcoming here at JI (spoiler alert: it’s good and you all should read it), as well as a Q&A with Dr. Ulrich, but for now I wanted to reflect on the final four words of the book’s title: “Early Mormonism, 1835-1870.”

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The Visitors: Jack Chick and the Intellectual History of Modern Anti-Mormonism

By October 25, 2016


0061_05In the summer of 2002, while knocking on doors in the sweltering August heat of suburban Phoenix, my missionary companion and I were handed a small booklet by a less-than-friendly individual. Entitled The Visitors, the short illustrated tract told the story of two Mormon missionaries who arrive to teach a woman considering converting to Mormonism. Arriving at Fran’ doorstep with the hope of committing her to baptism that evening, the Elders are greeted not only by their anxious investigator, but also her niece, Janice, also a missionary preparing to do humanitarian work as a nurse in Africa.

A few minutes into their lesson, the missionaries are confronted by Fran’s surprisingly knowledgeable niece about various points of Mormon doctrine, doctrine the missionaries had failed to previously reveal to Fran. Horrified to learn that the Mormons believe, among other things, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God is a man (and not a spirit) with multiple wives in his heavenly abode, and Joseph Smith was fluent in the occult culture of early 19th century America, Fran asks the missionaries to leave and not come back. But Janice not only saved her beloved aunt that evening. She also, as we discover in the strip’s final frames, sparked the seeds of doubt in one of the missionary’s own minds.

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Summer Book Club Week 7: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 17-19

By July 18, 2016


Click here for part onetwothree, fourfive, and six of this year’s summer book club. 

This week’s chapters address Emma’s experiences in Nauvoo after the population of Nauvoo became thoroughly non-Mormon (Ch 19: “Change in Nauvoo,” 1850-1860) and as her sons (and Joseph Smith, the prophet’s sons) became established as adults and potentially key figures within Mormonism (Ch 20: “Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son,” 1860-1870).

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Summer Book Club Week 6: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 16-18

By July 11, 2016


Click here for part onetwothree, four, and five of this year’s summer book club. 

 This week’s chapters address the transitions in Emma Smith’s life from Winter 1845-1846 through the removal of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo in 1846 to the Elect Lady’s marriage to Lewis Bidamon and his travels throughout 1849. Brilliantly, the authors open these chapters with a letter forged by James Bennet and/or associates of his, published in the New York Sun. In the fraudulent letter, someone impersonating Emma claims that the current governing leaders of the Mormon Church were “tyrants” and that she planned to raise her children in another faith. Furthermore, the letter-writer claimed to have never believed her husband’s revelations or his religious innovations.

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Using Google’s Ngram Viewer for Historical Textual Analysis

By May 17, 2016


You may have heard about Google Books Ngram Viewer or perhaps even dabbled with it at some point in the recent past, but I will dive a bit deeper into using the tool for the purpose of historical textual analysis.

An Overview of Ngrams

In the field of computational linguistics, an n-gram is an adjoining chain of n items in a sequence of speech or text. N-grams are extracted from a corpus of speech or text and are ordered as sets. An n-gram of size 1 is a unigram (“binders”), size 2 is a bigram (“many binders”), size 3 is a trigram (“binders of women”), and greater sizes are referred to as four-grams (“binders full of women”), five-grams (“many binders full of women”), and so on.

The corpora accessible via the Google’s Ngram Viewer includes American English, British English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, and Italian processed between 2009-2012. The text within this corpora is derived from Google’s massive Google Books digitization endeavor, which is still ongoing. They note on their website that they have only included those books with sufficiently high optical character recognition (OCR) percentages and serials were also excluded from this corpora.1 If you are at all curious, you can download the dataset here.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer is optimized for quick inquiries into the usage of small sets of phrases (or n-grams as described above). The following embedded queries are to help us get more familiar with what is possible using this tool.

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Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places: Volume III – The Refiner’s Fire Edition

By January 20, 2016


Bone HunterThis is the third installment in an ongoing but terribly irregular series dedicated to the appearance of Mormon Studies in popular media, including musical lyrics, popular television shows, movies, and so forth. Previous installments can be read here and here.

A friend recently tipped me off to a series of books by Sarah Andrews, in which Wyoming-born geologist Emily “Em” Hansen uses her geological skills to help solve murders in various locales throughout the western United States.[1] The third installment in the series, Bone Hunter, takes place in Salt Lake City and Snowbird, Utah, where the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology is being held.[2] Here’s Publisher’s Weekly’s summary of the plot:

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Guest Post: 1923 Photographs of the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript

By August 28, 2015



Robin Scott Jensen is the mastermind behind the Joseph Smith Papers’ Revelations and Translations Series, which just released its third volume reproducing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Jeffrey G. Cannon is the JSP’s photo archivist and as such is the point man for the numerous textual and contextual illustrations that appear in JSP volumes. When R3 was released, photographs of Joseph Smith’s seer stone dominated attention here on the blog. This guest post sheds light on the history of the printer’s manuscript by focusing on the 1923 effort to photograph the entire manuscript for conservation purposes and the recent addition of the complete set of 1923 photos to the JSP website.

With all the excitement about seer stones in the weeks since the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was released, it is easy to overlook the fact that the volume also contains hundreds of high-quality, full-color photographs of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Another set of important images was also recently posted exclusively to the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 2: Chapters Three and Four

By May 18, 2015


RSR Image

This is the second installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings.We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions. This week Steve Fleming takes a closer look at Chapters 3 (“Translation: 1827-30”) and 4 (“A New Bible: 1830”).

Previous installments in the series:

•Part I: Prologue, Chapters 1-2

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3 Translation, 4 A New Bible (See part 1 here).

Bushman ends Chapter Two and begins Chapter Three by discussing how to make sense of the possible connections between the Smiths’ “magical” treasure-digging activities and Mormonism’s foundational events: receiving and translating the golden plates. Such similarities include seer stones, special treasure in the ground, and treasure guardians.

Bushman concedes that “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture,” (51) but he argues that by 1827, the year he married Emma and received the plates, “magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates” (54). Thus treasure digging played a “preparatory” role in the beginnings of Mormons, argues Bushman, and the treasure-digging elements in the events related to the golden plates played the purposed of Smith gaining his treasure-digging father’s support.

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From the Archives: Lord Macaulay’s Search for a First Edition Book of Mormon

By March 18, 2015


This post resurrects an older occasional series here at JI devoted to interesting finds in the archives (manuscript, digital, or otherwise). 

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wa200802A47_00I’ve recently been reading Philip Gura’s recently released biography of William Apess, an itinerant Methodist preacher and American Indian activist in the early 19th century. While I was hopeful that Gura would note Apess’s fascinating encounter with Mormon missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde in 1832 (he regrettably doesn’t), I nevertheless recommend the book to readers here. As Jared Hickman has noted in his article on “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse” (see our Q&A with Hickman on the article here), the Book of Mormon and Apess’s writings speak to one another in interesting ways, and Gura’s biography fleshes out the meanings of Apess’s corpus of biographical, polemical, and prophetic writings, and the life of the man behind them, like nobody has before.

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