By November 7, 2012
Mitt Romney hoped to be the Mormon JFK. Instead, he will now go down in the history books as the Mormons’ Al Smith — the Roman Catholic who was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic Party in 1928, but lost to Calvin Coolidge in part because of anti-Catholic prejudice.
But I’m not interested in how long it will be before we elect our first Mormon president. I’m more interested in the so-called “Mormon Moment,” and what the end of Mitt Romney’s political career means for the place of Mormons in American culture. With Romney (and his ubiquitous political ads) out of the spotlight, will the Latter-day Saints now fade from the national stage? Will Americans forget about their odd Mormon neighbors and move on to lambasting and lampooning someone else?
By October 15, 2012
J. Spencer Fluhman is assistant professor of History at Brigham Young University. He graduated summa cum laude from BYU with a degree in Near Eastern Studies (1998) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was awarded a MA (2000) and PhD (2006) in History. He is the author of the recently-released A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), and the editor (with Andrew H. Hedges and Alonzo L. Gaskill) of The Doctrine & Covenants: Revelations in Context (Religious Studies Center, BYU, and Deseret Book, 2008). He also guest edited (with Steven Harper and Jed Woodworth) the , “Mormonism in Cultural Context.” Dr. Fluhman is also a dynamic lecturer and popular teacher at BYU. He personally mentored several of the bloggers at Juvenile Instructor, and remains a close friend and trusted mentor to the current generation of Mormon graduate students. Below he answers your questions about his recent book, broader researcher, and Mormon history more generally.
By September 19, 2012
DUP: Cornelia Harriet Hales Horne Clayton
Your initial reaction may be one of disgust (one naturally thinks of hairballs!) or disdain (how often did they wash their hair anyway?). Intricate designs of human hair, fastidiously fashioned into flowers, trees, and abstract designs, came to represent a Victorian ideal of nostalgia, elaborate texture, and ostentatious ornamentation in the memory of ancient human relics of the Saints.
By September 17, 2012
Mitt Romney is a politician born not in the wrong place, but the wrong time. While his opponents in the Republican primary accused him of untrustworthy geographic origins and thus of not being a real Republican, in fact Romney is simply running sixty years too late. If this were 1952 instead of 2012, the “Massachusetts moderate” would have enjoyed a political climate that twice elected Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower—the father of such massive government spending projects as the interstate highway system, who spoke openly of the value of organized labor for protecting working Americans . As many have asserted during this election cycle, past Republican luminaries would not survive in their own party after its hard turn to the right in recent decades.
By September 15, 2012
So these have been a long time coming, and I’m sure I have forgotten a number of highlights I didn’t get a chance to jot down during the presentations I attended. The 2012 Church History Symposium was held March 2 and 3, jointly hosted by the Church History Department and BYU’s Religious Studies Center and themed on the life and times of Joseph F. Smith. The RSC is planning on publishing selected speeches from the symposium sometime in early 2013, and has pledged to post video proceedings on their website (they have only M. Russell Ballard’s keynote address available currently)—but in the meantime I thought it would be good to have some discussion on the conference here at the good ol’ JI blog.
By September 6, 2012
The latest issue of Religion and American Culture arrived in the mail several weeks ago, and swamped with a thousand other things to read, I tossed it on my bedside table and promptly forgot about it. While cleaning in preparation for the arrival of visitors last weekend, I pulled the issue out from under a stack of library books and scattered, semi-coherent dissertation notes I scribbled down in the middle of the night while laying in bed and quickly glanced at the table of contents. I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on Mormonism, and even more pleased when I saw that Thomas Simpson was the author.
By August 24, 2012
Neilson, Reid L. Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the Chicago World’s Fair. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 207 pp. + index.
Today the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893, also known as the Columbian Exposition, is largely lost from America’s collective memory. Despite the once-dazzling spectacle of its extraordinary landscape and architecture, all that lingers for most people now—if anything—is George Ferris’ great Wheel, the risky engineering triumph that became the icon of the Fair. In its time, however, the Fair was perceived as the greatest American happening since the Civil War. It drew about 27 million visitors at a time when the national population stood at only about 65 million. The event galvanized the country in myriad ways, and profoundly dignified the city of Chicago.
Scholars often depict the Fair as a catalyst in American history. It had significant effects, for instance on the development of technology and architecture. Historians of American religion characterize the Fair and its Parliament of World Religions as a moment of growing self-consciousness for American Christians, a first encounter with previously unknown world faiths. It was the beginning, historians say, of a growing sense of religious pluralism. Together with the new scientific forces coming to bear on religion, this new awareness transformed American religious sensibilities in the latter half of the 19th century.
Reid Neilson’s Exhibiting Mormonism: Latter-day Saints and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, published at the end of last year by Oxford, brings the argument of the Chicago Fair as pivotal moment home to Mormon history, plotting the Fair as a critical juncture in the story of Mormons’ relationship with the rest of America. As Richard Bushman’s jacket blurb notes, Chicago was the Mormons’ national “coming out party,” and in this slender volume, Neilson shows how the Fair and other such events transformed Mormons’ ways of introducing themselves to the rest of the nation.
By August 20, 2012
The media is buzzing about the current “Mormon moment,” by which they mean that Americans, in contrast with decades past, currently seem fascinated by and inclined to be positive about the Latter-day Saints. But this is not non-Mormon America’s first flirtation with this long-suspected native-born religion. Americans have had several such moments of fascination with the Saints throughout the last century.
By May 10, 2012
In recent years, historians have looked beyond Utah’s borders to Arizona as a fruitful place to explore the dynamics of race, gender, and class among Mormons in the American West. Two works that have appeared of late include Mormons as prominent actors in Arizona’s history, Daniel J. Herman’s Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West (2010) and Katherine Benton-Cohen’s Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (2011). Herman examines the Rim County War of the 1880s, which violently drew together Mormons, cowboys, New Mexican sheepherders, Jewish merchants, mixed-blood ranchers, and eastern corporations. Many Mormons, with their “code of conscience,” stood opposed to Southern whites’ “culture of honor” (although Herman is careful to note that these categories were always porous). Benton-Cohen analyzes interracial interactions in Cochise County between Mormons, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Apaches, Chinese merchants, white Midwestern transplants, white female reformers, Serbian miners, and New York mine managers. She asks how racial categories developed along with national identities in the borderlands. In both works, the authors use Mormons to complicate facile notions of “whiteness.”
By April 29, 2012
Mormon missionary efforts within the United States prompted resentment beyond simple sectarianism. Most turn-of-the-century Americans thought of “missionaries” as working with non-White non-Protestants, usually overseas.  Since they sent missionaries to “inferiors” they tended to perceive missionaries at their own door as a racial insult.
By November 30, 2011
In The Mormon Menace, Patrick Mason adeptly traces the contours of anti-Mormonism in the late nineteenth-century South and explains how proselytizing, polygamy, and extra-legal violence shaped the South’s response to Mormonism. Mason attends to the ways in which southern honor, defined by a communal estimation of the individual and often deployed to protect or avenge the virtuous female, provided justification for illicit actions against Mormon missionaries. While granting that anti-Mormon violence paled in comparison to racial and political attacks against African Americans, Mason contends that “Mormonism was unique in the way it inspired southerners to set aside general norms of civility and religious tolerance” (13).
By August 15, 2011
(cross-posted at Religion in American History)
The latest issue of Religion and American Culture arrived in my mailbox last week, and I was excited to see the first article dealt with a topic sure to interest JI readers: “‘Until This Curse of Polygamy Is Wiped Out’: Black Methodists, White Mormons, and Constructions of Racial Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century,” written by James B. Bennett, associate professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University.
By July 18, 2011
Last week my wife and I spent five days conducting field research for my dissertation in the National Archives, Central Plains Region branch in Kansas City, Missouri. Although I’m not writing on a Mormon topic, we flagged anything that might have a Mormon connection in the Bureau of Indian Affairs files we were examining. On Friday, my wife Hope turned to me with an excited look on her face, and handed me this piece of paper:
By May 27, 2010
Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1907-1921. By Matthew C. Godfrey. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2007.
Necessary Fraud: Progressive Reform and Utah Coal. By Nancy J. Taniguchi. Legal History of North America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
Most historians are familiar with the Turner Thesis, Frederick Jackson Turner’s once-dominant argument that American history was made on its margins, on the frontier, and that historians who put slavery and the east coast at the center of the nation’s past were off the mark.
By March 4, 2010
I put up a link earlier this week on the sideblog to an article by Nate Oman* entitled “Natural Law and the Rhetoric of Empire: Reynolds v. United States, Polygamy, and Imperialism” (available at SSRN here). Because Nate is shopping the article around to law journals and it thus might not catch the attention of historians (attention it definitely deserves), I thought I’d post the abstract here for anyone who missed the sideblog link and/or the discussion on it over at Times & Seasons).
By December 19, 2009
Dale Topham is a 4th-year Ph.D student in American history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. His research interests include the American West, the Southwestern Borderlands, and environmental history. He received his B.A. and M.A. in American history from BYU, where he studied the fur trade (he was also my TA when I took US History, 1890-1945 from Brian Cannon as an undergrad, so we go back aways). While at BYU, he worked for two years as a researcher and writer for the Education in Zion exhibit. Dale is not only a top-notch historian but he’s also an Orem native, which adds to this review of Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, which we’ve discussed before on the blog. See also here. Farmer’s book has won a ton of awards, most notably the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. Please welcome Dale and enjoy the review.
On Zion’s Mount, a derivation of Jared Farmer’s Ph.D. dissertation
By December 12, 2009
I’ve written previously on ways Mormon historians can transcend the 1890 rupture and begin to conceptualize and integrate the twentieth century into narratives of Mormon history. I suggested that one way to do this is to historicize contemporary issues, such as those surrounding race, gender, and sexuality, and show how the past can illuminate the present. Some may protest that this approach is overly-presentist, but I would argue that all history is presentist to one degree or another, and as historians we should be writing histories that are useful and useable.
By March 16, 2009
Currently, a couple of seasoned Mormon scholars are working on a book collection of Mormon documents for Columbia University Press. This got me thinking: what would you say are “essential” documents in the LDS past?
By January 16, 2009
Inspired by Edje, I dug this out of the archives. Originally posted in slightly different form here.
By 1910, 55 out of every 100 American Protestant missionaries – a group numbering in the tens of thousands whose reach extended from the cities of the United States to Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America – were women. Furthermore, the congregational associations who supported these missionaries were also dominated by women. Though it could be argued this merely reflects the historic gender gap within Christian congregations, such a boring sociological explanation was not how these missionaries explained themselves to themselves, or how their leaders lauded them.
By September 5, 2008
Although it may be surprising to many today, during the nineteenth century anti-Mormons often denied that Latter-day Saints were white. Mormon authors fiercely contested this argument, using republican discourses to portray themselves not only as literal but also ideological descendants of the Revolution. As Patty Limerick has argued, anti-Mormons waived aside these objections and gave the Mormons the same choice given to Native Americans during the 1830s–either renounce your cultural distinctiveness, or move west of the Mississippi River, where no whites live.
Once the Mormons resettled in the Great Basin, they discursively constructed their territory as a place of refuge in contrast to the tyranny of the East. Perhaps due to their insistence on claiming whiteness, their Great Basin refuge had borders that were not only geographically defined but also racially delimited. Although sporadic attempts were made during the first few decades of settlement to live peaceably with Native Americans, by 1850 Mormons in Utah Valley
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