Section

Material Culture

Miss Indian BYU and Material Culture

By September 26, 2013


This installment in the JI’s material culture month comes from Farina King of the Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House clan) of the Diné (Navajo). She is a second-year graduate student in the U.S. History Ph.D program at Arizona State University. She received her M.A. in African History from the University of Wisconsin and a B.A. from Brigham Young University with a double major in History and French Studies. King has written and presented about indigenous Mormon experiences in the twentieth century, drawing from interviews that she conducted for the LDS Native American Oral History Project at BYU. Her doctoral research traces the changes in Navajo educational experiences through the twentieth century. She was the last Miss Indian BYU crowned in 2006. King is also a dedicated wife and mother to two toddlers. A version of the following will appear in a special issue on Miss Indian pageants, forthcoming in the  Journal of the West .

The Tribe of Many Feathers (TMF), the BYU Native American student organization, hosted the Miss Indian BYU pageant for twenty-three consecutive years until 1990. TMF restarted the pageant in 2001. I was the last crowned Miss Indian BYU in 2006, since the TMF Council cancelled the pageant again in 2007. I had the opportunity to interview several former Miss Indian BYUs about their experiences as title-holders and pageant contestants including Vickie Sanders Bird and Jordan Zendejas who I feature in this blog post. The Miss Indian BYU Pageant and its winners’ memories reveal the ways that Native American LDS youth engaged and transformed material culture in the effort to represent BYU Indian students.

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Responses: Paul Harvey and Edward Blum respond to Noel Carmack’s Review Essay in the Journal of Mormon History

By September 24, 2013


Almost exactly one year ago, the University of North Carolina Press published Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, a sweeping and provocative analysis of the ways in which Americans from various walks of life over the last four hundred (!) years have imagined Jesus. Among the many contributions the book makes, and of particular interest to JI readers, is the authors’ situating Mormons as important players in the larger story of race and religion they narrate so masterfully. In fact, one paragraph in particular has garnered more attention than nearly any other part of the book—a brief discussion in chapter 9 of the large, white marble Christus statue instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon HistoryNoel Carmack authored a 21 page review of The Color of Christ, focusing on their treatment of Mormonism and paying particular attention to their discussion of the Christus. Professors Blum and Harvey generously accepted our invitation to respond here, as part of both our ongoing Responses series and as an appropriate contribution to our look at Mormon material culture this month. 

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Under Glass at D.I.: How I Found a Rare Copy of The World’s Fair Ecclesiastical History of Utah

By September 23, 2013


To historians, collectors, and aficionados of 19th-century America, it is no surprise that the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 is highly popular for its abundance of collectible items still in circulation among antique dealers, collectors’ sites, and Ebay, of course. Indeed, a cursory search of “Chicago World’s Fair 1893” on Ebay brings up hundreds of items, from paper weights, silk scarves, plates, bowls, medallions, shaving cups, lamps, bookmarks, coins, spoons, Fair tickets, and every variation of printed and photographic material imaginable.  One could literally lose fortune, space, and sanity to build a personal collection of World’s Fair memorabilia. 

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Bricks in Nauvoo; or, A Sleepover at Willard Richards’ House

By September 21, 2013


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The Ubiquitious Nauvoo Brick Souvenir

By necessity, early Mormons were builders. It’s easy to forget, retrospectively, how much sheer labor went into the communities that early Latter-day Saints, time and again, built from the ground up. Temple building is one of the more conspicuous form of construction activity, but with each relocation Latter-day Saints also faced anew the more mundane labors of improving land, building homes, outbuildings, ditches and canals, fences, roads—in other words, of generating a basic domestic and civic infrastructure. Not unlike many other roving families in early America, Mormons continually reconstructed their material world from the ground up.

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Abstractions, Shadows, and Images of Christ

By September 18, 2013


Laura Allred Hurtado contributes this next installment in the JI’s material culture month, on Mormon attempts to represent Jesus. Laura is the Global Acquisitions Curator for Art in the Church History Department. She has an MA in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of  Utah and a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies at BYU. Laura has presented papers at scholarly conferences and curated exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and various other venues.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.–2 Chronicles 7:14

 All representations of divinity fail. Fail in that they are made of terrestrial materials, seen through non-celestial eyes. 

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A Touchstone of the Past: The Face Wheel from Haun’s Mill

By September 17, 2013


Tiffany T. Bowles offers this installment in the JI’s material culture month. Tiffany is a Curator of Education at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. A native of Orem, Utah, she received a BA degree in history from BYU and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. She has worked for the National Park Service at Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez, Mississippi, and Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. In addition, she has worked at the Illinois State Military Museum and volunteered for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

On a quiet fall day in October 1838, Amanda Barnes Smith and her family busily worked to prepare a campsite on the banks of Shoal Creek in the small community of Haun’s Mill, Missouri. After a grueling journey from Kirtland, Ohio, the Smiths were relieved at the prospect of settling near others of their Latter-day Saint faith on the unfamiliar frontier.

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A Crash Course in Material Culture for Tourists: The Mormon Beehive

By September 16, 2013


Is this really a post about material culture? I started out thinking it would be, but I suppose it hasn’t really ended up that way as I’m not analyzing the ways in which the makers or users of these objects physically interact with them. Yet I think there’s something significant in the fact that the Mormon beehive is such a substantial physical presence, both as it is materially incorporated into so many Mormon sites and as it appears in so many of the mundane physical assertions of state power in Utah. Perhaps I’m grasping at straws in an effort to anchor myself to our monthly theme here at JI – I’ll leave it for the readers of this post to decide!

I’ve always been a very visual person, and I take great delight in quizzing myself and the people around me on the people and pictures that we encounter in our everyday lives. I’m told it’s something of a trial to watch any BBC production with me, as every time a new character appears on screen I immediately give my fellow viewers a brief history of the actor’s previous performances and explain how their previous roles are being used to shape the audience’s reaction to the current character. (This might explain why my husband often chooses to go do something else when I turn on Masterpiece Theatre….) I do the same thing with Disney movies, and I also delighted, when I worked for the Disney Store in college and made frequent excursions to Orlando, at finding the “hidden Mickeys” that Disney incorporates into designs all over its theme parks. It’s a shame Dan Brown isn’t better at what he does – I’m a big fan of finding and analyzing hidden symbols… when they’re well hidden (or at least unnoticed or misunderstood by many) and worth finding anyway.

So imagine how much fun I have with the many not-so-hidden but all-too-overlooked symbols I have learned through my study of the Latter-day Saints (as evidenced here by the fact that all of the pictures below are mine, unless otherwise noted).

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Guest Post: Justin Bray on Mormon Sacrament and Material Culture

By September 12, 2013


Justin Bray is an oral historian at the Church History Department in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is also an MA student at the University of Utah, where he studies American religious history. He has presented and published several papers on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper among the Latter-day Saints.

I’ve always found objects meaningful tools to reconstruct the past.

When my great-grandfather passed away many years ago, my dad inherited an old baseball bat—probably because my brothers and I couldn’t stop watching The Sandlot, and throughout our childhood we collected an unhealthy number of baseball cards. I really didn’t know anything about my great-grandfather (at the time), let alone that he was a baseball player. But the more attention I paid to the bat, the more the bat became a kind of lens into my great-grandfather’s world.

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Mormon Jesus at the Jersey Shore: Some Thoughts on LDS Images of Christ in Non-Mormon Venues

By September 4, 2013


As a sort of follow-up to my post a couple of weeks ago on early Mormonism on the Jersey Shore and as my own contribution to the blog’s emphasis on material culture this month, I thought I’d offer some brief thoughts on Mormon images of Christ and their appropriation and use by non-Mormons.

Earlier this summer, a family member handed me a handful of pamphlets she’d picked up during a recent trip to the Jersey Shore. Knowing of my own interests in Methodist history, she thought I’d appreciate the literature she’d picked up at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Methodism has a long and rich history in New Jersey—Asbury Park, a seaside community made famous by Bruce Springsteen, was named after the father of American Methodism, Francis Asbury, and the town of Ocean Grove traces its own roots to the efforts of two Methodist ministers in the mid-19th century to establish a permanent camp meeting site to host summer retreats and worship services. While I found the content of the pamphlets interesting, I was struck most by the image adorning the tri-fold pamphlet advertising a series of lectures entitled “Our God Present During Difficulty.”

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Hemming Village: Val and Alice Hemming and Memorializing Mormon Women’s History in Public Spaces

By August 17, 2013


In yesterday’s post, “Eliza R. Snow as Dorm Mother and Concert Master” here, I wrote about the challenges faced when institutions fall short of representing their female members’ historical presence, and how the limited efforts of BYU and BYU-Idaho have tried to meet those challenges in sometimes interesting ways, but have often fallen short. In contrast, I have also found an example, right here in Rexburg, Idaho, of how private individuals, families, or businesses, when equipped with adequate resources and far-sighted motives, can advance the purposes of public history, choosing to represent the contributions of women and other underrepresented groups in ways that tradition-bound institutions might not.

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Eliza R. Snow as Dorm Mother and Concert Master: Memorializing Mormon Women In Campus Spaces

By August 16, 2013


One trip through Rexburg, Idaho, or any amount of time spent there, reminds visitors of the methods of honoring the institutional, religious, and pioneering heritage of western settlements, in ways that often emphasize the prominence of male actors in that history, and the absence, or lesser importance, of female actors.

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Book of Mormon into Darkness

By June 14, 2013


Please join us in welcoming this guest post from Edward Blum, a recognized scholar of race and religion in U.S. history who has contributed to JI previously. Ed is associate professor of history at San Diego State University. He is the author of Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005), W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007), and most recently, co-author (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (2012). He is the co-editor (with Paul Harvey) of The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History (2012), (with Jason R. Young) The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009), and (with W. Scott Poole) Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (2005). Ed also blogs at Religion in American History and Teaching United States Historyand last week attended his very first Mormon History Association conference in Layton, Utah.

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Has darkness ever overwhelmed you? Have you seen cities sink and communities set ablaze? Has a voice saved you? If you know the Book of Mormon, then you are familiar with the tale I tell. After hundreds of pages chronicling the ebbs and flows of civilizations, the narrative reaches a climax. In Palestine, Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. The world felt the reverberations. “Thick darkness” fell upon the land. Nothing could bring light, “neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceeding dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all.” The sounds of howling and weeping pieced the darkness. Sadness reigned.

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From the Archives: Mormon Women and Pants, circa 1856

By December 13, 2012


I’ve watched with interest the ongoing debates this week over the proposed “Wear Pants to Church Day” spearheaded by a group of Mormon feminists. I’ve little desire to wade into the treacherous waters that conversation has become, but thanks to our resident Strangite expert Robin Jensen, I now know that the history of Mormon women and the controversial wearing of pants extends back much earlier than the late 20th century.

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Hair Wreaths: A Nineteenth-Century Mormon Treasure, Part One

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.

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Negotiation on the Internet: the Mormon Hey Girl Meme

By September 7, 2012


Memes are an obligatory part of the internet. They’re eagerly shared through Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other on-line social media sites. They occasionally make it off-line, finding their way onto someone’s cubicle wall or refrigerator door. And I bet most people have had their mom innocently forward them a meme or two, most likely featuring a cat. Memes are everywhere.

lolcats, or I can has cheeseburger? http://icanhas.cheezburger.com/

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Mormons and the Media: If a Carnivorous Crocodile and a Stripling Warrior Fought…

By August 29, 2012


Professor Jared Farmer and the State University of New York at Stonybrook very generously posted a free e-book last week—Mormons in the Media, 1832-2012. Though the title should be “Mormons in American Media,” the 342-page book and the hundreds of images therein need to be seen. They are beautiful and brilliant—some impressively horrific in their full technicolor glory. Farmer builds upon a foundation established by Gary Bunker and Davis Bitton in their 1983 The Mormon Graphic Image, 1833-1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations and is able to radically enlarge it. The expansive scope of these pages can easily induce a little head spinning—the very best kind.

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O Canada!

By July 10, 2012


In keeping with a family tradition that we began last year in St. George, Utah, we turned MHA (the Mormon History Association annual meeting), which was held in Calgary this year, into an excuse for a very big (9,000+-mile) family road trip this year. In preparation for our border-crossing, I read a short story by author and English professor Thomas King titled “Borders” (if you haven’t read it, check it out). It is a story about a Blackfoot woman and her son (told from the perspective of the adolescent son) who get stranded at the U.S.-Canadian border–in Blackfoot Territory–when the mother insists that her nationality is Blackfoot and refuses to specify whether she is from the Canadian or American side: she is from the Blackfoot side. The two are on their way to Salt Lake City to visit the woman’s daughter who had previously moved there, convinced by a friend that it is the greatest place on earth, which the daughter reiterates in her postcards and travel brochures sent home (though, upon their arrival, she admits that she is thinking of returning home). Though never directly or explicitly so, the story is an excellent study in the complex mingling of Canadian-American-Blackfoot-Mormon identities that combine and comingle for several individuals in the area often referred to, among others things, as southern Alberta.

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Brigham Young, Natural Seers, and Seer Stones

By March 3, 2011


J. Stapley needs no introduction. He’s been kind enough to join in on the seer stone/”magic” fe[a]st we’ve had here at JI this week.

Stan’s recent post on the use of seer stones by young women, reminded me of some sources relating to Brigham Young. Young is on record as saying that he was not a “natural seer” (see discussion in this post). I’m currently of the position that Brigham Young believed that he did not have the ability to use seer stones. As illustrated in comments while discussing some of his more controversial beliefs with the Salt Lake School of the Prophets, Young “said there were many revelations given to him that he did not receive from the Prophet Joseph. He did not receive them through the Urim and Thummim as Joseph did but when he did received them he knew of their truth as much as it was possible for them him to do of any truth.” [1]

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Young ladies, absent missionaries, and the peep stones that bind them (1850s Utah Territory)

By March 2, 2011


It seems to be a common assumption that the use of folk magic objects like peep stones and divining rods had pretty well died out by the time the Saints arrived in the Great Basin. At least, we don’t talk much about them being used after that. When we speak of seer stones in a Mormon context Joseph Smith’s early treasure digging days, Book of Mormon translation, and Hiram Page are typically the topic of discussion. Such instruments were used for finding treasure, translating ancient texts, for revelation, and, in a few cases, for locating lost objects.

A while ago I came across a few references to the use of a “peep stone” that surprised me for several reasons. The date was later than I would have expected: 1856. And the peeper was younger than I expected: about 14 or 15. And the object of peeping was rather unusual.

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The FLDS rally at the Salt Lake Courthouse, July 29, 2009

By July 29, 2009


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This morning, several hundred members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints gathered on the steps of Salt Lake City’s Matheson Courthouse and on the lawn of the Salt Lake City and County Building across the street to express their dismay that District Judge Denise Lindberg was considering ordering the United Effort Plan trust, which contains a great deal of church property, dismantled and sold.

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