By April 17, 2018
I’d like to draw your attention to two recent interviews that may be of interest to Mormon history enthusiasts. Kurt Manwaring interviewed Patrick Mason, Howard H. Hunter chair of the Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University–it’s worth reading for Mason’s thoughts on what Mormon Studies is, what Mormons don’t necessary talk about (but should!), and the question Mason would ask Ezra Taft Benson if he could! (It begs the question: if you could ask a historical figure one question, who would it be and what would you want to know?)
Then, Kurt also interviewed Sara Martin, editor of the John Adams Papers, who talks about her work, archives and technology, Abigail Adams–and the Joseph Smith papers project. Head here to find out more.
By April 16, 2018
We are happy to relay the great news that Barbara Jones Brown (a past contributor to the Juvenile Instructor) has been hired as the new executive director for the Mormon History Association. We wish you all the best and look forward to the energy you will bring to the job!
Here is the message written by Mormon History Association President Patrick Mason:
It is with great pleasure that I announce that the MHA Board of Directors has hired Barbara Jones Brown as the association’s next Executive Director. Barbara is well-known to our association as a former member of the board and a longtime champion and supporter of MHA. Most recently she has worked as the Historical Director of Better Days 2020, a non-profit dedicated to elevating and commemorating the history of the suffrage and women’s rights movement in Utah. In addition to her nonprofit leadership experience, she also has extensive professional experience as an editor, researcher, and writer. An active historian with an M.A. in American History from the University of Utah, she was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. She is co-author with Richard E. Turley Jr. on the book’s sequel, detailing the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre — which, through a happy coincidence of timing, she will be speaking about as one of the plenary speakers in our upcoming annual conference.
The board of directors is enthusiastic about working with Barbara to fulfill our shared vision of an expanded MHA that serves an increasingly large and diverse set of members and constituencies. As the oldest and premier organization dedicated to the scholarly study of the Mormon past, MHA is poised to establish an even stronger profile in both the historical community and broader public. Barbara represents both a commitment to the legacy of MHA and a vision of how to take the association to the next level of excellence and impact.
Barbara’s term will begin on May 1, 2018, and she will work alongside our outgoing Executive Director Rob Racker through the June conference. There will be additional opportunities over the next two months to thank Rob for his service to MHA, but for now it suffices to say that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership the past three years. He helped navigate the association through some challenging times, and MHA’s current forecast for success rests in no small part on the foundation of financial sustainability that he has worked so hard to build.
I am grateful to the search committee and board of directors for their many hours of volunteer labor committed to conducting this successful search. I am truly excited to see what the future holds for this association we all love under the forward-facing leadership of Barbara Jones Brown. Thank you for your continued support of MHA, and I look forward to seeing you all in Boise!
By April 13, 2018
William Victor Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2018).
William Smith turns his considerable knowledge of Mormon history and Joseph Smith’s thought to the study of Doctrine and Covenants 132, the plural-marriage revelation. Smith proceeds sequentially, dividing the book into eight chapters that each cover a portion of the text. At each stage, Smith delves into the topic that the different portions raise, and gives context both in terms of Smith’s theology and later Mormon debates on those topics.
Overall the book succeeds in contextualizing the revelation, but at times Smith either seems to wander to seemingly unrelated topics, or just touch on topics superficially. For instance, in the introduction, Smith gives an overview of what he calls “the high priesthood cycle” and the “apostolic cycle” but doesn’t discuss these issues much in the book (6-7). When he does mention them in chapter four, they seemed off topic as if they were part of another project (51-55). In another instance, Smith tells of John Taylor applying the “destroyed in the flesh” clause to an adulterous woman, but Smith doesn’t explain what Taylor meant exactly (121). Smith later says the phrase probably meant excommunication, but that context (if it were correct) would have been useful for the Taylor story.
Nevertheless, Smith’s study is extremely useful for all those interested in the topics of polygamy and Mormon thought. Not much is new in terms of these topics, but having all these ideas and sources brought together is extremely helpful to any readers.
If the book has a thesis, it seems to be a point that Smith makes in chapter 11: “As discussed through the volume, the plural marriage revelation seems to have been dictated for a limited audience—particularly Emma Smith—and was never meant for public consumption.” Smith notes some of the revelation’s troubling language and then declares, “This raises the question of what such a revelation might have looked like if it were meant from the beginning to be public, out-in-the-open, Divine Counsel” (178). This leads Smith to the unusual move of presenting an edited and cleaned up version of the text minus all the talk about destroying Emma, in addition to other changes.
Such is a peculiar move and highlights the unusual relationship that Mormonism has between its theology and its history, and the role that historian play in that relationship. Can such a revision be made? That’s up to other people, but Smith raises convicting and interesting questions in that direction.
By April 9, 2018
Better Days 2020 is using important upcoming suffrage anniversaries to celebrate Utah women’s illustrious heritage and expand knowledge of that history as they look to improve the future of women in Utah.Better Days is a great example of public history and how that history has the potential to make a difference and they need a historical director. 2020 will be the 150-year anniversary of Utah women becoming the first in the nation to vote, the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment and US women’s suffrage, as well as the 55-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act expanding access to disenfranchised minorities. Even if you don’t need a job, check out their efforts. Martha Hughes Cannon is on her way to Washington in 2020 and Better Days 2020 is on the move. Apply for a chance to become part of something important.
By April 6, 2018
“Home teaching has been described as the pivot around which all other church activities are to be correlated.”
- Marion G. Romney, “Church Correlation: Address to Seminary and Institute Faculty,” June 22, 1964. Church History Library and Archives.
For a hundred years, the practice of what was first called “ward teaching” and later “home teaching” saw two Mormon men visit families in their congregation, carrying to them a message from church leadership and reporting back on any needs they found. “Visiting teaching,” for decades after the founding of the Relief Society in 1842, saw women of the Relief Society engage in a similar practice.
It is hard to underestimate the importance of home teaching to the initial vision of the framers of the Mormon correlation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Exploring the reasons for its importance shed some light on the announcement at the church’s General Conference this past weekend that home and visiting teaching are to be replaced with “ministering.”
By April 3, 2018
A few months ago I had lunch with Joseph Spencer, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and author of a number of books on Mormon theology and scripture. Our conversation there led us to what has been formally announced: a new book series, titled Introductions to Mormon Thought, which the University of Illinois Press will be publishing in coming years. Below, a description that Joe and I have worked up.
By April 2, 2018
The Mormon History Association will be hosting a mentorship event this year at our annual June conference and is seeking applications from students and early career scholars to participate. Successful applicants will be paired with an advanced scholar in Mormon history and discuss their research interests and career trajectory. We welcome applications not only from those seeking traditional academic appointments but those interested in digital humanities, publishing, and public history. This is an amazing opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation and to receive specific advice about your unique place in the field of Mormon history.
The goals of the event are:
- to introduce current research and receive feedback
- to support students with information and advice on their career goals
- to foster talent early career scholars in the field of Mormon history
- to help inform people about career options
Each applicant should be clear about their accomplishments thus far, their research interests, and what they could gain from this event. Applications should be up to 500-700 words and should include:
- key research questions and methodology of the applicant’s research
- scholarship that informs the applicant’s research
- professional goals and trajecory
- optional: identify up to five people in the field of Mormon history who the applicant feels would be helpful mentors and briefly state why *hint* check the MHA program to see who will be attending the conference
- Up-to-date CV
Applications will be reviewed by members of the MHA Board.
Please direct questions and applications to Hannah Jung (or in the comment section below) , MHA Student Representative, at email@example.com. Deadline for applications is May 1st.
By April 1, 2018
Quorum. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
First, let’s take a step back, but not all the way back. Mostly because this isn’t a book. Let’s go to 1964. At this time, each stake and mission generally included a High Priests quorum, at least one Elders quorum and at least one Seventies quorum. In the years leading up to this time, church policy was that if there were not at least 49 elders (a majority of the scriptural 96 – D&C 107:89) then a “unit” en lieu of a quorum was to be organized. But why would that matter? I imagine that the majority of Elders quorums in the church today don’t have 49 members. The answer goes back to the definition of what a quorum is, namely, “the number (such as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business” (to quote Miriam-Webster).
By March 27, 2018
I’m happy to confirm reports that readers of Max Mueller’s recent book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, which we are discussing this week, will find a rich, multilayered, and searching account of theologies and important narratives of race in early Mormonism. This is a serious book, and a critical contribution to a growing body of scholarship on the functions of race in the Mormon tradition. As Mueller claims, it is one of the first to consider questions of race and Mormonism from the inside out. This means that it nicely complements recent scholarship like that of Paul Reeve and others, which has generally taken the opposite tack. Perhaps the most innovative element of the book, in my view, is how it brings consideration of both “red” (Native American) and “black” (African-American) constructions of race together. In some ways, the early Mormon logic of race in relation to these two groups seems incongruous, but Mueller works hard to show there are important aspects of continuity, as well. He has categorically synthesized early Mormon conceptions of race as well as anyone might expect to do.
By March 21, 2018
The particular danger of a roundtable in a digital format is in the overlapping repetition, forgive us for that. (Check out Tona and Joey‘s prior posts.) Though I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to respond to Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness in person, today I want to focus on the eminent accessibility of the nuanced liturgical history that Stapley crafted. Though I want the initial chapter on the cosmological priesthood to be more specific as he lays out the foundation of his argument, it is fulfilled over time in consecutive chapters. I appreciate that in each chapter Stapley outlines a dense history with complex transitions over time in a nuanced, compact, and entirely relatable manner. This would not be possible without the body of Stapley’s earlier work. (There will be rejoicing amongst my future students when they realize that there might be a more concise version of Stapley and Kris Wright’s spectacular but to them seemingly interminable 88-page JMH article on female ritual healing.) This accessibility matters both historically and devotionally.
By March 10, 2018
After talking to some folks about some material in my recent book, a friend suggested I write a short primer on nineteenth-century sealings based on my work.
First some nineteenth-century premises:
- Heaven is comprised of people sealed together in various ways. People called this construction variations of “the priesthood.”
- All sealings, regardless of type, are durable, and bestow a measure of “perseverance” (the unpardonable sin notwithstanding).
- All of the various temple rituals can be performed outside of the temple except child-to-parent/adoption sealings.
By March 9, 2018
This is the fifth in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
When writing your prospectus and choosing a topic, I would encourage you to consider three things:
- How do you want to be categorized in your field?
- What is the thread that ties your analysis together?
- Who are the people that you trust to help you do your best? And are those people invested in you and your wellbeing?
On the first point: I do not want to be pigeonholed as a religious historian. I am interested in much more than religion. My dissertation will be framed in terms of race and gender, though religion will form a major component of my analysis.
By March 8, 2018
This is the fourth in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Cassandra Clark, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Utah.
Let me start by saying, choosing a dissertation topic is not for the weak of heart. On top of the pressure to come up with an original idea, there are always those people who complicate to the process by sharing clichés like, “Choose a topic that you love because you are going to get sick of it after studying it for a decade” or “you will hate your topic before the end.” There is even the one that goes something like, “be prepared to gain the dissertation fifteen.” Well, maybe that isn’t a cliché? Is it just me?
Those platitudes don’t apply to everyone. I have worked on my topic for several years and have yet to grow weary of it. While I am eager to complete my graduate degree, I am still enthusiastic about my topic, the time period, and the people I study. I can’t necessarily say that I like all of the people–mainly because many of them were raving racists–but I can say that they are intriguing.
I decided on my dissertation topic during my first year as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah. One afternoon while digitizing sources at the Church History Library for the Utah American Digital Archive (UAIDA) I stumbled upon the transcript of an oral interview that referenced the DNA testing of Native Americans orchestrated by the LDS Church during the twentieth century. I have always loved to learn about medicine, genetics, and other science-history related subjects which is why this particular interview caught my eye. I consulted with Matt Basso who suggested that I look into eugenics in Utah. Mainly, I needed to establish a foundation before I dove into the DNA aspect of this particular issue. Little did I know that at the time several scholars were also interested in eugenics and Mormonism and I found myself struggling to stay ahead of the topic. Frustrated, I decided to broaden my research scope to consider how people living in the intermountain west incorporated scientific race theories into their society and culture.
I rarely settle upon a topic before I do a preliminary scan of the available primary sources. Mainly, I want the sources to speak to me and provide me with direction. I consulted with archivists in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado and to locate materials. My efforts paid off as I discovered that many individuals living in the intermountain west were obsessed with heredity, nature and their relation to brain function. I questioned how perceptions of the natural world influenced their definition of the “normal” and “abnormal” brain and how these ideas influenced whiteness.
The answer to this question became my dissertation topic. Instead of being the central focus, Mormons are a part of a broader conversation about race science and its tie to the environment. I find that including members of the LDS Church in a larger exchange of ideas is more rewarding and an essential component of the history of the LDS Church, the intermountain west, and the nation. I am looking forward to continuing my research on DNA testing and the LDS Church once my dissertation is complete.
My decision to expand my topic was not without stumbling blocks. I have two daughters who I provide for, and I want them to have the best opportunities possible while avoiding debt. At any given time, I am working two to three-part time jobs that prevent me from scheduling extended archival visits. My research trips are typically limited to five-day stints two to three times a year where I sit scanning documents like a fiend while streaming The Office with the occasional chat with an archivist. Researching on a tight schedule has slowed my progress, but none-the-less, I am inching closer to the finish line!
My advice to the graduate student wrestling with a dissertation topic is to listen to the sources. Write for yourself. Be confident in your identity and your ability. Do not compare yourself to others. Never listen to anyone who judges your talent or your journey. Trust your instinct. And finally, discuss your research with anyone who will listen. Some of the best ideas come from sharing your research with others.
By March 7, 2018
This is the third in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Katherine Kitterman, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at American University.
There’s already too much advice for grad students floating around the internet, so I’ve tried to pull a few things from my experience moving through a PhD that might be more generally helpful. The dissertation topic I eventually landed on isn’t the only question I could imagine myself working on for years, but it’s one I really enjoy thinking about, one my committee members are excited about, and one that raises and helps to answer some important questions. Most importantly, it’s a doable project for me.
Like most PhD students, I began my program assuming I was the only one in my cohort who hadn’t yet figured out exactly what I wanted to research. My path from coursework to candidacy was probably a little bit backward, but it was also much less time-consuming and stressful than I’d anticipated. It didn’t have to be a year of living like a hermit and typing past midnight. What works best for any given person will of course depend on several factors – what your relationship with your adviser is like, what’s interesting to the professors you may want on your committee, and of course, what else is going on in your life for the next few years.
By March 6, 2018
This is the second in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Alexandria Griffin, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at Arizona State University.
I did my undergrad at the University of Utah in Anthropology. I just kind of wound up there; I had originally started out in linguistics and become disinterested when I realized it didn’t just mean I could take as many language classes as I wanted. The Anthropology department would take most of my credit hours as “allied classes” so off I went, still taking as many language classes as I wanted. This included Arabic, which I ended up doing a study abroad for in the summer of 2010 in Alexandria, Egypt. While I was there I became very interested in the study of Islam and religion more broadly, and on my return took Islamic studies classes and began thinking about pursuing an MA in Islamic Studies.
Simultaneously, though, I began reengaging with my Mormon upbringing and checking out all of the university’s Mormon studies books and devouring them. I started wondering if there was a place I could get a degree studying Mormonism. I was surprised when I did some googling to see that there was a program that met that description in my mother’s hometown of Claremont, California.
I entered Claremont thinking I would study Mormon feminist theology, but gradually ended up weaving in my former interests in Islamic studies and writing a comparative study of women’s experiences of garments with anthropological literature on women’s experiences of hijab. I really enjoyed this project and am glad that I pursued it. However, as I looked at pursuing a PhD, I felt that staying in Mormon studies was no longer a good choice for me. As a woman married to another woman, many job avenues open to others in Mormon studies (like working for CES or at the Church History Library) are closed to me, and staying in Mormon studies seemed like making an already terrible job market worse for myself. Additionally, I felt that my attempts to discuss queer Mormon issues (in particular, looking at how organizations like Affirmation used history to bolster their arguments) were inevitably ignored in favor of analyzing my own identity as a lesbian somewhat-former-Mormon, which I found tiring.
By March 5, 2018
This is the first in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Farina King, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern State University.
Dissertation research often caters to, or is influenced by the graduate program that the student is pursuing. I have studied under two different graduate history programs, and both approached their dissertation requirements differently. Some graduate programs require that students submit a dissertation prospectus or proposal upon the completion of their comprehensive exams, whereas other programs allow students to prepare and submit their dissertation prospecti within a couple months to a year after they complete their comprehensive exams. As in any graduate program, dissertation research should begin with writing a strong prospectus.
In both graduate programs that I studied under, they both ensured that the selected dissertation committee reviewed and approved the prospectus once the comprehensive exams were accepted. Programs may uphold different requirements of the prospectus, but common components include: abstract, thesis, description, literature review, organization, schedule, contributions, and budget. Before and while I prepared my dissertation prospectus for Arizona State University, where I entered doctoral candidacy, I also sought doctoral research funding. Organizations and programs that offer grant, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities often base their applications on the prospectus format.
By March 2, 2018
BOOK OF MORMON STUDIES: A CONFERENCE
CALL FOR PAPERS
DATE: October 12–13, 2018
LOCATION: Utah State University
SUBMISSION DATE: May 15, 2018
The Book of Mormon Studies Association is happy to announce a conference to be held October 12–13, 2018, at Utah State University. Sponsored by USU’s Department of Religious Studies and with thanks to Philip Barlow, the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies, the conference aims to gather scholars invested in serious academic study of the Book of Mormon, providing them with a venue to present their work and receive feedback and criticism. As with last year’s inaugural conference at USU, this conference has no centralizing theme. Instead, we invite papers on any subject related to the Book of Mormon from any viable academic angle. Pursuant to decisions made at last year’s conference, there will an official event organizing the Book of Mormon Studies Association itself during the conference, along with elections of officers.
By February 28, 2018
In my current project, I am thinking about how a text becomes scripture—how people develop a relationship with a text. On this last day of Black History Month, I’m thinking about three items that reflect relationships to scripture that affect the life of Jane Manning James: a blessing, scripture, and an interview.
By February 27, 2018
Friend of the blog Kurt Manwaring has published an interview with the historians Matt Grow and Eric Smith about their work on the Council of Fifty minutes. The interview in its entirety can be found here; selected snippets are published below. Enjoy, then hop on over to read all ten questions!
By February 21, 2018
Billy Graham, the most important figure in twentieth-century American Christianity, died this morning at the age of 99. You’ll have the opportunity to read countless obituaries or columns on his life, evangelistic prowess, stances on race, sexuality, his conversations with Nixon about Jews, and his theatrical preaching in postwar America. I’m sure you’ll also read about his son, Franklin, and the roles that the Grahams have played in the election of Reagan and Trump. Historian Anthea Butler called Graham the closest thing to a Protestant Pope that America has ever had. I think she’s right. Graham’s meteoric rise in film and radio is the stuff of legend. He preached to more than a hundred million people in person and taught a particular way to be Christian and American.
The most important thing that Graham ever did for Mormonism was remove it from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s list of “cults.”[i] He did so after a meeting with Mitt Romney in October 2012, during the home stretch of the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign, in an attempt to increase the evangelical vote.
Mormonism no longer being named as a cult by the most prominent voice in American evangelicalism was a major coup for the LDS Church and its members. Although scholars no longer use the term cult, it has a powerful meaning in Christian communities (just ask Pastor Jeffress). Latter-day Saints, who have wanted to be a part of the White Protestant Establishment since the early twentieth century, had been excluded because of their views on the trinity, sexuality, and other non-creedal views. But, at least for the 2012 election, Graham gave Mormonism, and its most famous adherent, his blessing.