By May 23, 2017
The countdown to MHA has begun. 9 days and counting…. (If you still need to register go here.)
Help support and promote Mormon women’s history with the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Bazaar. Plan now to attend MWHIT’s second annual fundraiser bazaar and silent auction, June 2-4, 2017, at the Mormon History Association annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri. Donate handmade clothing, textiles, crafts, or professional skills (editing, writing, consulting, etc.). Donations are welcome even if you can’t attend in person. Contact any member of the MWHIT team with questions. All proceeds from the bazaar will help fund MWHIT programs and writing awards.
By May 19, 2017
This summer, Juvenile Instructor is hosting a series on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s new and long-awaited book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism. (The first two posts of the series can be found here and here.)
Many of you will have already learned the devastating news that the Ulrichs’ son Nathan, died in a plane crash in the Bahamas earlier this week, along with his girlfriend and her two sons. Out of respect for this immense loss, we will be pausing our discussion of Laurel’s book, to be resumed at a later date. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for more information on this hiatus.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, their friends, and loved ones at this time.
By May 12, 2017
The Immigration and Ethnic History Society has generously agreed to cross-post this content on their blog. The posts are slightly different, and I try to introduce Mormon readers here to scholarship in Immigration History, and IEHS readers there to scholarship in Mormon History. I’m hoping to facilitate conversation across audiences. Here’s the link:
In 1897, “Pres. G.Q. Cannon stated that the Presidents of Missions had been instructed not to encourage people to emigrate to Utah until they had become well grounded in the faith and not then until times in Utah became better, unless they have friends or means to provide a home on their arrival.” This discouragement became public the next year in 1898, when Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon stated in the semiannual church-wide gathering, general conference, “There is one course that has been taken which I think will be attended with good efforts, that is, counselling the Saints in the various lands where they embrace the Gospel to remain quiet for a while; to not be anxious to break up their homes to gather to Zion.” This was the first of many announcements that called for the end of the gathering. Why did Cannon renege Mormonism’s long history with open immigration? How did the end of the gathering come about, and what did it mean for Mormonism?
By May 9, 2017
Last year, we shared what we planned/hoped to read over the summer. Here are our lists for this summer–be sure to add your own reading lists in the comments!
This summer I’ll be studying for my comprehensive exams full time. Rather than list the 300 books still on my list, here are three books from each of my three major fields.
- The Basics: Despite recently starting my PhD in American history, I feel like I still have a lot left to learn of just the basics of the field. In order to do some catching up, I have a few basic American history textbooks, including Give Me Liberty! An American History by Eric Foner. Much of my year thus far has been about thinking about entangled histories and the nuance in historical movements. While I mostly support the movement to complicate ideas about the past, I also have been craving learning some of the foundations. One of my goals this semester is to play with new formats to process and think about historical information and therefore, I want to create a large scale timeline, using some of the basic info that I find in Foner’s book, that will enable me to better visualize American history.
- Theory: A recent research project has got me thinking a lot about governmentality and surveillance as a means of knowing and controlling populations. Additionally, I have continually seen Foucault’s ideas (as well as Marx) in my readings throughout this semester as authors reference ideas that are indebted to Foucault without actually explaining them. I want to read The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception in order understand the ways that Foucault talks about the epistemic change in medicine. Secondly, I want to read The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction where Foucault discusses investigates the genealogy of how sexuality has been constructed over time. In both these books, I am looking forward to learning more about the ways Foucault grounds the body in discussions about power, sexuality, and governance.
- Journals: Another goal I have for the summer is to read more Mormon journals. In the fall, I started reading A widow’s tale: the 1884-1896 diary of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney. Helen’s journal especially has frequent vivid and intimate entries that made me deeply embedded in her life and I look forward to reading more. Additionally, I recently got the Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies by Davis Bitton from the library and look forward to using his descriptions of Mormon diaries as a jumping off place for where to look next in my readings.
- Theme: “Race, Gender, and Sex, oh my!” As I finished revisions on my book manuscript, I was ashamed with how little I engaged with this broad and significant field. It’s time to remedy that ill. I’m really excited to dig into Tera W. Hunter’s Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard UP), Daina Ramey Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Beacon Press), and Marisa Fuentes’s Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archives (UPenn Press).
- Theme: “The Basics of the Revolutionary Age.” I’m teaching a graduate course on the American Revolution for the first time this summer, so I’m digging into a number of the newest books to track current trends. Randomly, three of them are from the same publisher. These include Mike Rapport’s, The Unruly City: Paris, London, and New York in the Age of Revolution (Basic Books), Carol Berkin’s A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (Basic Books), John Boles’s Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty (Basic Books), and Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth (Crown), and Eric Hinderaker’s Boston’s Massacre (Harvard UP).
- Theme: “Jackson’s America.” Since my Nauvoo project is rooted in antebellum America, I’m excited to see some other histories that similarly aim to uproot traditional narratives of the period. These include J. M. Opal’s Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation (Oxford University Press) and Christina Snyder’s Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford University Press).
- And two books that don’t fit a broader theme but I’m also excited to read are Douglas L. Winiarski’s Darkness Falls Upon the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (UNC/Omohundro) and David Garrow’s The Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (William Marrow). Winiarski’s articles that led to this book were so excellent that I’ve been counting down the days for its release. And though I’ve been worried by early reviews of Garrow’s book in which his narrative of 44 seems overly dramatic, it will still be a nice form of escapism to imaging we aren’t living under the rule of 45.
- Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. I’m admittedly skeptical of anything but that claims to be “the definitive history” of anything, but Kendi’s book, winner of the National Book Award, comes pretty close to living up to its subtitle’s billing. I’ve been slowly making my way through whenever I have a minute here or there. This is beautifully-written and incredibly important.
- Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People. I’m indexing the book, so I’ve already read through it once, but it’s been a pleasure to see Max’s detailed research over the last several years comes to fruition. Standing alongside several other recent books exploring the subject of Mormonism’s complicated history of race, Max’s stands out for its focus on the experience of Mormons of color and its close and provocative reading of the Book of Mormon.
- Adam Jortner, Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic. I’ll have a review up at some point at JI, so I’ll keep my comments brief. Jortner manages to offer a fresh perspective on a well-covered subject: Mormonism, anti-Mormonism, and miracles.
- James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa; Richard S. Newman, Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers; Julia Gaffield, Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution. I am busily at work writing a new chapter for my book manuscript that examines the parallel rise and earliest connections between black Methodist churches in the United States, Canada, and West Africa, and revisiting some early works that touch on those topics or speak to the broader context in which they occurred. I’m starting with these three.
- William Harris, The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man’s Encounter with Liberty. Transitioning from my research to my teaching, I’m considering adopting this one for the US survey in the fall, but want to give it a closer read to make sure that it meets all of my qualifications.
- One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon by Stephen Prothero. As I move deeper into American religious life, both personally and professionally, my reading list amasses more titles that try to elucidate what it is, exactly, that makes American Christianity well, so American.
- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir by Michael Hicks. I have listened to countless hours of MoTab music on Pandora in the process of writing my dissertation. As the inauguration controversy in January showed, the choir is still a powerful symbol of Mormonism in America, so it’s high time I read this book.
- The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History by Robert Tracy McKenzie. It popped up recently on the Religion in American History blog, and it reminded me I own it, but haven’t yet read it. I’m interested in McKenzie’s historiographical and confessional approach, and figured you can never start amassing talking points for Thanksgiving dinner early enough, right?
By May 7, 2017
This is the first in a series of sixteen posts in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism. Check back every Sunday for the week’s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook
“Light snow obscured the view of the mountains on January 13, 1870 as masses of Mormon women crowded in to the old peaked-roof Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The pine benches were hard, the potbellied stoves inadequate against the cold. No matter. They would warm themselves with indignation.”
So begins Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s latest book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, in which she analyzes the twin growth of the institution of polygamy within the LDS Church and the place of Mormon women in the broader struggle for women’s rights.[i] Many readers, like the newspaper writers that wrote about Mormonism, may be skeptical that plural marriage created and fostered women-centric organizations and social networks. Ulrich acknowledges their skepticism and asks, “How could women simultaneously support a national campaign for political and economic rights while defending marital practices that to most people seemed relentlessly patriarchal?”
By May 5, 2017
June 1-4, 2017, Historic St Charles, St Louis area Missouri.
Mormon History Association’s 52nd Annual Conference is coming quickly–the first weekend in June in St. Louis. Registration prices will increase after May 6th. Go here to register. (You must have already joined MHA to get member pricing. Go here if you still need to join for the year.) Check out conference information here and a copy of the preliminary program here. We want to see you there.
By May 2, 2017
Seven years ago when I was starting this project, I came across the three-tiered system of the Neoplatonist Hierocles, who called the first step the telestic, or purifying mystery rites. Thinking that was a remarkable similarity among many other similarities between Neoplatonism and Mormonism, I wrote this post giving an overview of those similarities and proposing Hierocles’s system as the possible source of that unusual word.
Many expressed understandable skepticism, and as I was brainstorming, I said the following in comment 17:
By April 24, 2017
In this previous post, I noted the similarities between DC 88:6-13 and a passage from Thomas Taylor’s translation of Plato’s Republic 571b-c. That passage happens to be right in the middle of Plato’s allegory of the cave, and upon further reflection, major elements from the cave seem to show up not only in section 88 but also 93.
By April 21, 2017
If you haven’t heard already, yesterday a host of 19 scholars submitted an Amici Curiae Brief (amici curiae=friends of the court, or impartial expert advisors) in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13,780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Trump’s Executive Order received a cascade of pushback and resistance, mainly criticizing that the order seems to target Muslims (just search the executive order in google news for a host of coverage). The Amici Curiae Brief picks up on this vein and presents the Mormon past with federal immigration policy as an example of how targeting religious minorities through immigration legislation can go horribly wrong.
The Brief tells the history of early Mormon persecution, and late nineteenth-century legal battles over polygamy to show that the government treated Mormons as “outsiders, not full members of the political community.” The argument and section titles are enough to give a sense of the Brief in its entirety:
By April 14, 2017
The International Society of Landscape, Place and Material Culture (ISLPMC) will hold its 49th annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 18-21, 2017.
The 2017 Conference theme is “Mormons, Miners and the American West.” In 1847 the first groups of Mormon settlers led by Brigham Young entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. After displacing most indigenous residents of the valleys, the Mormons established the first of their many permanent settlements in the region based on the Plat for the City of Zion. They were seeking isolation following decades of persecution; however, much of the area they settled also contained some of the richest precious metals deposits in the West. Soon they were joined by others seeking, among other things, silver and gold, and introducing an array of cultural conflicts.
By April 6, 2017
Rachel Hunt Steenblik posed a question that intrigued me, so I decided to look a bit further at women’s conference participation to specifically those years when a new Relief Society Presidency was called.
I am again relying on the appendix from At the Pulpit here.
By April 3, 2017
In March of 2013, I began to create a history of women speaking in General Conference here, though that effort was only a start. Recently, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, edited by JI’s own Jenny Reeder with Kate Holbrook offers an almost exhaustive appendix—“Latter-day Saint Women Speakers in General Conference.” Charlotte Hansen Terry’s extensive labors produced the appendix. My colleague John Thomas offered one correction to that appendix which did not make the imprint (or the online version as of yet): In October 1902 Mrs. Lucy Smith spoke in the outdoor overflow meeting as recorded here.
By March 17, 2017
Eighteenth Annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference
Religious Cohesion in a New Era of Diversity
By March 13, 2017
Last year, Kris W. and I hosted a “Mormonism in Religious Studies” workshop at the University of Utah. We discussed religious disappointment, Mormonism and Spiritualism, failed healings, immigration, Mormon women and masonry, and other topics at length.
The workshop helped to create a sense of community among young scholars from a variety of places and disciplines while providing helpful feedback for developing projects. As a result, we have decided to host another workshop as a pre-conference workshop at the 2017 meetings of the Mormon History Association in St. Louis, MO. The workshop, “Surveying Trends in the Field: Mormon History and Mormon Studies in the Modern Academy,” will be held on Thursday, June 1 at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis from 9 AM-5 PM. There will be no cost for the workshop beyond punctual arrival and rigorous intellectual engagement.
By March 9, 2017
The Utah State Historical Society invites the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on the theme Local Matters. This is both a call for papers and a call for the participation of community organizations such as museums, preservation groups, and historical societies. Sessions for the 65th annual Utah State History Conference will be held on October 11, 2017, at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.
Local can be broadly conceived. We encourage submissions examining the many strands that create the fabric of communities—such as interpersonal networks, long-standing festivals, neighborhood structures, churches, schools, or the arts—or that focus more narrowly on a family or a home. And community may also be interpreted broadly as communities of faith, advocacy, hobbies, politics, and so forth. Submissions might also consider the historical roots of the recent vogue for things local: farm-to-table eating, urban redevelopment, public markets, or local music.
Separately, we welcome papers and panels that discuss the uses and historiography of local history and the application of sophisticated methodology to personal, family, and community history. How do communities go about compiling their histories? What role do organizations play in preserving local history? How does community history intersect with broader historical themes?
Submissions on other aspects of Utah history will also be considered. We welcome a range of formats, from the traditional panels and sessions to more innovative formats. We encourage full session or panel submissions, though we will make every effort to match single paper proposals with other panels and papers.
By March 7, 2017
Welcome to the eighth installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series! We’re taking a look at the seventh chapter of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence, and as Hannah introduced last week, today’s discussion will be on the meaning of abundant evil. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.
Where chapter six took on the idea of heaven, this chapter deals more with hell. What happens, Orsi asks, when the abundant event believers encounter is an evil one? He uses the stories of men and women who were sexually abused as children to tease out the question of presence and abundance in light of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
By March 6, 2017
Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.
By March 5, 2017
Please read this post from Mormon History Association Director Rob Racker. Be sure to register for the conference, book your hotel, and consider a donation to the student travel fund!
Panoramic image of St. Louis downtown with Gateway Arch at twilight.
Dear Members and Friends of Mormon History Association:
You are invited to preregister and attend the Mormon History Association’s 52nd Annual Conference in the historic St Charles area of St Louis MO. We hope that you will be able to attend what promises to be an exciting event.
A copy of the preliminary conference program can be viewed HERE .
The conference registration link is here: HERE or go to: http://www.cvent.com/d/zvqyg3
By February 28, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the sixth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous instalments are the Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.
Heaven, like death, grounds us in the temporal world by enabling us to imagine a spiritual world. Imagining heaven enables “our short lives [to] acquire not only purpose but also grandeur and drama when they are set against the horizon of sacred history.” (204) Hope for heaven gives us moral purpose and embeds our everyday lives with meaning. Heaven is a reward for the righteous. Yet, despite the hope and virtue that heaven invokes in us, the idea of heaven has also been used to justify terrible things. Orsi’s chapter captures how heaven manifests itself in both our sacred cosmology and everyday activities. It represents our highest aspirations, our fundamental worldview, and also the most mundane parts of our existence. Orsi’s vignettes throughout the chapter reflect this: he tells stories end of life and childhood stories. He speaks about his respites from the playground bullies, interviews where men told him of their childhood understandings of heaven, and his parent’s relationship as his mother died of cancer.
The next chapter of the book is about evil, which is where he most fully discusses his fieldwork among people who have been abused by priests. Orsi draws out the ways that “predator priests” used sacred presence as an element of their sexual abuse. These horrible and shocking stories are easily framed within the chapter title “Events of Abundant Evil”. However, Orsi seems more reticent to talk directly of the “Happiness of Heaven” in chapter six. While the stories in the chapter on abundant evil reflect horror and trauma, the stories in the chapter on happiness and heaven reflect hope, disappointment, and ambivalence. “Heaven is the dullest and most obvious of religious imaginings,” he writes (204). This may be the most ambivalent statement I have ever heard about heaven, which may account for why the chapter is by far the shortest and most fragmented of the whole book.
Orsi draws upon a 1944 children’s catechism book that helps children memorize statement about heaven and help them make heaven applicable to their everyday lives. He summarizes, “In this way, heaven is brought close to everyday activities on earth and becomes less dull; or perhaps, brought close to everyday activities, heaven becomes duller.” (205) What does it mean to say that heaven is the dullest of religious imaginations? Consider chapter four’s discussion of printed presence, which is full of observations of the mundane ways that presence enters into believer’s lives through print. Clearly, Orsi does not think that the presence imbued in daily material culture or actions is uninteresting. Perhaps the happiness of heaven is not easily studied as a topic in and of itself; instead people’s hopes and fears about heaven continually emerge throughout all the chapters of the book.
Speaking of his late mother’s dying conversations with his father, Orsi goes beyond his initial definition of heaven: it is not (always) a sacred order, or a “banal” arbiter of moral authority. Instead, heaven is “the limit of knowing and an invitation to conversation, recognition, and accompaniment at the extremity of life.” (213) Presence is something that is not experienced in the abstract; people experience the presence of heaven through encounters with others. In other words, heaven can be understood as a justifying power for actions or aspiration for happiness, however Orsi finds these lenses of analysis banal and uninteresting. “The happiness of heaven” is unknowable and the only way we approach it is through meaningful relationships and dialogue.
By February 17, 2017
Imagine this setting: you are a Mormon attending a talk titled “Sacred Spaces, Holy Work: Perspectives on Mormon Temple Worship,” given at Harvard Divinity School by Juvenile Instructor’s own Tona Hangen, who is a professor of history and also a practicing Mormon. The talk is about temple worship, a topic on which Mormons famously do not love to offer details. The event is advertised both at Harvard and in my Sacrament program on Sunday. It is a public event and the room is full of people from diverse backgrounds. Scanning the room, I noticed people from the Divinity School who knew very little about Mormonism, Mormon professors and students from Harvard, three stake presidents (one whose wife brought treats), and people from my ward.
My point is not so much to belatedly highlight Tona’s awesome talk of a few months ago. Indeed, these situations happen all the time. Instead I want to bring attention to the complicated interplay of expectations of what one should say and how one’s audience expects you to say it. The experience of attending Tona’s talk, as well as subsequent experiences, has led me to think about the ways in which our audience (including believing Mormons and people with extensive or little knowledge of Mormonism) and our pedagogical spaces (such as classrooms, academic lectures, and sacrament talks) structure the ways in which we talk about our subject.
As an academically trained lifelong Mormon, I have learned several ways to engage with Mormonism. However, so far my experiences in discussing Mormonism have mostly been in homogenous groups and spaces. In Canada, where I grew up, there was little opportunity for mixed audiences because there were neither many Mormons nor people academically interested in Mormonism. Therefore, when I presented on Mormonism, I grew accustomed to being able to control who my audiences would be and how I would engage with them. Additionally, I could also manage how I presented my own subjectivity to the audience. Tona’s talk interested me because of the hybridity of the audience and subsequent messiness of expectations. Her audience understood Mormon temples in a variety of different ways: some non-Mormons had never heard of Mormon temples, others had participated in the sacred rituals in temples (and had different ideas of what should be secretive about those experiences), and the stake presidents in the room had the power to grant and bar access to temples.
So, as a speaker, writer, or teacher, how do you stay accountable to your hybrid audiences? How do you manage discourses of criticism and sympathy toward Mormonism? How do you frame your discussions in recognizable terms for mixed audiences? How do you manage different pedagogical spaces, such as BYU religion classes, in which learning expectations are both academic and devotional? How does your complicated relationship with the Mormon faith – whether you are a believing Mormon, Ex-Mormon, non-Mormon, or anything in between – enter into your academic discourse?
Please share your thoughts below in the comments.