By January 30, 2017
I had a different post planned for this week, but I’ll save it for a time that feels less urgent.
I’m going to speak candidly and personally, as a historian, a unionized public-sector educator, a woman, a Mormon, a white Eastern liberal elite, and a born-American citizen. (Just so you know where my intersectionalities lie). It’s abundantly clear that the election results and Trump’s inauguration have abruptly ushered us all into a new political and cultural landscape.
By August 23, 2016
History enrollments are on the decline nationwide. There are a number of possible explanations for this. At my institution, the popular explanations number two, one a broader assumption that’s difficult to document and the other the result of internal campus politics. The first is that the economic slump has made students increasingly hard-nosed and career-focused when they think about what they’re going to do with their education. The second is that another department began a program that has sucked away a number of students who once majored in history with an eye toward law school.
By May 30, 2016
This past semester, I taught the history major senior capstone research seminar on “Religion in America” [Aside: WHEN will I ever learn to choose appropriately NARROW topics for senior seminar??]. Students’ paper topics ranged from the Branch Davidians at Waco, to the religious geography of the early British colonies, to recovering Jefferson’s personal theology, to protections for religious observance in the 21st-century military, to anti-Semitism in immigration policy of the 1920s and 1930s — 16 papers with the rather dizzying variety you might expect from so open-ended a course. Most of the students, though advanced in the major, had little prior experience tackling religious subjects in history classes, so that added a dimension of danger complexity to the whole enterprise.
By April 21, 2016
This last year, as part of my position as a fellow with the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy here at the University of Missouri, I ran a seminar aimed for members of the Columbia, MO, community on Mormonism’s relationship with American politics. We just held our final meeting last week, and the entire seminar was an absolute blast. (But I may be biased.) I thought others might be interested to see what we read and discussed, and this post might serve as a resource for other scholars and onlookers.
By February 1, 2016
This is the first entry in yet another occasional, sure-to-be-irregular, but hopefully still important series here at the Juvenile Instructor. Since the blog’s inception in 2007, digital history projects have come a long way, and in the last couple of years, a number of really important digital databases, atlases, and other assorted projects have appeared. In “Digital Mormonists,” I plan to highlight those of potential interest and relevance to scholars of Mormonism and its history.
A month or so ago, someone I follow on twitter linked to a new digital history project called American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. A product of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (whose other projects include the phenomenal Visualizing Emancipation and the very useful Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States), American Panorama presents a variety of interactive maps with historical data.
By September 24, 2015
This semester I am teaching both halves of American history at a small liberal arts college. As a historian of American Religion, I tend to look for religion in whatever I am teaching at the moment. But then there is the nagging question of “because it is my specialty, do I always look for it?” and “Is it relevant?” Well, of course, it is. The same thing could be said for gender, race, class, ethnicity, etc. Religion (or if we want to call it a belief-system, meaning-making, what have you) is everywhere.
By March 23, 2015
Today’s contribution to JI’s Roundtable on the Journal of Mormon History’s 50th anniversary issue comes from longtime friend of (and occasional guest contributor to) JI, David Howlett. David is currently visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College and author of The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Here he previews his own article published in JMH50, entitled “Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.”
Early career scholars (new PhDs and graduate students) across the country are studying Mormonism in greater numbers than ever before. At venerable institutions like the University of Virginia and Claremont Graduate University, MA and PhD students may even study with experts whose job descriptions include the field of Mormon studies. However, these same early career scholars and their post-PhD comrades face a strange paradox: never before have there been so many opportunities to do original research on Mormonism for so many people who compete for so few paying jobs.
My article in the most recent Journal of Mormon History focused on three “fields” in which an early-career Mormon studies scholar finds herself positioned: the field of publishing, the field of employment, and the new fields of study in Mormon history itself. For this brief abstraction of my relatively short article, I will only address two of these social fields: publishing and employment.
By April 25, 2014
Another contributor in our Mormon Studies in the Classroom series, Patrick Mason is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.
“Approaches to Mormonism” is designed as a historiographical introduction to Mormonism and the field of Mormon studies (with a strong Mormon history component). This is a graduate seminar for MA and PhD students that I have taught twice at Claremont Graduate University. When I last taught it in Fall 2013 the seminar had about a dozen students, with a mix of LDS and non-LDS backgrounds.
Here is how I describe the course in the syllabus: “This course will introduce students to representative approaches used by scholars in the academic (non-polemical, non-apologetic) study of Mormonism. . . . Students will read exemplary works representing various disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of Mormonism, and in the process will be encouraged to consider ways that Mormon studies has been shaped by, and can potentially shape, other established academic fields and disciplines. This course asks questions such as whether there exists a Mormon studies canon, where the gaps and blind spots are in the extant literature, and what the future of Mormon studies might hold—not to mention whether we can speak intelligibly about something called ‘Mormon studies.’”
By April 23, 2014
Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger, Spencer Wells. Spencer is currently a PhD student in history at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His is currently beginning work on dissertation project examining pacifists in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. His research in Mormon studies focuses on issues of religious and sexual tolerance. In his spare time Spencer enjoys hiking and making horrendously bad puns. Seriously folks, his puns are legendary. Here he offers his thoughts on his experience teaching a “Women in the Old Testament” Institute course over the past year.
Once every four years the LDS Sunday School trots out the Old Testament for the Saints’ perusal and edification. At times, the decision raises hackles. Complaints, of course, vary. Isaiah’s opacity dismays some, Hebraic ritual etherizes others. And theological protests invariably sprout up. As a personal acquaintance argued with me years ago, God’s actions throughout the Old Testament place Him at odds with modern liberal values. Complicit in razing cities, murdering children, and oppressing women, this teenaged Jehovah played the part of a brooding, angst-ridden Hayden Christiansen (think Anakin Skywalker) to near perfection.
By April 22, 2014
As the first installment of our new series, this post is from JI’s good friend Christopher Blythe. Chris is a graduate of Utah State University, and is now a PhD candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. He has published broadly on the divergent Mormon traditions, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the John Whitmer Historical Association.
Bringhurst and Hamer’s Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.
In 2008, while a Master’s student at Utah State University, Philip Barlow invited me to be his assistant for a course entitled, “Mormonisms.” This was Barlow’s first time teaching the course and his third Mormon Studies course at USU. He had some general ideas of what he wanted accomplish in the course, but I was fortunate to be able to help flesh out the curriculum, assignments, and schedule for the course. This was my first teaching experience in which I lectured roughly every fourth class period. I think it’s a fun exercise to imagine teaching the course once again. Six years later, how would I reimagine this class?
The objective of this course was and would continue to be to problematize the standard telling of Mormon history and Mormon thought. Rather than examining Mormonism through the teachings and history of one Church, we would see that Mormon thought was always diverse and in contest. This is crucial for understanding the development of Mormonism (i.e. the current face of any one institution of Mormonism is not inevitable but based on historical events and personalities), but also to emphasize the point (first made by Jan Shipps) that Mormonism is not one new religious movement, but an entirely new religious tradition with its own branches and schools of thought.
By April 21, 2014
The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.
But publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history.
By October 11, 2013
John C. Begay recalled the day when his branch president, Don C. Hunsaker, pulled him out of his class at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School to invite him to attend the Latter-day Saint Indian Seminary program. His mother had enrolled him in seminary, but Begay followed his peers to the Catholic and Nazarene activities until Hunsaker found him. He then started to attend the seminary class of a respected LDS leader and local of Brigham City, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Begay claims, “‘That’s where I was converted to the LDS Church. My mother had secretly signed me up for Seminary which became my favorite class….’” .
By March 20, 2013
I spend a lot of my work-life time pondering what it actually means to think historically, and how to get undergraduates to do it. I have been much influenced by the work of Sam Wineburg, who has studied this quite a lot, and I find it interesting that there are multiple models or frameworks for what “historical thinking” means and why it’s important. Let’s look at a few of these lists, and think about how the concepts might apply to increasing the level of historical thinking literacy among “non-professionals” outside of history classrooms.
By December 20, 2012
I’ve just finished teaching my fall course on American religious pluralism—in fact, I was supposed to post about this yesterday but I’m still grading their final exams and submitting grades. It’s that time of year to think about what worked and what didn’t, and how I might do things differently next time.
By October 6, 2012
I’m finally surfacing from the hectic start of semester and wanted to write a couple of posts about the history course I’m teaching in American religious pluralism this fall at Worcester State. It’s an upper-level history elective called “Religions in America,” and in previous versions I’ve taught it mainly as an introduction to American religious diversity… sort of a “religious literacy” exercise in which students depart the course knowing a little something about many things rather than having deep knowledge of a few things. This term, however, I’ve focused the course more narrowly on the history of the idea (and imperfect implementation over time) of American religious pluralism.
By March 9, 2012
I’ll be teaching a seminar this fall on American religious pluralism and I need to submit my book adoptions soon. What’s hip, new and suitable for upper-level undergrads? Or, alternatively, what are the go-to classics? It will be a general course, not specifically on Mormonism, but I know this crowd would have good ideas, so I’m just throwing it open for suggestions.
Just to reminisce… when I took my undergrad American religion course from Steve Marini at Wellesley College (using the cross-registration bus provided by MIT), we used Stephen Allstrom’s Religious History. Good times.
By February 5, 2012
Here’s the premise of this post: a syllabus should be more than a boring, text-laden legal contract. If you let it, it can also be 1) a thing of beauty, and 2) a tool to think with about your teaching and your students’ learning.
At this point I hope you can see why this post comes late in my series about course and syllabus design (you can read part 1, part 2 and part 3 plus a part 3a if you care about the nitty-gritty of governance and assessment). Actually putting the stuff into a document necessitates having stuff to put, and all the course planning should happen long before you decide what font to use and what color paper to print it on.
By January 16, 2012
This is Part 3 in my series on course & syllabus design (“Oz Behind the Curtain”); here are Part 1 and Part 2. I’ve also posted a Part 3a on governance and alignment, but since it’s kind of technical it’s only on my blog; see here if you want to get into those nitty-gritty details.
All my syllabi have some generalized instructions. I include some boilerplate stuff on every syllabus: use of phone and laptops in class, something about attendance and participation to the effect that just showing up is necessary but not sufficient, something about disability accommodations, and so on.
But for a course that studies religion, somehow, I feel there needs to be something more along the lines of ground rules.
By January 11, 2012
This is Part 2 in a series on course & syllabus design; Part 1 is here.
I last taught “Religions in America” in the fall of 2009 as a special topics course in history, which meant I didn’t have to jump through any approval hoops. Since that time, I’ve put the course through our university and General Education governance so it could be listed with a course number in the regular catalog. Now that I’m planning to teach it again in 2012-2013, it’s time to revisit the course from the inside out and update its learning outcomes and course expectations (and give it a revamped web presence). All of this can be done without altering its catalog description or governance approvals–which is an important point if you are inheriting an existing course and are looking to redesign it or reinvent its pedagogy.
My 2009 syllabus enumerated course objectives (old-style, professor-centered).
By January 10, 2012
This will be a series of posts about the process of course creation, using my “Religions in America” course as a case study. I’m thinking about it this week because this is my university’s faculty “Winter Institute” and as part of it, there’s a two-day syllabus development workshop.
Course creation and syllabus design were not something that was covered in any great depth during my graduate education. I used syllabi I like as a model and tried to imitate the teachers I thought were exemplary, but as a general rule: pedagogy was a taboo topic. I don’t know if it seemed beneath us, or too self-evident to merit comment, or irrelevant to the research-and-dissertation-writing process… but you know, when I write those out that way, it seems so obvious that in real life it is NONE of those things, and that it is not only a worthwhile topic for us to talk about, but in fact a NECESSARY one.