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Reflective Posts

Mormon and Muslim Immigration-A Shared History

By February 1, 2017


Over the past week, scholars and news outlets have linked the Mormon past to the present Muslim-targeted immigration ban. They point to the 1879 Evarts Circular, in which Secretary of State William Evarts urged foreign governments to help restrict Mormon emigration from their countries. The above writers ask Mormons to remember their immigrant-persecuted-past and show compassion to those in the present.LA times

These calls are noble. Yet, there is more to the Mormon-Muslim immigrant past than these articles articulate. The Evarts Circular was not the only federal action against Mormon immigration. Two legislative currents, federal legislative battles over the existence of polygamy in the 1880s and the federalization of immigration legislation, followed Evarts’ Circular. These forces coincided in the 1891 federal immigration law when legislators banned “polygamists” from crossing into America’s borders while increased funding established federal border regulation. At the same time, the 1891 law gave refugee status to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution. You’ll have to wait for a forthcoming post about the legal developments between the Evarts Circular and the 1891 law. You’ll also have to trust me when I say that the 1891 polygamy-immigration ban targeted Mormons (although this Los Angeles Times article might serve as some consolation in the meantime).[1]

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Signs of the Times

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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 8.31.46 AM

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.

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Mormons and Refugees: A Reading List from the Juvenile Instructor and Friends

By January 29, 2017


lds armenian refugees 1921_zpsdtce7hd8

Image courtesy of Ardis Parshall, keepapitchinin.org.

Some recommended reading from Juvenile Instructor bloggers and friends on the history of Mormonism and/as refugees:


JI Heads Back to School 4

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.

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Ronald W. Walker: Historian, Mentor, and Friend

By May 11, 2016


Ronald W. Walker left an indelible impression on many Juvenile Instructor bloggers (and friends of the JI). For some, it was primarily through reading his work or hearing his conference presentations. Others of us got to know him on a more personal level, and we have contributed brief tributes below, reflecting on Ron as a historian, mentor, and friend.

Brett D. DowdleJoseph Smith Papers

I was saddened to learn of Ron’s death.  The first time I read one of Ron’s articles was in 2006, when I read “Crisis in Zion: Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893.” I was instantly captivated.  Ron had a way with words and a command of research that few historians ever approach.  In June 2008, I was privileged to meet him for the first time, beginning a long friendship as he kindly took me on as a research assistant for his biography of Brigham Young.  At the time he hired me, I was an inexperienced graduate student and historian, but he kindly worked with me to teach me how to become a proficient researcher.  While working with Ron, my understanding of and appreciation for the early Utah period grew exponentially as we discussed the topic in his office.  Up to the very end, Ron was dedicated to research and writing, and was pushing forward with his work on Brigham Young.

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Eliza R. Snow as a Victim of Sexual Violence in the 1838 Missouri War– the Author’s Reflections on a Source

By March 7, 2016


Perhaps you have heard or read that I gave a talk called “Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838” at the Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History conference at Brigham Young University.  My paper sought to address the history of how women experienced the violence in Missouri, particularly as victims of sexual violence.  As part of that research, I examined the case study of Eliza R. Snow as a possible victim of a gang rape that might have left her unable to have children. Eliza R Snow I looked at a few of the rapes and attempted rapes in Missouri, recalled by various witnesses, legal testimonials, and personal accounts, with a discussion of why women are not specifically named in most sources. The scarcity and limitation of sources has presented historians with the difficulty of uncovering a history of sexual violence in Missouri, and of identifying actual victims. So I concluded with an examination of a primary source that amazingly came to me only three weeks prior to the conference, via a colleague who received it from a member of the family where the source is held. That source gives a description of Eliza’s rape, and its larger meaning in Snow’s life and possible motivations for her polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part III

By February 25, 2016


This is the third and final post in a series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Part one and part two can be read here and here.

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Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Another purpose of the Friends meetings is to provide instruction. Most black members in the Durham Stake tend to be converts to the Church, many of them having converted fairly recently. Every month a theme is chosen and one person appointed to direct the conversation or to provide a lesson. Themes include “outreach,” “fellowship,” “true v. false doctrine,” or “being a black Mormon today.”[1] In September 2011 Brother Isaiah Cummings taught a lesson titled “Blacks in the Bible.” Brother Cummings has apparently written a book on this subject but has been unable to find a publisher. I was not present at this meeting but Christina shared with me a copy of his lesson outline and it is also posted at the group’s Facebook page. In that lesson he taught that “When you begin to look at ‘Biblical History,’ it is important to realize that the world had two (2) beginnings… The World “before” the Flood and the World ‘after’ the Flood. Hence, the Black Race had two sets of Parents: 1) Cain and his wife and 2) Ham and his wife Egyptus.” The lineage Brother Cummings constructs to illustrate the history of Blacks in the Bible is supported by scriptural references to the Bible and the Book of Abraham in the Mormon book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part II

By February 24, 2016


This is part two of a three-part series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. For part one, see here. Part three will be posted tomorrow morning. 

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Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on "Blacks in the Bible," Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.

Isaiah Cummings presents a lesson on “Blacks in the Bible,” Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, September 2011.

The Friends Group arose out of the African American cultural celebration as the brainchild of Brother Lee Cook, a white member of the Durham 1st Ward. Lee grew up in Richmond, Virginia, as a Southern Baptist. He described his younger self as a hippie and college dropout who joined the Air Force, which is where he met missionaries and joined the LDS Church. After moving around with the Air Force and then living for a while in New York, he returned to the South. It was exciting to see all of the changes that had occurred since the Civil Rights movement occurred, he explained. Yet, he noticed that, in many places, there was still that separation—a “wall of partition,” he called it. So he started visiting black churches as part of his own quest to overcome that partition and he became very spiritually impressed (a common Mormon term for inspiration from the Holy Spirit) “that the Lord has a great work for us to do together.” Then he met Christina and after one of the African American cultural celebrations she confided in Lee that, as he remembered her statement (which he shared with her permission), “this is the only day I feel good as a black Latter-day Saint.” So, to remedy that sense of loneliness that she and presumably other black Latter-day Saints in the stake feel throughout the rest of the year, he proposed the organization of a support group—“so instead of once a year—once a month.”[1]

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina: A History of the African American Night of Celebration and the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent Support Group, Part I

By February 23, 2016


We’re pleased to present the following series of posts from Stan Thayne, PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founding editor of the Juvenile Instructor. The posts, which trace the little-known history and significance of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, is longer than our usual offerings, but is well worth the time. It will be published serially over the next three days. –admin

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Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

When Christina Stitt moved into the Chapel Hill 1st Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2005, she and her grand-daughter Dushana doubled the number of African Americans in the congregation. There were only two other black members at the time, as Christina remembers it: Brother and Sister John and Mary Moore. They didn’t get to know each other right off, Christina and the Moores. Perhaps both overly conscious of the blackness that should supposedly connect them in this sea of whiteness, they were both a little stand-offish toward each other at first, as Stitt recalls. But after Christina sang a gospel piece during sacrament services, Sister Mary Moore approached her and expressed her desire for a program in the church celebrating African American culture. “She planted a seed in me,” Christina told me during one of my interviews with her. “But me, when you say something that really hits my heart, I try to get it done. And that’s what I did. I went to the bishop and I asked him, and he thought it was a good idea too. So that’s where it started.” In February 2006 the Durham Stake hosted the first African American Night of Celebration at the LDS stake center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill. It has since become an annual event held every February during black history month.

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In Memoriam: Milton Backman, Jr., 1927-2016

By February 11, 2016


mou0046346-1_20160210I do not remember the first article I read authored by Milton Backman, Jr. It was almost certainly something he published in the Ensign during the 1970s or 1980s. As a 19-year-old missionary with a previously-untapped love for reading, learning, and history, those old Ensigns that occupied so much of the shelf space of ward libraries were treasure troves of information to me. Much to the annoyance of at least a few of my companions, I would eagerly request that we stay a bit longer at the church building after playing basketball on P-day so that I could flip through a dozen or so issues and photocopy each article dealing with church history, doctrine, or scripture. I don’t know if it was the first, but I do remember reading Backman’s 1989 essay, “Preparing the Way: The Rise of Religious Freedom in New England.” In addition to shattering some myths I had imbibed at some earlier point in my life (i.e. “Although many who sought religious liberty had immigrated to those colonies, the Pilgrims and Puritans did not, generally speaking, believe in extending religious freedom to others.”), Backman’s essay tied Mormonism into a larger narrative of American religious history in a way that I had not previously encountered. I was hooked.

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Reflections on William Russell’s “RLDS/LDS: Friends on a Shared Journey”

By March 25, 2015


JMH50See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:

William Russell’s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.

His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell’s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with “affectionately” as the farewell?). Russell’s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA’s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith’s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.

Two aspects of Russell’s essay are worth expounding upon individually.

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A Love Letter to Mormon Women on the Anniversary of the Relief Society, from a Mormon Historian and Feminist

By March 17, 2015


On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Field Trip!

By March 6, 2015


This post is a continuation of last year’s “Mormon Studies in the Classroom” series.  See the author’s previous post here, on Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom. 

IMG_1295At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, my principal approached me about teaching an elective class related to any of my interests as an educator.  I drafted and submitted a proposal for a class titled “History Detectives” (no relation to the PBS show), only to find that few students signed up for it.  To make a short story long, I ended up teaching Creative Writing instead (despite the glaring lack of classes on my college transcript that contain either “Creative” or “Writing” in their titles).  I had a good time with Creative Writing, though, and geared up to teach it a second time.  (If you’ve never heard of lipograms, you should check them out!  Pretty fun stuff.)

As the second semester of the 2014-2015 school year began, my principal asked if I could resurrect the History Detectives class and take on some of the middle school students that had nowhere else to go for an elective, either because they hadn’t paid their class fees, were behavior problems for other teachers, or simply needed an elective.  I quickly scrapped the Creative Writing syllabus I had planned, and resurrected my plans for History Detectives.   Here is the course description:

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Mormons, Supplementary Worship, and Ash Wednesday

By February 19, 2015


Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.

Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student. 

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Guest Post: Barbara Jones Brown, Remembrance: A Photoessay

By September 29, 2014


We’re pleased to present today’s guest post from Barbara Jones Brown. Barbara was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (OUP, 2008) and is now at work on the book’s sequel. She holds a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Brigham Young University. She serves on the board of directors for the Mormon History Association and on the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team.

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On September 11, 2014, dozens of people from throughout the United States gathered at the lower monument of southern Utah’s Mountain Meadows. We were there to remember the victims of the atrocity that took place in that valley exactly 157 years before, when Mormon militiamen led a massacre of some 120 California-bound emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas. Only seventeen children aged six and under survived. The monument, dedicated September 11, 1999, marks the spot where the emigrants took cover behind their wagons during the five-day siege and where U.S. troops laid many of their bones to rest in 1859.

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Thoughts on MHA: Mormon History, Succeeding Generations of Scholars, and the Need to Move Forward Together

By June 16, 2014


At the Mormon History Association’s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration—it was my favorite MHA I’ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history.

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Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom

By April 28, 2014


As my contribution to the Juvenile Instructor’s series on Mormon Studies in the Classroom, I thought I’d discuss the place of Mormonism in the Utah Studies course, which is a required class for all 7th graders in the state’s public schools.  The structure, sources, and activities for such a class are necessarily tailored to a younger audience than those of the other courses that will make up this series, but I think it’s important to consider how less-seasoned—and more often than not, less-willing—students interact with Mormon studies.

I’m only in my second year teaching the Utah Studies Course, but have been given a lot of latitude by my school (which is a charter school that employs the Core Knowledge Sequence for its main curriculum).  So I’ve put a lot of thought into what I’d like my course to look like, where I think Mormonism should fit, and what I want my adolescent audience to take away from the course.

Course Objective:

The Utah Core Curriculum introduction to the Utah Studies Course says this: 

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Reflections on JI’s Indigenous History Month

By December 13, 2013


For the month of November, we at the Juvenile Instructor hosted indigenous history month. It was a bit of whirlwind with a lot of fantastic posts and content. A few of us thought we would have some thoughts about one or two posts that will change the way that we write about indigenous people in the future.

Amanda Hendrix-Komoto: One of my favorite posts was Farina’s on oral history and the politics of translation. In the post, Farina explores the conversation that was happening between translator, an elderly Navajo woman, and a Church history employee during an interview. Although the translator tries to capture what the woman is saying and to translate it accurately into English, Farina demonstrates that re-reading the Navajo section of the oral interviews provides an interesting glimpse into the mistranslations that occur as the translator is forced to slightly alter the meaning of questions to make them make sense in Navajo. Answers that appear incongruous suddenly make sense when the meaning of the question as it was asked in Navajo is considered.

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Mormon History and Indian History

By November 27, 2013


Todd Compton, award-winning author of the recently-published biography of “Apostle to the Indians” Jacob Hamblin, contributes this installment in the JI’s Mormons and Natives Month.

The problem with Mormon history is that it focuses on Mormons. I make this paradoxical statement to intentionally overstate the case—but there is some truth to it. We Mormons have never existed in a bubble; we have always interacted with non-Mormons. A historian can, of course, focus on the Mormon side of things, and you would expect a writer of “Mormon history” to do so, to a certain extent. However, if we don’t take the non-Mormon side of the story seriously, looking at it thoroughly and even sympathetically, we will not even understand the Mormon side of the story in a careful, holistic way. (Looking at the non-Mormon side of our history sympathetically can be difficult for modern loyal Mormons, given the polarized Mormon/anti-Mormon conflicts throughout nineteenth-century Utah history.)

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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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