By September 19, 2017
Eighteen months ago, Taysom was deep into work on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901 to 1918. We interviewed him then about the project. Taysom recently finished work on the manuscript, and we decided to follow up to see how the project evolved over that period and what Taysom’s reflections in retrospect are.
By July 25, 2017
Brent M. Rogers is the author of Unpopular Sovereignty: The Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017). He holds a Ph.D in American History from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is currently an associate managing historian for The Joseph Smith Papers and he has co-edited four volumes in the series. Brent agreed to participate in our semi-regular series, Scholarly Inquiry, by answering the following questions.
What led you to write Unpopular Sovereignty: Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory?
This was a fun question to think about. The seed was planted as I read a couple of influential books in undergraduate courses and early in my graduate career that had me thinking about Mormons and Utah in the antebellum era (Sarah Gordon’s The Mormon Question and Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets). But, the book project, if I were to pinpoint its true beginning, emerged out of a research seminar I took on war and expansion in nineteenth-century America. Because there seemed to be a lack of western facing history in the course, I decided to examine the role of the western territories in antebellum political discourse. As I dug into the newspaper and congressional sources, substantive discussion about Utah emerged more prominent than I originally anticipated, so I keyed in on that discussion. Secondary sources hadn’t considered the territory west of Kansas as important, but the primary sources said otherwise. After I wrote and presented that research paper, and after subsequent conversations I convinced my dissertation committee that it was worthwhile to pursue a dissertation that placed Utah squarely in the narrative of antebellum political discourse within the context of sovereignty, territory, and power. In the few years following the completion of that dissertation I revised and enhanced that work to produce Unpopular Sovereignty.
By September 21, 2016
Nicholas J. Frederick is an assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. He holds a Ph.D in the History of Christianity with an emphasis in Mormon Studies from Claremont Graduate University. Nick is the author of The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity (FDU Press, 2016). He has agreed to participate in the JI’s semi-regular series, Scholarly Inquiry, by answering questions about his book.
What led you to write The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity?
While working on my Ph.D at Claremont Graduate University, I started getting into Intertextuality, in particular the intertextuality between the New Testament and Mormon Scripture. I was fascinated by the questions that were raised when the Book of Mormon or the D&C would quote or allude to the writings of John or Paul or Matthew.
By May 26, 2016
[We are pleased to share another Scholarly Inquiry, this time with Thomas Simpson, an instructor at Philips Exeter Academy. We have highlighted his scholarship here at JI twice before. His long awaited book, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940, is forthcoming from University of North Carolina Press. Make sure to pre-order his book from this site and use discount code 01DAH40 to get 40% off.]
1) How did you become interested in this topic?
Partly through deep and close family connections to Latter-day Saints, including many who have gone to BYU and earned graduate degrees from universities outside the Intermountain West. But I didn’t get seriously interested in the academic study of Mormonism until I was in graduate school at the University of Virginia. I was preparing for doctoral examinations, and intending to write a dissertation on the Social Gospel, when I became consumed by the question of Mormonism’s evolution from a small, persecuted sect into a vibrant, global faith. Shortly after I passed my exams (hallelujah!) my adviser, Heather Warren, gave me the green light to develop a proposal for a dissertation in Mormon history. I started searching through Davis Bitton’s Guide to Mormon Diaries & Autobiographies – initially looking for evidence of Mormon reactions to the Woodruff Manifesto – and I noticed something peculiar: a pattern of Mormons migrating to elite universities, as early as the 1870s. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I wanted to know more.
By May 25, 2016
Taysom is presently working on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, to be published with the University of Utah Press. He’s graciously agreed to an interview.
Your previous book was a theoretical study of boundary maintenance among nineteenth century Mormons and Shakers. What led you to next write a biography of Joseph F. Smith?
By December 21, 2015
The December 11, 2015 episode of the impeccably crafted history podcast BackStory is worth a listen, on the topic of “American Prophets.” In many ways, it’s a sequel to their “Born Again” episode on the history of American religious revival back in April, continuing the story of charismatic leaders and religious movements forging transformation and innovation in an intense cultural pressure cooker. In “American Prophets,” the hosts explore Neolin (Delaware / pan-Indian), William Seymour (Asuza Street, Pentecostalism), Brigham Young (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) and Elijah Muhammed (Nation of Islam). When added to the earlier episode’s portrayal of the First and Second Great Awakenings, Handsome Lake, Sam Jones, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham, we now have a nice two-hour audio documentary on diverse American new religious movements featuring a stellar cast of religious scholars. 
By October 14, 2015
Christine Talbot is the author of A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013). We are delighted that she agreed to an interview with the JI about this important new book. Christine is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado.
Yours is the latest entry in a number of books on polygamy in the Utah territory. What makes yours distinct from, say, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s, or Kathryn Daynes’s?
I think my work builds on the previous work of Sarah Barringer Gordon, Kathryn Daynes, Terryl Givens, and others by bringing in a cultural perspective, especially in terms of anti-Mormon rhetoric. Cultural history led me to different conclusions about the nature of the Mormon question. A cultural history allows us to see what I think is one of the central roots of the Mormon question, issues of American national identity and citizenship. These issues were profoundly gendered in nineteenth century America; citizenship was built on the idea of a masculine public sphere where citizenship was enacted, juxtaposed to a feminine private sphere in the home where future citizens were trained. (However, married women’s property acts and the woman suffrage movement provided ample ammunition to contest the masculinity of citizenship). My book shows that the practice of polygamy upset the historical distinction between public and private in ways that many Americans found troubling precisely because it is a distinction that never held in the first place. Plural marriage denaturalized and deconstructed the distinction between public and private that upheld American ideals of citizenship. That, I think, is one of the things about plural marriage that so upset other Americans.
Having spent so much time with polygamy, what do you think are remaining areas that are worth exploring in relation to it?
By September 11, 2015
Samuel M. Brown is a medical researcher, ICU physician, historian of religion and culture, and friend to many at the Juvenile Instructor. Today he fields our questions on his recent foray from academic research into devotional writing for an LDS audience. In particular we asked him about the significance of history for that kind of enterprise. This is Part 1 of a 2-Part feature. [For Part 2, see here.]
By July 9, 2015
For Part 1, see here.
5. How do you envision your memoir contributing to both Mormon studies and Chicano studies?
While all of us want a legacy most of us never do enough to make it beyond a footnote or a family member’s sacrament meeting talk.
By July 10, 2014
The stirring conclusion of our conversation with Dan Belnap on ritual in Mormon Studies. For those new to the conversation, refer to Part 1.
One of the challenges faced by theorists of practice and ritual is defining precisely what these categories are and what they encompass. Do you have any opinions on the scope of Mormon ritual studies or, for that matter, on the boundaries of Mormon liturgy?
By July 3, 2014
This post belongs to our occasional “Scholarly Inquiry” series which facilitates conversations with important scholars in Mormon history and studies. Today we reprise our focus on religious practice and ritual from a few months ago and hear from Dan Belnap, professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Belnap, who has a particular interest in ritual in both ancient and contemporary contexts, is the editor of a book entitled By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice, and published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book last year. (And it features, one must add, a stellar chapter from our very own J. Stapley on the development of Mormon ritual!) We appreciate Professor Belnap’s responses and invite your thoughtful engagement. Also, stay tuned for Part 2.
By September 9, 2013
(The following is a give-and-take with Christopher and Christine Blythe, graduate students in American religious history who specialize in the many divergent forms of Mormonism. Christopher attends Florida State University, where he is nearing completion of his PhD, and Christine recently started a master’s program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted two of their recent articles; today, they answer a few questions presented to them by the JI cabal. The Blythes have a documentary history of the succession period due to be published by Kofford Books next year.)
By September 3, 2013
We’re thrilled to present the following Q&A with historian John Fea. Dr. Fea is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of several books, including The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), and Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), which he co-edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller. His latest book, Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013) is scheduled to be released in two weeks. Dr. Fea is currently at work on two book projects—a religious history of the American Revolution and one on history and memory in the town of Greenwich, NJ. In addition to his scholarly output, John is a prodigious blogger, a tireless traveler and dynamic speaker (check out that list—chances are he’ll be in your general neck of the woods at some point), Bruce Springsteen devotee, avid sports fan, and 2010 inductee to the Montville High School (NJ) Hall of Fame. By nearly all accounts, he is also an incredibly nice guy.
Please join us in welcoming Dr. Fea!
By July 26, 2013
There’s a naval and mercantile metaphor in there somewhere, even if my post title doesn’t quite capture it. This is a short post just to call attention to the squall on today’s horizon about open access, digital dissertation publishing, and the tough choices facing history grad students navigating the internet’s rough seas. A perfunctory glance at my Twitter feed this morning shows that although the AHA issued a policy statement way back on the 22nd against timely open access digital publication of dissertations, today was the day it surfaced big-time. Breached the waters, you might say. It’s perhaps a tempest in a disciplinary teapot, but still: young scholars, best to take note.
By October 15, 2012
J. Spencer Fluhman is assistant professor of History at Brigham Young University. He graduated summa cum laude from BYU with a degree in Near Eastern Studies (1998) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was awarded a MA (2000) and PhD (2006) in History. He is the author of the recently-released A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), and the editor (with Andrew H. Hedges and Alonzo L. Gaskill) of The Doctrine & Covenants: Revelations in Context (Religious Studies Center, BYU, and Deseret Book, 2008). He also guest edited (with Steven Harper and Jed Woodworth) the , “Mormonism in Cultural Context.” Dr. Fluhman is also a dynamic lecturer and popular teacher at BYU. He personally mentored several of the bloggers at Juvenile Instructor, and remains a close friend and trusted mentor to the current generation of Mormon graduate students. Below he answers your questions about his recent book, broader researcher, and Mormon history more generally.
By September 21, 2012
We recently invited Jared Farmer, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University and author of On Zion’s Mount, to answer some questions about his latest project, Mormons in the Media, 1830–2012.
What was the genesis of this (e-book) project? Did it start as a casual interest that only later became a serious project? Was it an outgrowth of teaching?
All of the above. The past couple of years I spent a lot of time creating a personal archive of historic images for use in my lecture courses. In the process I got quite good at finding images online—using familiar search engines (e.g., Google Images, Flickr), as well as some obscure sites, and many educational databases that are inaccessible to non-academics because of paywalls. This past spring, once Romney cinched the GOP nomination, I decided it would be worthwhile—and fun—to put my image-finding skills to public use. What began as a diversion from my book manuscript (Trees in Paradise: A California History, due out next year) became a minor obsession; what was supposed to be a little online illustrated essay on portrayals of Mormon facial hair became Mormons in the Media. I ended up spending far more time than I budgeted, and I used up my professorial tithing on eBay buying LDS ephemera.
By September 3, 2012
Scholarly Inquiry is an ongoing series at the Juvenile Instructor. It aims to introduce recent scholarship in Mormon studies to a wider audience and to involve a larger community of scholars in attempts to situate the Mormon experience in wider contexts and new and innovative ways. Visiting scholars will include both Mormons and those from other faith traditions, as well as historians of Mormonism and those whose primary research interests focus on other subjects. Previous participants include Mark Ashhurst-McGee (here and here), Mark Staker (here and here), Stephen Taysom (here and here), Patrick Mason (here and here), and Paul Gutjahr (here and here).
By May 25, 2012
Paul Gutjahr is professor of English at Indiana University. His book The Book of Mormon: A Biography was recently published by Princeton University Press. See an excerpt here, the table of contents and prologue here, and the first chapter here. In the hustle and bustle of the semester, I neglected getting your questions to Dr. Gutjahr until this week, but fortunately for us he provided these excellent responses quite promptly. We at the JI would like to thank Dr. Gutjahr for taking the time to participate in this series. Note: Grant Hardy provided these thoughts on the book and you can see Blair’s review here.
Q. While your research interests seemingly lend themselves to this project particularly well, I’m interested in hearing more about the genesis of this book. What motivated you to write it? What, if anything, did you find especially interesting and/or surprising? What other potential research projects dealing with the Book of Mormon do you see as promising/important?
By March 5, 2012
Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington has a new book forthcoming in about a month with Princeton University Press. The book is The Book of Mormon: A Biography. See an excerpt here, the table of contents and prologue here, and the first chapter here.
By November 16, 2011
I’m surfacing from a very busy semester to ask two things:
–when did the term “FLDS” develop? I have my ideas and some initial research but if anyone has insight on that, I’d be grateful for input.
–who’s going to be at AAR/SBL in San Franciso this weekend and would there be interest in organizing an informal JI meetup?
This is my first time at AAR – I’m looking forward to it. I will be speaking in a panel sponsored by the History of Christianity Section on Monday morning on the state of the field of fundamentalism (Session A21-104), and among other things I’m musing about the emergence of the FLDS wing of Mormonism’s house–or at least the emergence of CALLING it that, and about what that might say about the changing meanings for the term “fundamentalism.” My fellow panelists are Matthew Sutton, David Harrington Watt, Randall Stephens, and Mary Beth Mathews.
FYI, the Mormon Studies Consultation panel will be on Saturday morning at 9, with Colleen McDannell at the helm, on “Mormon Women and Modernity” (Session A19-130). It sounds like it angles towards sociology rather than history, but should be interesting to attend. The contributors and papers:
Ann Duncan (Goucher College) “The Mommy Wars, Mormonism and the ‘Choices’ of American Motherhood”
Jennifer Meredith (U of U) “Western Pioneer Mythos in the Negotiation of Mormon Feminism and Faith”
Jill Peterfeso (U North Carolina) “Scripting, Performing, Testifying: Giving Faithful ‘Seximony’ Through the Mormon Vagina Monologues”
Doe Daughtry (Arizona State) “‘Further Light and Knowledge’: Ways of Knowing in Mormonism and the New Spirituality”
Respondant is R. Marie Griffith from Harvard, and James M.McLachlan and Grant Underwood will be on hand for the business meeting.
Are other JI contributors, readers & fans going to be attending AAR? Maybe we could all have a breakfast or lunch together at some point over the weekend.