State of the Discipline

Mormonism in Cultural Context: A Special Journal of Mormon History Issue in Honor of Richard Bushman

By July 16, 2012

The last few years have been a coronation of sorts for Richard Bushman–and rightfully so. After a prolific and prestigious career, the American Historical Association devoted a session to his work, the Mormon History Association distinguished him with their Leonard Arrington Award, and a group of former students held a conference in his honor. (I wrote my reflections of the conference here.) The most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History includes many of the papers presented at that last conference, including several JIers. I just finished the entire issue last weekend, and concluded it was probably the strongest JMH issue in years, as nearly every article was at an exceptionally high level of academic standards.

(It should be noted, however, that the issue as a whole was strong in a few very, very narrow fields: Joseph Smith’s thought, Mormonism and political thought, and historical thought in general. See a pattern? Now this is primarily the result of the participants’ building off of Richard Bushman’s own work–a commemorative issue in honor of Jill Derr would probably look much different, for instance–so the lack of engagement with the 20th century, material culture, lived religion, or, gasp, women’s history can, at least partially, be overlooked. But since these themes tend to dominate Mormon history in general, I maintain the “partially” qualifier.)

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2012 MHA Award Winners

By June 30, 2012

Highest MHA award

Leonard J. Arrington Award

William G. Hartley—citation attached

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JMH Roundtable on Writing Interdisciplinary Mormon History

By April 30, 2012

In the most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History, JI friend Rachel Cope put together a wonderful roundtable titled, “New Ways In: Writing Interdisciplinary Mormon History” (JMH 38, no. 2 [Spring 2012]: 99-144). “The writing of Mormon history,” she opined, “has undergone a series of transitions” (99). The most recent transition has been taking place in the past decade or so, as new interdisciplinary approaches have been introduced into the field of Mormon studies. The prior transition, what is typically called New Mormon History and whose shoulders we all stand upon, brought the academic study of Mormonism to new levels and will always deserve deep appreciation. But it was also, for the most part, dominated by the tools common during the New Social History that swept the historical profession in the 1960s and 1970s (when most New Mormon History practitioners experienced graduate training). While such an approach will remain critical to the field, new complimentary avenues are now being invoked, especially from the growing–if still nascent–field of religious studies. This roundtable, Cope explains, hopes to highlight more questions and possibilities by “asking several young scholars to explain how their particular disciplinary lens enriches approaches to and the evolution of Mormon historiography” (100). As with all thought-provoking and cutting-edge roundtables, this series brought a familiar feeling: conviction. I felt convicted in overlooking important questions and ashamed that I often maintain problematic and dated views of history, as I’ll explain below. But in that conviction, I am also enthused to thoroughly repent and correct my ways.

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Mormons and Politics at Columbia

By February 4, 2012

On the fifteenth floor in a Columbia University building overlooking a majestic New York City skyline, some of the most well known scholars of Mormonism (–and me–) gathered to present papers on the role of Mormonism and American politics during this so-called “Mormon Moment.” Professors and students from Columbia and other NYC-area universities, a handful of LDS missionaries (including a JIer’s parents!) and reps from local and international news outlets, braved unreliable elevators to bring the large lecture hall to capacity on both days of the conference.

According to co-organizer, Jana Riess, Columbia’s Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life had hoped to hold such an event for years. And with Romney’s train to the nomination in Tampa back on track—CNN just flashed that Romney won the Nevada Caucuses by twenty-three points—timing could not have been better. Dr. Riess, her co-organizer and former doctoral advisor, Randall Balmer, as well as the Institute’s staff, deserve heaps of praise for a smoothly run and stimulating event, the fruits of which will most certainly be enjoyed throughout this election season and beyond.

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2011 in Retrospect: A Look at Important Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 5, 2011

(I’ve closely followed Mormon history for only six years, but the previous twelve months were, by far, the strongest year in Mormon historical studies that I’ve seen yet. As always, JI is the place to be for looking at past and present scholarship in Mormon history. Besides the following recap of the 2011 year, Jared T’s perennially exhaustive “Recently Released and Forthcoming” list will appear later this week. Also make sure to check out Stapley’s Christmas Book Guide here.)

Continuing a tradition from the last two years, this post will give a quick run down of what I thought were important articles and books in Mormon history from the past twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently “hot” in Mormon historiography.

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Scholarship as “Intellectual Kinship”: Richard Bushman’s Vision for the Academic Community

By September 5, 2011

In order for the “Mormon Moment” (however you define it) to be successful, there must be able explicators. In the last half-dozen years, there have been few better faces of Mormonism than Richard Bushman. (See, for instance, the recent write-up here.) Whether the topic is Joseph Smith, religious fanaticism, or even the “Book of Mormon” musical, Bushman has been a go-to voice for reporters, and his insights are often poignant and insightful. He is the perfect blend of approachability, reasonable credentials (many of the highest academic awards, prestigious chair at an Ivy League institution), and brilliance. What makes him so likable in the public sphere is not just what he says, but how he says it.

Importantly, that is also one of the things that makes him so likable in academia.

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A New Framework for a New Generation of Mormon Studies: The Conclusion from my Bushman Tribute Conference Paper

By June 29, 2011

What follows is the conclusion from my paper “On Mormon Thought and its Context(s): Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the Tricky Task of Determining Influence,” presented at the conference in honor of Richard Bushman a few weeks ago. The paper spends most of its time outlining how the question of Thomas Dick’s influence has been handled in Mormon historiography, the problems with past approaches, and then demonstrates a possibly more fruitful approach. (A very early version of the paper is found here.) Then, in this conclusion, I use the topic as an example of how new frameworks are needed, specifically when engaging the development of LDS thought, in the next stage of Mormon studies. This topic—and even much of my message—has been trumpeted of late (both by myself as well as others), including Richard Bushman’s own concluding remarks at the conference, but it is still an important enough message that it is worth repeating.

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The Age of Cultural Power: Reflections on “Mormonism in Cultural Contexts: A Symposium in Honor of Richard Bushman”

By June 20, 2011

What follows are my reflections on “Mormonism in Cultural Contexts,” a conference that took place on Saturday, June 18, 2011, in honor of Richard Bushman’s 80th birthday. The organizers—Steve Harper, Spencer Fluhman, Reid Neilson, and Jed Woodworth—deserve many congratulations for putting together such a great event.

Behind the podium in the Springville Museum’s impressive Grand Gallery hangs the impressionistic painting Sunrise, North Rim Grand Canyon (1928). Painted by Mabel Pearl Frazer (1887-1981), a Fillmore native, University of Utah professor, and distinguished artist, the work captures the majestic image of the southwestern landscape. Vivid color denotes that even in the rough, ever-expanding, and imposing land of the Arizona desert, vivacity still permeates the region. “The vitality of art is life,” Frazer once explained in an Improvement Era interview. “All great art must have roots deep in a native soil…Things expressed without deep convictions can never be greatly convincing, rarely are they more than bits of superficial pettiness.” Sunrise, North Rim Grand Canyon is perhaps the best representative of her philosophy. While rooted in a precise locality—its title emphasizes the specific time and location of the painting’s subject—it seeks to capture something deeper; it reaches for a broader meaning and more significant message. A critic for the New York Herald Tribune agreed, noting that the work captured “the mood and texture of the country itself.” This was a painting—and a painter—that refused to be bound to a specific, narrow context.* There couldn’t have been a better backdrop to a conference dedicated to Richard Bushman.

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Mormonism at Upcoming Historical Conferences

By May 20, 2011

As most of our readers probably know, the Mormon History Association’s annual conference will be held next week in St. George, Utah. The program looks great, and a number of JIers will be presenting and participating. I look forward to hearing great papers, catching up with old friends, and hopefully making new ones. For those students who plan on being there, make sure to attend the student reception on Friday evening after the awards banquet at 9:15 pm; it’s a great place to relax and meet other young scholars studying Mormon history–plus there’s free food and door prizes.

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Where Heaven Meets Earth; Or, the Importance of the Joseph Smith Papers

By March 27, 2011

[This past Wednesday, March 23, I was privileged to take part in a bloggernacle event with the Joseph Smith Papers folk via internet in honor of the release of the third volume overall and second volume in the Revelations and Translations Series. General information on the volume can be found here. Since many participants of the event have already outlined both the happenings of the meeting and the contents of the book, this post gives a general reflection of the project that I came away with after listening, once again, to the volume editors explain the purpose and mission of the project.]

Sixty-five thousand. That’s how many copies of Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Volume 1 is currently in circulation. Most scholarly papers editions—typically limited to presidents, founding fathers, or other iconic figures—are fortunate to reach four digits, and a vast majority of those are purchased by libraries and research institutions. When the most recent edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series rolled off the press several months ago, there was no press conference, no advertisement campaign, not even a “based on your previous purchases, you may be interested in…” email from Amazon. Papers project volumes aren’t generally on even a bibliophile’s wish list. But copies of the Joseph Smith Papers are purchased en masse. They are showcased in the front shelves of Deseret Book, offered for impressive discounts on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (even if the discounts rarely hold), and are displayed prominently in numerous Mormon households. And thus, when a new volume was released last week, the great folks at the LDS Church History Library hold a blogger event. Naturally.

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Patrick Mason answers your questions

By March 24, 2011

Thanks to Matt and everyone at JI for this opportunity.

For those of us who are interested in Mormon history, particularly in graduate school or the early years of our academic careers, the question of how to position oneself is always a vexed one. I was one who very consciously did NOT want to write a “Mormon dissertation.” That’s why I chose a comparative topic: violence against religious minority groups in the postbellum South. Mormons were one of these groups, but at the time of my dissertation proposal I thought they would represent only a minor aspect of the study. I was as surprised as anyone when they turned out to be the best part of the story, and got twice the coverage in the dissertation and eventually became the centerpiece of my book.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Patrick Mason

By March 11, 2011

Our next Scholarly Inquiry will be with Patrick Mason, who will in the fall assume the Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We invite you to submit questions for Patrick – on his research, present and past, on his work at Notre Dame, and of course, on the Hunter Chair, below; answers will soon be forthcoming.

Patrick Mason is currently Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of a multi-year research initiative called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” In the fall he will assume his new duties as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Patrick earned his BA in history at BYU and MA degrees in history and peace studies at Notre Dame, where he also earned his PhD in history, for which he wrote his dissertation, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: Violence against Religious Outsiders in the U.S. South, 1865-1910.” From 2007-2009 he was Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo.

His new book is The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has also published articles on topics including the history of Utah state legislation against interracial marriage, anti-Jewish violence in the South, the role of religion in the African American protest tradition, the possibilities of Mormon peacebuilding, and most recently on theodemocracy in 19th-century Mormonism.

Essential Documentary Sources in LDS History

By March 10, 2011

Continuing a series of posts over the last month or so, this thread aims to give a broad list of important documentary sources in Mormon history. By “thread,” I mean that I mostly want this to be more of a discussion with most suggestions coming from readers as opposed to me presenting my own canonical list.

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Essential Articles in Mormon History

By February 3, 2011

As I worked on a hypothetical comps list for Mormon history, it quickly became apparent that there have been a large number of important articles over the decades—a point that was made even more vivid in the responses. This post aims to outline the most important, best written, required-for-a-legitimate-overview-of-Mormonism articles over the past half century.

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Announcement: Spencer Fluhman Hired By the BYU Department of History

By January 31, 2011

In 2004, J. Spencer Fluhman joined the faculty of the department of Church History and Doctrine in the BYU Department of Religious Education (“The Religion Department” as it’s commonly known) as a full-time employee. In the interim he has rapidly gained a reputation not only for solid scholarship but for his engaging and entertaining teaching style. He recently published an important piece about Joseph Smith’s polygamy in the latest number of Mormon Historical Studies and his dissertation, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America” will be published within the year. He also recently finished a term on the board of the Mormon History Association. Many of us here at the JI count Spencer as a mentor and a friend as well as a colleague.

We’re pleased to announce that this past week, Spencer was hired by the BYU department of history and will begin teaching in the fall.  Please join us in congratulating Spencer on this new chapter in his career.

Announcement: The New Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies is. . . .

By January 28, 2011

Patrick Q. Mason. He did his graduate work at Notre Dame under George Marsden and recently published a form of his dissertation as The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Antebellum South (I have to say that the title of his dissertation, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob,” is pretty dang awesome). He has also published several articles of note. Apparently it won’t be official until March, but the word is now out.

Congrats, Pat. This is great news for Claremont, too.

Guest Post: Rachel Cope on Religious Education at BYU

By January 17, 2011

Rachel Cope has a PhD in American History from Syracuse University and is a Professor of Church History and Doctrine in the BYU Religious Education Department. You can read more about her background in a previous post when she participated in the JI’s Women In The Academy Series.

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BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine Hiring 2-3 Faculty Positions–Application Deadline January 21, 2011

By January 14, 2011

“Church History and Doctrine has 2 or 3 faculty positions to be filled this year. Candidates can apply at Applications will be accepted through January 21, 2011.”

Here are a few random (one that was posted recently and the others which were linked to in the subsequent discussion) posts in the Bloggernacle dealing with the BYU Religion Department:

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2010 in Retrospect: A Glance at some of the Scholarly Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 6, 2010

I love year-in-review lists. Building on last year’s post, this is a retrospective of 2010’s scholarly output in Mormon studies. I hope to add to the excellent posts by Jared (forthcoming) and J Stapley by listing not only books, but articles that also deserve attention. (As noted recently, historians should really reconsider our “journal standard,” and place more importance on scholarship other than monographs.) I also like this format because it allows reflections on general trends within Mormon studies and historiography in general.

I am bound to overlook some books and articles that others feel are significant. This is not on purpose–it is more a result of being 1) lazy 2) limited in my personal interests, or 3) ignorant of work while being stranded across the Atlantic Ocean. I hope people will mention and discuss the texts I overlook in the comments. There could also be another post dedicated to the excellent historical posts found in the bloggernacle over the last year–but that would be beyond the scopes of this retrospect.

[Note: Some of these works have a publication date of 2009. I include these for one of two reasons. 1) They were published after I posted last year’s retrospective (the perils of posting at the beginning of December). 2) Though they have a 2009 publication date, they actually didn’t appear until 2010.]

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Historical Fundamentalism and Mormon History

By November 1, 2010

Historical fundamentalism has been a hot topic as of late. Partly as a reaction to movements like the Tea Party, partly as a continuation of the frustrating distance between mainstream and academic history, and partly in response to the growth of constitutional originalism in public discourse as an opposition to societal and political changes—all three parts, it should be noted, are unmistakably interconnected—there has been an increase of ruminations concerning the relationship between the past and the present. (See here, here, here, and here, for example. Also, and especially, here, and here) A recent and significant contribution to these debates comes from Harvard historian Jill Lepore, whose The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History is a captivating account of how people use (and abuse) the past for modern causes, collapsing the distance between then and now in an effort to gain political and intellectual validation. (A great overview of the book, as well as an insightful interview with Lepore, can be found here. For an enlightening previous interview with Lepore on the importance of being a “public historian,” sees here.)[1] Personally, I’ve been looking forward to the book for months.

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