By April 4, 2017
At a recent gathering in Cambridge, MA, Richard Bushman introduced Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to her hometown crowd as Mormonism’s most “distinguished and decorated scholar.” Her Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and many other awards speak to her mastery of the historian’s craft in the broader academy. She is not only Mormonism’s most distinguished and decorated scholars, she is one of the most distinguished and decorated scholars alive today. Ulrich’s research and writing abilities made A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 a natural choice for JI’s Third Annual Summer Book Club. Hundreds of readers have followed along with our book club in the past few years—we hope to read with even more of you this summer!
By July 18, 2016
Click here for part one, two, three, four, five, and six of this year’s summer book club.
This week’s chapters address Emma’s experiences in Nauvoo after the population of Nauvoo became thoroughly non-Mormon (Ch 19: “Change in Nauvoo,” 1850-1860) and as her sons (and Joseph Smith, the prophet’s sons) became established as adults and potentially key figures within Mormonism (Ch 20: “Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son,” 1860-1870).
By July 11, 2016
Click here for part one, two, three, four, and five of this year’s summer book club.
This week’s chapters address the transitions in Emma Smith’s life from Winter 1845-1846 through the removal of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo in 1846 to the Elect Lady’s marriage to Lewis Bidamon and his travels throughout 1849. Brilliantly, the authors open these chapters with a letter forged by James Bennet and/or associates of his, published in the New York Sun. In the fraudulent letter, someone impersonating Emma claims that the current governing leaders of the Mormon Church were “tyrants” and that she planned to raise her children in another faith. Furthermore, the letter-writer claimed to have never believed her husband’s revelations or his religious innovations.
By June 27, 2016
J. Stapley brings us the next installment of the Summer Book Club. Click here for part one, two, and three.
Ben mentioned last week that Mormon Enigma was one of the best treatments of Nauvoo polygamy available. The topic is a morass, and to be honest I have started more than one book on the topic, only to set it down never to pick it back up after a chapter or two. I’ve read a lot of the primary documents, and some of the prominent secondary literature. And it is true, that the chapters in Mormon Enigma are some of the most readable and insightful, even while laboring under the constraints of time.
By June 20, 2016
[This is the third installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. You can read the first two installments here and here. This part focuses on chapters 7-9, which cover the introduction of polygamy, formation of the Relief Society, and Emma’s quest to help her husband during extradition attempts. Buckle up.]
A few years ago I attended a sunstone conference where Linda King Newell, co-author of the book under discussion, spoke on her experience writing, publishing, and defending Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. She gave lots of good details, and reinforced how tense the whole ordeal was: the fight to get access to archival sources, the attempted censorship on the part of the Church, and the many people who helped them along the way. But the anecdote that stood out to me the most concerned the writing process—and the process of writing about polygamy, to be exact. (Following words are paraphrased from memory.) “I remember Val [Avery] calling me one day,” Newell explained, “and she said she was working on the polygamy chapter and had to lie down.” Valeen paused for a bit, then added, “one of the wives was fourteen. Fourteen. I have a daughter that age.”
By June 13, 2016
Welcome to week 2 of this Summer’s Book Club. We’re reading Mormon Enigma, and this week’s post focuses on four chapters: “Gathering in Ohio, 1830-1834,” “‘Seas of Tribulation,’ 1834-1838,” “Strife in Missouri, 1838-1839,” and “Sanctuary in a Swamp, 1839-1841.” For the first two chapters, see Robin’s helpful post for week 1.
The next four chapters of Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippett Avery’s Mormon Enigma focus on Emma Smith’s experience throughout the 1830s. Emma’s life during this time period was marked by transition: she trekked over one thousand miles, lived in at least seven different households (that’s after I started counting), birthed six children (and adopted three more), hosted countless “boarders” who passed through her homes, and earned money from home economics, to trade, to real estate. And she was faithfully married to a religious prophet who polarized nearly everyone he came into contact with. In spite of Emma Smith’s many accomplishments and fortitude, her inner life is hard to get to. Sources are simply scarce, and seeing Emma Smith the individual becomes murky through the refracted and power-laden narratives that constitute Joseph Smith’s history. I read these chapters with these thoughts in mind, and this post will survey and suggest some ways into Emma Smith’s life.
By June 6, 2016
For this Summer’s Book Club, we will be reading Mormon Enigma by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. This week’s post focuses on the first two chapters, “Emma and Joseph, 1825-1827” and “The “Elect Lady” 1827-1830.”
Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery published Mormon Enigma, the biography of Emma Smith, in 1984 at the height of the Hofmann era (any guesses how many Hofmann sources are quoted in the first two chapters of the first edition?). Their work went a long way in bringing Emma Smith out of the antagonistic rhetoric so often used by members of the LDS Church. Today, the work still serves as a corrective to a surprising amount of Mormon scholarship, despite the fact that it does show signs of its age.
By July 6, 2015
This is the eighth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.
- Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
- Part 2: Chapters 3-4
- Part 3: Chapters 5-6
- Part 4: Chapters 7-9
- Part 5: Chapters 10-12
- Part 6: Chapters 13-15
- Part 7: Chapters 16-18
- Next week (Part 9): Chapters 22-24
In the previous installment of the summer book club, Tona brought us through early January 1838, when, acting on a revelation, Joseph Smith (JS) fled Kirtland, Ohio, and reestablished the church’s headquarters in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. As chapter 19 begins, Bushman lays out JS’s vision of the burgeoning Mormon settlement in northwestern Missouri and the palpable optimism that the Saints felt regarding Far West’s prospects. However, as 1838 progressed, that optimism would fade in the face of internal dissension and external opposition, ultimately resulting in the violent deaths of perhaps forty church members, the government-sanctioned expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from the state, and JS himself incarcerated on charges of treason and other crimes. Sifting through an uneven historical record, Bushman seeks to evaluate JS’s role and responsibility in these difficulties.
The internal dissent that had plagued JS and the church in Kirtland in 1837 followed him to Missouri. In February 1838, church members voted to remove David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer as the presidency of the Missouri church, based on charges of mishandling church funds and properties. In March and April, church courts excommunicated the Whitmers, Phelps, and Oliver Cowdery, another church leader. These men had been among JS’s earliest and staunchest supporters, but by 1838 they had become estranged from the prophet. Cowdery had objected to what he saw as un-republican ecclesiastical interference in personal affairs. Bushman uses Cowdery’s trial as “a reminder of the complex ideological environment of Mormons in the 1830s. Most of the time they spoke Kingdom of God language, using words like ‘faith,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘Zion,[’] ‘gathering,’ ‘priesthood,’ and ‘temple.’ At the same time, as American citizens, they knew the political language of rights and freedom” (348). Although JS himself used republican language when declaring that the Mormons would not submit to mob violence, he was less enthusiastic when his followers used it to undermine Latter-day Saint beliefs in consecration and unity.
By June 15, 2015
This is the sixth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.
• Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
• Part 2: Chapters 3-4
• Part 3: Chapters 5-6
• Part 4: Chapters 7-9
• Part 5: Chapters 10-12
• Next week (Part 7): Chapters 16-18
Chapter 13: Priesthood and Church Government
Chapter 14: Visitors
Chapter 15: Texts
By June 8, 2015
This is the fifth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.
By May 18, 2015
This is the second installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings.We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions. This week Steve Fleming takes a closer look at Chapters 3 (“Translation: 1827-30”) and 4 (“A New Bible: 1830”).
Previous installments in the series:
•Part I: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
3 Translation, 4 A New Bible (See part 1 here).
Bushman ends Chapter Two and begins Chapter Three by discussing how to make sense of the possible connections between the Smiths’ “magical” treasure-digging activities and Mormonism’s foundational events: receiving and translating the golden plates. Such similarities include seer stones, special treasure in the ground, and treasure guardians.
Bushman concedes that “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture,” (51) but he argues that by 1827, the year he married Emma and received the plates, “magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates” (54). Thus treasure digging played a “preparatory” role in the beginnings of Mormons, argues Bushman, and the treasure-digging elements in the events related to the golden plates played the purposed of Smith gaining his treasure-digging father’s support.
By May 11, 2015
This post kicks off the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks from now through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings. We begin today with the Prologue, which sets the tone in several important respects for the rest of the book, and Chapters 1 (“The Joseph Smith Family: To 1816”) and 2 (“The First Visions: 1816-1827”). We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions.
I first read Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) when it was first released in 2005. I was an undergraduate history major at the time, a recently-returned Mormon missionary, and an avid if novice and somewhat naïve student of Mormon history. Bushman’s biography was not my introduction to the scholarly study of Joseph Smith or Mormon history, but it still threw me for something of a loop, challenging many of the assumptions of my faith-promoting worldview. Nevertheless, I pushed through and finished the book. I next read it three years later, in a reading seminar in BYU’s now-defunct MA program in history. My familiarity with both Mormon and American religious history more broadly was deeper by then, and reading the book alongside both an experienced historian and several budding young scholars made the book both more familiar and yet so foreign from my initial reading. That a book reads differently to the same individual at different stages in her life is a truism of nearly all books, but it is especially true in reading Rough Stone Rolling.
By April 27, 2015
Ten years ago, Richard Bushman published Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling with Knopf. Bushman’s biography of Mormonism’s founder garnered widespread praise and provoked a number of conversations within the Mormon Studies community. Jan Shipps argued in the Journal of American History that Bushman’s biography represented a new chapter in the study of Mormonism. She wrote that Rough Stone Rolling is “a work of new American history that forces readers to recognize that religion is as much of our past as anything else.”[i] Through doing so, she argued that Mormon history would soon function be used as a lens to understand broader topics in American history and American religion rather than for exclusively Mormon purposes to Mormon audiences.[ii]
Shipps’ review appears to have been, well, prophetic. The past decade has witnessed an explosion of scholarship on Mormonism that historians and religious studies scholars must take seriously. Books by Spencer Fluhman, Patrick Mason, John Turner, Christine Talbot, the Joseph Smith Papers Project Team, Paul Reeve, Jared Farmer, Steve Taysom, Sam Brown, as well as many journal authors, have produced work useable in university classrooms.[iii]