One of BYU’s homecoming events this year (today, I think) will be to honor Dr. Jim Olson, a Regents Professor of History at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, with a Distinguished Service Award. I hope this post doesn’t sound like a eulogy. When I asked him about the award earlier this week, he said it meant that he had to wear a suit to the football game.
As far as I know, Dr. Olson’s only Mormon Studies/Lit publication is a brief essay in Dialogue about how grad school positively influenced his testimony and relationship with the church. (“Graduate School: A Personal Odyssey,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7, no. 4 (Fall 1972): 67-71).
He might also have a Mormon claim to fame as the only former Area Authority Seventy to have published a book with a fully naked woman depicted, in color, on the cover. I haven’t performed a systematic survey, but I feel pretty confident about the category. The book is Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer, and History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), which won the Excellence in Scholar/Academic Publishing Award, History of Science Category, from the Association of American Publishers and was nominated for a Pulitzer.
To suggest the scope of his non-Mormon History/Letters accomplishments, I will confine myself to two factoids: he has published, as author, co-author, or editor, something like forty books, and the auditorium where he lectures freshmen is named after him. His CV is here. I’d judge his most famous book to be John Wayne: American (co-authored with Randy Roberts; The Free Press, 1995); at least, that’s the one that gets him interviews on The History Channel. (It was also nominated for a Pulitzer.) I find his book about the American-Vietnam War and his various books treating ethnicity to be useful. In the coming months Johns Hopkins will publish his history of MD Anderson Cancer Center, which will trace modern methods of treating cancer.
My favorite (non-academic) saying of his: “Plant your doubts, whatever they are, in a garden of diligent covenant keeping and, in time, you will harvest a closer relationship with the Lord and a stronger testimony.”
Cheers to Dr. Olson!
[Disclosure: I’m all kinds of compromised as a reporter on Dr. Olson. I am his teaching assistant, he’s on the short-list for both my comps and thesis committees, we attend the same ward, he said nice things to me when he visited my stake conference as a Regional Representative twenty years ago and I was the choir pianist, and so on. I didn’t ask him if I could post this and don’t think he is aware of my participation here.]