In today’s age, when the internet fosters a close-knit community with immediate access to news and information, reactions to new scholarship come at a blistering speed. Most academic journals are now available in digital form, scholarly organizations maintain frequently updated websites, and the blogging world makes it possible to discuss new ideas and research within minutes after they appear. In past decades, if one were to read an article in, say, Journal of Mormon History and wanted to write a response or rebuttal, the only option would be to write and mail a letter-to-the-editor and, if it’s accepted, wait several months before it appears. While these letters will still play an important role for many journals, their snail-like pace can often be too slow for today’s twitterworld.
Similarly, while books will always be the cornerstone of academia, and thus book reviews are the most common form of “response,” the importance of articles are often overlooked because of both their fleeting nature in and of themselves (many are mere stepping-stones to later books) as well as the sheer number of articles that are produced every year–especially in Mormon Studies (broadly defined). This is a shame, because Mormon history has a proud tradition of strong and groundbreaking articles that serve as stand-alone works and deserve their own attention.
It is in this spirit, then, and with the belief that provocative dialogue is the highest end of scholarship, we are pleased to announce a new series here at Juvenile Instructor: “Responses.” In this series, we will respond to recent scholarship—mostly articles, though sometimes books, essays, and even letters-to-the-editor—as well as, if circumstances permit, a rejoinder from the original author.
Though we did not introduce it as such, last week’s exchange between Jonathan Stapley and Connell O’Donovan provided the first contribution to the series: Stapley offered a response to O’Donovan’s letter in the most recent Journal of Mormon History, followed by O’Donovan providing his rejoinder. Besides an important discussion of specific ideas, contexts, and facts, the dialogue was a wonderful reflection on the process of writing history and the merging of personal politics and historical research. Stapley and O’Donovan should be commended for setting a high standard for everyone to follow. (Their exchange was so helpful, in fact, that JMH has now instituted a new policy of allowing authors to respond to critical letters in the same issue they are printed.)
We hope that future installments will be similarly provocative and enlightening.