Happy New Year everyone!
Over my holiday I read On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary, which offers readers a keen insight into Richard Bushman’s post-publication thought as Mormon and scholarly audiences reviewed Rough Stone Rolling. Likely many readers of the book will enjoy Bushman’s reflections on his negotiation of the roles of scholar and believer. My favorite part, however, is the window that the book gives into the daily scholarly practices in which Bushman engages, including refining ideas and engaging in dialogue with the public about his book. Luckily for me, Bushman’s book is not the only place to receive such insights: the JI does a great job showing process, sharing resources, and exploring and refining ideas. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2016 that did just that:
– I always look forward to Ben P’s posts that anticipate Mormon history publications at the beginning of the year and summarize major contributions at the end of the year. These posts enable me to mark my calendar for major expected works, and notify me at the end of the year of publications I missed. Ben’s Retrospective post about 2016 can be found here and his post anticipating 2017 will be published soon.
– The JI posts many book reviews and conversations with historians of Mormon history, and one of my favorite posts this year was Matt B.’s conversation with Steve Taysom. While Taysom’s biography of Joseph F. Smith is still early in the publication process, his conversation with Matt enables readers to understand a historian’s process of research, inquiry, and refinement.
– In the spirit of resource sharing and processes, the Back to School series featured on the JI in late August and early September was particularly helpful. I particularly enjoyed J Stuart’s post in which he described his strategies for success, including “compulsive planning,” and discussed the different ways he keeps himself accountable to produce the best possible work over the semester. His suggestions, as well as the thoughts of the other authors, stuck with me the entire semester. Find the other ones here, here, and here.
– Anyone interested in Plato’s relationship to Joseph Smith and Mormon thought should keep an eye on Steve Fleming’s many posts on the subject. One of my favorites is “Plato, Gender, and Eternal Marriage,” in which he discusses Plato’s notion of eternal marriage and shared wives and children. Also check out Steve’s more recent musings on Plato’s unwritten doctrine here.
– Kris wrote a great piece “A Gift Given a Gift Gone Underground, Thoughts on April 28, 2016,” which reprises her well-explored theme of female healing. In her last paragraph she argues that focusing on the disappearance of female healing privileges a male hierarchical model and ignores the actual everyday religious experiences of women. Her analysis challenges future historians of healing to “be more inclusive and move away from solely understanding healing as a top-down phenomenon that is defined from the pulpit and seek to explore the practice and lived religion of Mormon women who have the gift of healing.”
-In undoubtedly the most commented post of the year, Andrea R-M responded to some of the questions that had arisen out of her recent talk, which revealed source details for Eliza R. Snow’s rape during the Missouri War of 1838. Andrea’s essay addresses critiques of the authenticity of the source in a number of ways. Particularly interesting was her discussion of “institutional” family memory and the ways that specific stories – and the details within them – become important to the identities of families. Andrea’s research brings up important questions not only of memory, but also of the history of sexual violence in nineteenth century America, and I look forward to reading her further research on the topic.
-On a lighter note, and also by Andrea, “Pioneer Day Talks– Some Helpful Dos and Don’ts for a July Tradition” offers some practical advice for the untrained historian writing talks on Mormon pioneers. Particularly enjoyable and refreshing was Andrea’s contextualization and resources for Mormon pioneer mortality and suffering, especially her comments about mishaps with accidental gun shot wounds. I laughed out loud at this: “I triple dog dare you to mention pioneer ‘gun control’ efforts in your talk, and then report back to me how that went over.” Additionally, Andrea’s post offers new stories to globalize the notion of pioneers and alternative themes in which to frame the stories of Mormon pioneers.
-Other great posts give readers a foundation of historical context and sources and ask readers to comment and give more resources. For example, Christopher’s post “‘A rare contradiction in terms”: Mormon Racism and the Utah Jazz” presents the paradoxical relationship between Utah’s NBA team’s name and Mormon attitudes/policies towards black people. He suggests that the relationship between Mormons and sports could be yet another lens through which to analyze Mormons and race.
-Some of the memorable posts this year have had a decidedly animal theme. Recently Edje Jeter wrote a post titled “Prehistoric Mammals in the Manti Temple” which describes some of the animals pictured in the murals in the temple. Besides just being plain fun, these representations suggest the complex worldviews of the artists and Mormon culture during the construction of the Manti temple in the late nineteenth century. Amanda authored two other animal-themed posts about nineteenth century depictions and descriptions of women breastfeeding animals. In the first, Amanda discusses her shock at finding illustrations of Native American women breast-feeding beavers and discusses this as a particularly way that white authors constructed Native American identities as “animalistic.” The later post contrasts Native American depictions of breastfeeding animals with the relatively normal way in which doctors prescribed a similar practice for white women.
These posts show just a few of the many highlights from our fabulous JI authors this past year. We look forward to many more ideas, strategies, and resources that will be shared in the New Year!