JI Heads Back to School-Part 2

By August 18, 2016

Here’s part one from Amanda in the series.

I just shaved for the first time in a month. Although, in my defense, I think I grow a decent beard.

This summer has beeacademian a hodge-podge of various things I needed to do, thrown into a bucket from which I pull one thing at a time, blindfolded. I’ve vacationed, taken a class, gotten a job, experienced loads of car trouble, did maintenance on a house, and even watched Star Wars in a park. Each day was different than the previous. The ambitious reading list I made going into the summer remains incomplete, and I’ve just only come to grips with that. The randomness of summer life was perplexing and refreshing.

Heading back to school for me means getting into a routine again (probably something I should have done better over the summer). I’m starting year two of my PhD program, my final year of classes… huzzah! I’m genuinely excited to be in them. This time of year always reminds me of beginning a Harry Potter book, with the fervor of magical possibilities on the train-ride to Hogwarts, or the Trax-ride to the University of Utah. Who knows what life will be like by the end of the year? The possibilities for progress are grand, indeed.

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JI Heads Back to School

By August 17, 2016

It’s almost eleven o’clock in the evening right now, and both of my daughters are in bed. The youngest – a baby about three months old – conked out hours ago. The older one was a bit harder to put to bed. She insisted that she didn’t want a bath and, like many three year olds, begged to have the light left on when she crawled into bed. My husband did the work of reading to her and cuddling with her until she fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was working on a syllabus that is now months overdue.

A few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook breaking down the ethnicity and gender of the current professoriate. According to the post, there were

176,485 full professors in the United States.
72% of these positions were held by white men.

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It takes a village — or a ward: A Brief Rundown of Mormon References in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Deseret News Op-ed

By August 10, 2016

IMG_7274This morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton took the significant (unprecedented?) step of penning an op-ed in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Clinton has been polling competitively in Utah (though the most recent polls show Donald Trump with a widening lead), and the Clinton camp clearly thinks they have a real shot in the Beehive State.

The Democratic nominee’s competitiveness in Utah is due almost entirely to Trump’s well-chronicled problems with Mormon voters (and the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who also recently wrote a Deseret News op-ed attempting to clarify (read: fix the fallout from) his unbelievably stupid comments suggesting that religious freedom might allow Mormons “to shoot somebody else” because “God has spoken to them,” to say nothing of the recent announcement of Washington D.C.-based Mormon and former CIA agent Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for President). But in her op-ed today, Clinton (clearly aided by a staffer very much in-the-know about Mormonism) attempted to make the case for why Utah voters (read: Mormons) should vote for her (and not just why they shouldn’t vote for Trump).

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Mormon Enigma Summer Book Club

By August 9, 2016

We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Summer Book Club! Each post in our series can be found below:

  • Week 1: Emma and Joseph, 1825-1827; The “Elect Lady” 1827-1830 [June 6]
  • Week 2: Gathering in Ohio, 1830-1834; Seas of Tribulation, 1834-1838; Strife in Missouri; Sanctuary in a Swamp, 1839-1841 [June 13]
  • Week 3: A New Order of Marriage, 1841-1842; In Search of Iniquity, Spring-Summer 1842; Aid to the Fugitive, June-September 1842 [June 20]
  • Week 4: More Wives and a Revelation, September 1842-July 1843; The Poisoning, June-December 1843; “Voice of Innocence,” January-June 1844 [June 27]
  • Week 5: A Final Farewell, June 12-28, 1844; The Lady and the Lion, Fall 1844; Inherit the Legacy, October 1844-October 1845 [July 4 or 5]
  • Week 6: The Sun Casts a Shadow, Winter 1845-1846; War in Nauvoo, February-December 1846; The Major, 1846-1849 [July 11]
  • Week 7: Change in Nauvoo, 1850-1860; Emma’s Sons, Lewis’s Son, 1860-1870 [July 18]
  • Week 8: Josephites and Brighamites, 1870-1877; The Last Testimony, 1873-1879; Epilogue [July 25]

We hope you’ll join us next summer! Feel free to suggest a book for next year’s series in the comments.

Working with the LDS Church History Library

By August 8, 2016

This summer I’ve been rewriting my manuscript on Mormon liturgy and cosmology, and I have thought many times how much more difficult it would have been without the extraordinary increase in documents accessibility over the last decade. I live a thousand miles away from Salt Lake City, research mostly in the evening, and only am on-site at the various archives for short moments. I know there were some heady times in the LDS Church archives decades ago (without which we could not do what we do now, even), but I think it is currently the best time to be researching Mormon history. Camelot Shmamelot.

In this post I thought I would share some pointers as a guide for those interested in similar work. This post is focusing on the LDS Church History Library (CHL), and includes some recent correspondence I have had with Keith Erekson, director of the CHL. Also, please note that the CHL will be closed to the public for renovations from October 10, 2016 to February 21, 2017.

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By August 1, 2016

Martha Bradley-Evans, Glorious in Persecution: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1839-1844 (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2016).

Glorious-in-Persecution-681x1024Martha Bradley-Evans is perhaps the most under-appreciated historian of Mormonism. Over the past few decades she has produced a number of significant books as well as mentored a number of young scholars. Several of her volumes were published with Signature Books, where she also serves on their editorial board, so it made sense for the Smith-Pettit Foundation to tab her to be one of three authors to produce an exhaustive trilogy on Joseph Smith’s life, which was originally scheduled for the year of his bicentennial in 2005. As it is with many scholarly projects, however, things took much longer. Finally, a couple months ago, Bradley-Evans’s volume, which was to be the third in the biographical series, was released. (The volume that covers Joseph Smith’s early life, authored by the late Richard S. Van Wagoner, will appear shortly.)

Even if this book is officially a solo volume, it still features the markings of its original intent, both in scope and context. First and foremost, it seeks to be an exhaustive overview of the final five years in Joseph Smith’s life, as all three “biographies” were meant to present 2000-odd pages devoted to every facet of Mormonism’s founding prophet—a must-have resource for any devoté, and a handy resource for anyone interested in the topic.[1] And secondly, Bradley-Evans’s approach and content reflect more the period in which the project was originally conceived—over a decade ago—than the period in which it was finally published. But more on that later.

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CHL Internships: Historic Sites and Joseph Smith Papers

By July 28, 2016

Historic Sites Intern


Intern, 28 hours per week, 1 year. Deadline: 8 August 2016


This successful applicant will work with the full-time staff of the Historic Sites Division of the Church History Department to research and write historical reports regarding the sacred places of the restoration. The Intern will also assist with other projects, as needed. This is an exciting and unique opportunity for someone interested in Church history and for those pursuing a career in the history field. We are looking for a motivated and hardworking self-started to join our team!

This is a paid internship, which is anticipated to last one year (12 months). This position is a part-time (approximately 28 hours per week) hourly, nonexempt position. The candidate must be currently enrolled in, or recently graduated from (within the last 12 months), an undergraduate or graduate degree program.

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Death and the Historian’s Empathy

By July 27, 2016

My grandmother’s best friend was murdered on October 15, 1985 by Mark Hoffman. Kathy Sheets was not the intended target of the bomb that ended her life but that didn’t really seem to matter to the bombmaker, forger, and murderer. Hoffman also murdered Steve Christensen, one of my grandfather’s business partners, in an attempt to divert attention from his money problems related to forging early American documents. Many of Hoffman’s most famous forgeries were documents supposedly created by 19th century Mormons, including letters, receipts, currency, and legal affidavits.

I have known of Mark Hoffman’s crimes since I was very small. My grandparents kept a photograph of Kathy Sheets in their home and she looks startlingly like my grandmother. In fact, for many years I did not know the photograph was of Kathy, I just thought it was my grandmother.

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A Brief History of Mormon Prayers at the Republican National Convention

By July 26, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.20.41 PMLast week, Nathan Johnson, an African-American convert to Mormonism who currently serves as second counselor in the Kirtland Ohio Stake Presidency, offered the invocation on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson’s prayer attracted a fair amount of attention, both because of Mormons’ widespread distaste for Donald Trump and his campaign and because of the prayer’s content. But Johnson was not the first Latter-day Saint to pray at the Republican National Convention. In fact, four out of the last five have featured invocations by Mormons: Steve Young (2000), Sheri Dew (2004), Ken Hutchins (2012), and Nathan Johnson (2016). Only the 2008 convention lacked a Latter-day Saint prayer.[1] 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare their respective prayers, to note any commonalities between them (beyond use of thee, thou, and thine), and to consider the contexts in which they were given. What follows below is a transcription of each invocation, followed by my preliminary attempt to briefly historicize each.

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Emma and Polygamy– Summer Book Club Week 8: Mormon Enigma, Chaps. 21-23

By July 25, 2016

This is the eighth 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 installments one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven here.. This part focuses on chapters 21 through 23 (Epilogue), which follow Emma at the end of her life through her passing in April of 1879 and continuing her legacy.

Chapter 21, “Josephites and Brighamites: 1870-1877” continues with Joseph III’s leadership of the new Reorganized Church, and his attempts to proselytize for membership in Utah and California, first through assigned missionaries and later by sending his own brothers to Utah.  These meetings in the 1860s and 1870s were awkward and politely cautious at best, and volcanic at worst.  Mormons in Utah seemed fascinated by these visits from the offspring of their beloved dead prophet, even holding out hope that they might reconvert to the “true church.”  Cousins met cousins on politely civil ground, but the visiting “Josephites” from Illinois and the established “Brighamites” in Utah could only dance in cold, tense circles around each other, until some visits escalated into blow-ups, sometimes over succession, but always over polygamy.  Of course, Brigham Young consistently placed blame for all of this squarely on Emma.  This chapter highlights how the visits of the sons only heightened Brigham’s pent-up anger toward Emma.  At one meeting with Church leaders, someone tried to remind Brigham that “We love these boys for their father’s sake,” but still he blew up, insisting that Emma was “the damnedest liar that lives,” (285) and that she had tried to kill Joseph twice through poisoning.  Honestly, I was struck by the very sexist way these grown men on both sides used this aging woman as a pawn in their tit-for-tat over plural marriage. Just as Brigham was absolutely obsessed with proving the divinity of plural marriage and it connections to Joseph, so did Joseph III have a “recurring preoccupation with separating his church and family from the taint of plural marriage.”  (291)  The two could never be reconciled.

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Pioneer Day Talks– Some Helpful Dos and Don’ts for a July Tradition

By July 22, 2016

It is that time of year again, when members all over the world are asked to give talks honoring July 24, 1847– the official date when a company of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley via Emigration Canyon.  For Mormons, this is a significant date of historical and spiritual meaning: it marks the moment of relief after years of persecutions in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; it represents finding formal safety in their exile, freedom from religious persecution, distance from the oppressors, and arrival and rebirth in a land of spiritual and physical  possibility. In Utah, Idaho, and other western states where members might be more likely to trace some ancestry back to the original pioneers, the third Sunday in July is usually set aside to honor the pioneer experience in a religious setting.

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Summer Reads 2016

By July 20, 2016

A few weeks ago, Tom Cutterham at The Junto shared what he was reading this summer. I thought it would be fun to post about what I and other JIers are reading this summer–both to find new books to read and because I’m interested in what folks choose to read for pleasure. Please share what you’re reading in the comments! 

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Summer Book Club Week 7: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 17-19

By July 18, 2016

Click here for part onetwothree, fourfive, 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).

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Review: Philip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850

By July 14, 2016

Protestant CommunalismPhilip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 

A little more than five years ago, I posted some thoughts on Scott Rohrer’s chapter on Mormonism in his Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). I was particularly intrigued by his inclusion of Mormonism in a volume on Protestant migrations, and a lively conversation and debate over whether Mormonism is, was, or ever has been Protestant ensued in the comments.

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Summer Book Club Week 6: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 16-18

By July 11, 2016

Click here for part onetwothree, 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.

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Two Thoughts on Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Utah, 2016)

By July 8, 2016

Gregory A. Prince, Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016), and
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), with William Robert Wright.


Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History is perhaps most usefully read in tandem with Prince’s earlier book published with the University of Utah Press, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (with William Robert Wright; 2005). The covers of the two books resemble each other; their size, in both height and width as well as thickness, are all designed to present them as visual twins. I think we might be able to read them as an intellectual pair as well.

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Heavenly Ledgers and Ghostly Specters: Two Recent Articles

By July 7, 2016

Mormonism and Media Studies, at least from a historical perspective, has been a relatively neglected topic. Recently, however, two major academic journals have published articles that engage Mormon history from the perspective of German media theorist Friedrich A. Kittler. The first article is by John Durham Peters, the A. Craig Baird Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. It is entitled “Recording beyond the Grave: Joseph Smith’s Celestial Bookkeeping” and it appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Critical Inquiry. The article is unfortunately only available to subscribers, but here is an excerpt: 

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Summer Book Club Week 5: Mormon Enigma, chapters 13-15

By July 4, 2016

Click here for part onetwothree, and four of this year’s summer book club. 

I have a magnet of Emma Smith on my fridge. It’s the lone souvenir of the church history trip I took in the summer of 2014, from Palmyra all the way down to Nauvoo, and I bought it at the Community of Christ-operated shop in Nauvoo. Emma’s portrait stares at me, amongst the magnets commemorating visits to national parks and museums, pictures of my family, postcards my friends send me from far-away places, and the coupons I can never remember to use before they expire. I deliberately did not buy the portrait of Joseph Smith. As a non-Mormon, Joseph is mostly irrelevant to my life, except in the ways he matters to those that matter to me. But Emma, Emma I feel for. And thus she has a place in my kitchen, and I was excited to start this year’s book club selection. 

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CfP: Mormon History Association, 2017, St. Louis, Missouri

By June 29, 2016

From the Program Committee:

Mormon History Association 52nd Annual Conference

Call for Papers

2017 St. Louis, Missouri

“Crossing and Dwelling in Mormon History”

The fifty-second annual conference of the Mormon History Association will be held June 1-4, 2017, at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Louis, Missouri metro area. The 2017 conference theme, “Crossing and Dwelling in Mormon History,” borrows concepts from religious studies scholar Thomas A. Tweed, who argues that religion is simultaneously in motion and in place. The theme seeks to capture both St. Louis’s general history and Latter-day Saint connections to the city’s past.

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Summer Book Club Week 4: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 10-12

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. 

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