Summer Book Club Week 3: Mormon Enigma, Chapters 7-9

By June 20, 2016

per86---D1-page-163---088-088-emma-smith-full[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.”

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How to Livetweet a Conference, featuring the Workshops, Panels, and Papers of #MHA2016 on Twitter

By June 16, 2016

Today’s post on livetweeting a conference comes from Eliza N. She is an editor who lives and works in Salt Lake City. She grew up in the Midwest and misses the cornfields. When she’s not working, reading, or watching Netflix, she enjoys running, playing volleyball, and hanging out with her dog. Eliza tries her best to follow these Twitter tips @EtotheNev.

You can see the archived tweets from #MHA2016 at the links provided at the bottom of the page! If you have tweets we missed please post them in the comments. If your tweets or session appear in the links below, please share on Twitter and Facebook (and tag either @MormonHistoryJI or our Facebook page).


Etiquette for Tweeting a Conference, or Seven Tips for Making Your Live-Tweet Game Sizzle

As younger generations and technology invade academia, audiences for conferences like this past weekend’s Mormon History Association’s grapple with what the heck certain platforms are and how to use them. Perhaps the most popular for MHA, Twitter is a useful and fun tool that might baffle newcomers. It takes time to learn its tricks, cadence, and inside jokes, but we can help you catch up on some of the particulars for live-tweeting a conference like MHA.

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Jane Lead in the Millennial Star

By June 15, 2016

In my first post on Jane Lead, I noted an 1858 article that the editor of the Millennial Star, Samuel Richards, wrote about Jane Lead.[1]  He’d found an 1807 German translation of her works and posted two passages, translated back into English.[2]  Of those quotes, Richards declared, “We have seldom read anything more pointed or expressive of the Latter-day Work than the foregoing.  It is another evidence that those who are spiritually minded, according to the light and advantages they have, can seek after God and learn of His ways—that He giveth liberally to all who ask wisdom of Him, and upbraideth not.”  When I did that first post, I was unable to track down the quotes, but now that I’ve found them, I’m posting what Richards cited along with the English originals.  

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Reassassing Robert Flanders’s NAUVOO: KINGDOM ON THE MISSISSIPPI, Fifty Years Later

By June 14, 2016

This post resurrects an old and unfortunately infrequent JI series, “Reassessing the Classics,” where we look at important books from days of Mormon history past. And the post’s title is partly a lie–it’s actually been 51 years since the book’s publication, but 50 is a much nicer number.

FlandersI recently commenced a book project on Nauvoo that has provided the opportunity to return to one of our field’s earliest and most important works, Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965).[1] One of the first books on Mormon history to be published by a university press–it was preceded by, among others, Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom–it was a very early academic treatment that inaugurated the New Mormon History movement. It also still reads remarkably well. But of course it wears the marks of its age. In this post I want to highlight not only the strengths and weaknesses of this work deservedly called a “classic,” but also highlight some historiographic developments in the past half-century.

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Summer Book Club Week 2: Chapters 3 through 6

By June 13, 2016

per86---D1-page-163---088-088-emma-smith-full            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.

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#MHA2016 Award Winners

By June 10, 2016

2016 MHA Award Winners

JI Permabloggers in BOLD

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Digitizania! New From the L. Tom Perry Special Collections

By June 9, 2016


This is the inaugural post of a new series we are calling Digitizania! In this series, we will be highlighting new digital collections from a variety of repositories throughout the world related to Mormon Studies. We hope this will provide a useful service to new and seasoned researchers alike. Today, we take a look at recent digitization activities at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections within the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. The following collections have been released digitally in the previous two months.

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An MHA 2016 Primer; or, Reprising Practice Month at the JI

By June 8, 2016

On the cusp of the annual Mormon History Association conference, which is centered on the theme of “practice” this year and begins later this week at Snowbird, UT, it seems like a good time to highlight some of the resources and the work done here at the JI on the theme of “practice” during March 2014. During that month (which hardly seems like two plus years ago), we carried the theme of practice through a series of posts from guests and regular contributors. See, for instance, guest Megan Sanborn Jones’s analysis of Mormon pageants and religious performance, J. Stapley’s discussion of his favorite books on liturgy/ritual, or Kris Wright’s thoughts on “Vernacular Architecture and Religious Practice.” We also had a (somewhat delayed) multiple part “Scholarly Inquiry” interview with Dan Belnap on his edited volume By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice. And we put some effort toward assembling a (theoretically) comprehensive bibliography dealing with matters of practice in Mormon history. If you’re looking to grease the skids for a memorable and productive conference this weekend, you could do worse than to start here!

Mormon Women’s Public Life and Activism pre-conference tour for MHA 2016

By June 7, 2016

Salt Lake City Cemetery

Speak ‘friend’ and enter.

Please join Juvenile Instructor’s Andrea R-M and tour co-director Janelle Higbee for the second round of fantastic Mormon women’s history on a bus, Thursday, June 9, leaving from Snowbird at 8:30 a.m. and returning after 5:00 p.m.. Tour spots are still available, and even those not registered for the conference may register for the tour.

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“A rare contradiction in terms”: Mormon Racism and the Utah Jazz

By June 7, 2016

Utah Jazz player Ron Boone meets with LDS Church President Spencer Kimball, 1980.

Utah Jazz player Ron Boone meets with LDS Church President Spencer Kimball, 1980.

There’s a joke common among sports fans concerning the Utah Jazz and the team’s nickname. It’s so obvious that it hardly needs to be told. Utah Jazz is a contradiction in terms because nothing could be so absurd as jazz music in Salt Lake City. It received a brief mention in the opening scene of Baseketball, a 1998 comedy starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park and The Book of Mormon musical:

Soon it was commonplace for entire teams to change in search of greater profits.
The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, where there are no lakes.
The Oilers moved to Tennessee, where there’s no oil.
The Jazz moved to Salt Lake City, where they don’t allow music.

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Summer Book Club Week 1: Chapters 1 and 2

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.

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Article Review: Spencer McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America””

By June 3, 2016

Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 85, no. 1 (March 2016): 150-158.

CH CoverAs much as we love the Journal of Mormon History, it’s always encouraging to see work on Mormonism appear in mainstream historical or religious studies journals. So it was a pleasant discovery to find Spencer McBride’s short article in a recent issue of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, a venerable academic journal that has been publishing on the history of Christianity since 1932. Church History is the organ of the American Society of Church History, a group that has recently fallen on hard times. Or, perhaps more accurately, it has run into a perplexing situation. Recent shifts in scholarship have taken the study of American religion away from the traditional themes of “church history,” with its focus on denominations, institutions, and traditional social dynamics. Christopher wrote a few years ago in response to Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s important presidential address to the ASCH, “The Burden of Church History,” which proposed some revitalizing steps to be taken. One of these was further engagement with Catholicism and Mormonism, a suggestion that mirrors other scholars’ encouragement to move from a study of “American Christianity” to one that acknowledges “American Christianities.” [1]

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Review: Kyle Walker, William B. Smith, In the Shadow of a Prophet

By June 1, 2016

41e28E-Qn7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kyle R. Walker, William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2015. xiv, 639 pp. Photographs, two appendices, notes, sources, index; ISBN 978-58958-505-1.

Kyle Walker has further solidified his position as the leading expert on the Smith family with this extensive biography of Joseph Smith’s troubled younger brother, William. In meticulous detail, Walker describes William’s life as one full of conflict: with his brother Joseph and other church leaders during Joseph’s lifetime, with other claimants to leadership after Joseph death, with William’s own followers when William made his own claim, and with William’s numerous wives almost all of whom left him. As one-time follower Edmund Briggs declared, “Everybody that knew William Smith, and worked with him, rejected him” (409).

Walker begins the book with a description of uncle Jesse Smith, the cantankerous family member that threatened to get an ax if anyone said anything about the Book of Mormon. Walker wonders if there was an inherited family trait that would explain William short temper, his refusal to compromise or let things go, and his perpetual self-focus.

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Gender and Recording the Names of the 1838 Mormon War Dead

By May 31, 2016

HaunsMassacreMillstoneOn November 29, 1838, Major General John B. Clark wrote his final report to Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs reviewing the state militia’s recent operations against the Latter-day Saints. “The whole number of Mormons killed through the whole difficulty as far as I can ascertain are about forty and several wounded,” while one non-Mormon had been killed.[1] Verifying Clark’s figure presents a challenge. Although Clark, as the commanding officer overseeing the campaign, was interested in total casualties, neither he nor anyone else in the state government had an incentive to record the names of Mormons who died. It was therefore left to the Saints themselves to document their losses of human life.

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Framing the American Religious Past

By May 30, 2016

This past semester, I taught the history major senior capstone research seminar on “Religion in America” [Aside: WHEN will I ever learn to choose appropriately NARROW topics for senior seminar??]. Students’ paper topics ranged from the Branch Davidians at Waco, to the religious geography of the early British colonies, to recovering Jefferson’s personal theology, to protections for religious observance in the 21st-century military, to anti-Semitism in immigration policy of the 1920s and 1930s — 16 papers with the rather dizzying variety you might expect from so open-ended a course. Most of the students, though advanced in the major, had little prior experience tackling religious subjects in history classes, so that added a dimension of danger complexity to the whole enterprise.

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MWHIT Relief Society Bazaar and Silent Auction at MHA 2016

By May 27, 2016

The Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team (MWHIT) is pleased to announce its first annual Relief Society Bazaar and Silent Auction, to be held at the Mormon History Association Conference, June 9-12, 2016 at the Snowbird Resort. (For overall conference program and registration information, please see Mormon History Association 2016 conference registration.)  MWHIT encourages MHA attendees to visit our booth in the book exhibit space at the conference, where we welcome browsing, bidding, and purchase of our team members’ contributions.  Many of you know our members, from whom you can expect personal and detailed work:  Lisa T., Jenny R., Kate H., Sheree B., Taunalyn R., Andrea R.-M., Susanna M., Janelle H., Anna R., Barbara J. B., and Brittany N.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Q&A with Thomas Simpson

By May 26, 2016

[We are pleased to share another Scholarly Inquiry, this time with Thomas Simpson, an instructor at Philips Exeter Academy. We have highlighted his scholarship here at JI twice before. His long awaited book, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940, is forthcoming from University of North Carolina Press. Make sure to pre-order his book from this site and use discount code 01DAH40 to get 40% off.]


1) How did you become interested in this topic?

Partly through deep and close family connections to Latter-day Saints, including many who have gone to BYU and earned graduate degrees from universities outside the Intermountain West. But I didn’t get seriously interested in the academic study of Mormonism until I was in graduate school at the University of Virginia. I was preparing for doctoral examinations, and intending to write a dissertation on the Social Gospel, when I became consumed by the question of Mormonism’s evolution from a small, persecuted sect into a vibrant, global faith. Shortly after I passed my exams (hallelujah!) my adviser, Heather Warren, gave me the green light to develop a proposal for a dissertation in Mormon history. I started searching through Davis Bitton’s Guide to Mormon Diaries & Autobiographies – initially looking for evidence of Mormon reactions to the Woodruff Manifesto – and I noticed something peculiar: a pattern of Mormons migrating to elite universities, as early as the 1870s. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I wanted to know more.

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Conversation with Stephen C. Taysom

By May 25, 2016

Taysom is presently working on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, to be published with the University of Utah Press. He’s graciously agreed to an interview. 


Your previous book was a theoretical study of boundary maintenance among nineteenth century Mormons and Shakers. What led you to next write a biography of Joseph F. Smith?

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The JI 2nd Annual Summer Book Club: Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

By May 23, 2016

Last year, we at the Juvenile Instructor started a Summer Book Club on Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. The posts garnered thousands of views, many helpful comments, and publicity from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Religion News Service. I received notes from friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers who benefited from reading along with us. It was extremely gratifying to hear from folks that found a reason to tackle such an important biography.

In the spirit of introducing non-specialists and non-academics to Mormon history, we have decided to read Linda King Newell’s and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith.  We landed on Mormon Enigma for several reasons. First, we wanted to address the history of women in Mormon history. There are very few books on women in Mormonism—far fewer, at any rate, than books on men’s actions, thoughts, lives, and decisions. For instance, there are several biographies on Joseph Smith but only Newell and Avery have written a biography of Emma Smith.

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Methodist Context to the Word of Wisdom

By May 20, 2016

Paul Peterson’s thesis was for a long time the go-to resource for the cultural context of the Joseph Smith (JS) revelation known as the Word of Wisdom (WoW). He focuses mostly on booze, the temperance movement, and health reformers (e.g., Sylvester Graham of cracker fame). The more scholarly of the commentaries typically used by Mormons have generally stuck with that [n1].

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Recent Comments

Ben S on Book Review: Thomas W.: “I've enjoyed what I read so far. Also, turns out I met Simpson at SBL back in 2007, a Teaching Mormonism section. He also came…”

WVS on Book Review: Thomas W.: “Thanks for the review. Looking forward to the read now.”

David G. on New Book Series: Religion: “This is a great development. Thanks Ben.”

Ben S on Call for Applicants: Neal: “Well well. I just might change my summer plans, as this seems right up my alley.”

Phil Stover on MHA Proposal Networking Thread: “I would like to offer a proposal on the root causes, other than revolutionary tensions behind the July 1912 exodus of the Saints from Mexico.…”

Mark Ashurst-McGee on Book Review: Thomas W.: “great review”