2010 in Retrospect: A Glance at some of the Scholarly Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 6, 2010

I love year-in-review lists. Building on last year’s post, this is a retrospective of 2010’s scholarly output in Mormon studies. I hope to add to the excellent posts by Jared (forthcoming) and J Stapley by listing not only books, but articles that also deserve attention. (As noted recently, historians should really reconsider our “journal standard,” and place more importance on scholarship other than monographs.) I also like this format because it allows reflections on general trends within Mormon studies and historiography in general.

I am bound to overlook some books and articles that others feel are significant. This is not on purpose–it is more a result of being 1) lazy 2) limited in my personal interests, or 3) ignorant of work while being stranded across the Atlantic Ocean. I hope people will mention and discuss the texts I overlook in the comments. There could also be another post dedicated to the excellent historical posts found in the bloggernacle over the last year–but that would be beyond the scopes of this retrospect.

[Note: Some of these works have a publication date of 2009. I include these for one of two reasons. 1) They were published after I posted last year’s retrospective (the perils of posting at the beginning of December). 2) Though they have a 2009 publication date, they actually didn’t appear until 2010.]

First Volume from Promising Scholar

  • Stephen C. Taysom, Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010).

Ok, so we may be biased here, but us here at JI are excited for Steve’s first book–and not just because it is the first monograph published by a JIer. I’ve only been able to look through the pages Amazon provides as a preview, but it is cutting-edge scholarship that will make an excellent contribution to Mormon studies. For instance, it demonstrates further the benefits promised by a religious studies approach. I can’t wait to not only read the rest of the book (darn Atlantic shipping!), but to expect future work from a talented historian.

Focused Treatments of Important Periods in Early Mormonism

  • Richard E. Bennett, Susan Easton Black, and Donald Q. Cannon, The Nauvoo Legion in Illinois: A History of the Mormon Militia, 1841-1846 (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2010).
  • Thomas M. Spencer, ed., The Missouri Mormon Experience (Columbia: University of Missouri, 2010).
  • Mark L. Staler. Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting for Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009).

Though one of the benefits of “Post-New Mormon History” is expanded frameworks and larger issues, it is still crucial to understand many of the nuts and bolts of past events and eras. Period-focused studies do this better than anything else, and these three texts are great examples. Mark’s book should be singled out for its exhaustive detail and tremendous coverage. (I reviewed Hearken here, and J reviewed it here; J also revealed Nauvoo Legion here.)

Ulrich Being Ulrich

  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, ?An American Album, 1857,? The American Historical Review 115, no. 1 (2010): 1-25.
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, ?Mormon Women in the History of Second-Wave Feminism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 2 (2010): 45-63.

Two articles that remind us how lucky we are for Ulrich turning her attention to Mormon history. While the latter of these two articles appears to be extra material from her Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History–fascinating, nonetheless–the former article directly addresses some of the main issues of her book-in-progress (an overview of the article is here). Everyone who attended her MHA lecture this past May knows how much insight she can glean from overlooked sources.

More Global Mormonism

  • Reid L. Neilson, ?Turning the Key that Unlocked the Door: Elder David O. McKay?s 1921 Apostolic Dedication of the Chinese Realm,? Mormon Historical Studies 10, no.2 (2009): 77-101.
  • Reid L. Neilson, Early Mormon Missionary Activities in Japan, 1901-1924: Strangers in a Strange Land (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009).
  • Reid L. Neilson, ed., To The Peripheries of Mormondom: The Apostolic Around-the-World Journey of David O. McKay, 1920-1921 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010).
  • Kim B. Östman, “From Finland to Zion: Immigration to Utah in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 166-207.
  • Chrystal Vanel, “The History of the RLDS Church/Community of Christ in France,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 30 (2010): 206-221.

I’m always excited to see new and scholarly work on international Mormonism. Reid has long been a proponent of this turn, and has also led the way. We can only hope that he can continue his fabulous scholarship from his new prestigious position in the LDS Historical Department.

Mormonism in Broader Studies

  • John Corrigan and Lynn S. Neal, Religious Intolerance in America: A Documentary History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Chapter 3 entitled ?Anti-Mormonism.?
  • S. Scott Rohrer, Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Chapter 8 entitled “An American Exodus: Mormons and the Westward Trek.”

Mormon history is slowly working its way into mainstream historiography, as seen in recent larger monographs. These two thematic books demonstrate not only how much broader topics contextualize Mormonism, but how Mormonism can contextualize broader topics.

Young, Up-and-Coming Scholars

  • Christopher C. Smith, ?Joseph Smith in Hermeneutical Crisis,? Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 86-108.
  • Susanna Morrill, “Relief Society Birth and Death Rituals: Women at the Gates of Mortality,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 128-159.
  • Stanley J. Thayne, “Walking on Water: Nineteenth-Century Prophets and a Legend of Religious Imposture,” Journal of Mormon History36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 160-204.
  • Trevor Alvord, “Certainty to Distrust: Conversion in Early Mormonism,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 30 (2010): 133-155.
  • David Charles Gore, “Joseph Smith’s Letter from Liberty Jail as an Epistolary Rhetoric,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 4 (Winter 2010): 43-70.

The future is bright for Mormon studies, as these five young historians show. They ask brilliant new question, utilize exciting new tools, and offer tantalizing new conclusions. Following the work of young historians like these hint to the new trends in academic scholarship. I look forward to future work from all five of these authors.

New Faces Address Broader issues

  • Sara M. Patterson, ?’A P.O. Box and a Desire to Witness for Jesus’: Identity and Mission in the Ex-Mormons for Jesus/Saints Alive in Jesus, 1975?90,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 54-81.
  • Walter Nugent, “The Mormons and America?s Empires,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 1-28.
  • Richard Carwardine, “Religion and National Construction in the Age of Lincoln,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 29-53.

These faces aren’t new to American history in general–all three are known for their scholarly work in their respective fields–but in these articles they bring their expertise to shed lights on elements within Mormonism. Nugent and Carwadine’s articles were their addresses from MHA 2009 (Nugent the Tanner lecture, Carwardine the Shipps lecture), and both are extremely well respected from studies in American empire and American religiosity, respectively. Patterson’s article addresses anti-Morminism in the late twentieth century and attaches it to broader Christian fundamentalist impulses. Fascinating stuff, all.

Legal Mormonism

  • John S. Dinger, “Joseph Smith and the Development of Habeas Corpus in Nauvo, 1841?44,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 135-171.
  • Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith as Guardian: The Lawrence Estate Case,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 172-211.
  • Stephen Eliot Smith, ?Barbarians within the Gates: Congressional Debates on Mormon Polygamy, 1850-1879,” Journal of Church and State 51, no. 4 (2009): 587-616.

I’m sure these articles are great for all you legal buffs out there. <cough>Oman<cough> They are also likely important for the rest of us trying to understand the Nauvoo and early Utah periods.

Stand-Alone Entries

  • J. Spencer Fluhman, “‘A Subject that can Bear Investigation’: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife,” Mormon Historical Studies 11, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 41-52.
  • William G. Hartley, “My Fellow Servants”: Essays on the History of the Priesthood (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Studies, 2010).
  • Douglas J. Davies, Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil, and the Mormon Vision (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).
  • Edward Leo Lyman, ed., Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle: The Diaries of Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2010).
  • Newell G Bringhurst and Craig L. Ostler, eds., The Perception of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (John Whitmer Books, 2010).

These are just important and/or fascinating volumes: Hartley’s work on priesthood is foundations to much of our understanding of Mormon ecclesiology, Davies is always thoughtful and intriguing (review here), the Cannon diaries are of immense significance for understanding transitional Mormonism, and the polygamy volume appears to engage some important issues regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I’d like to highlight Fluhman’s article, though: not only is it a great piece of scholarship on an important issue, but it is written in an approachable way that will appeal to a broader audience than typical scholarly texts. It will be of tremendous help to average latter-day saints who are struggling to figure out how to understand Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

Last but not Least, an Encyclopedia

  • W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall, Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2010).

All the major historical topics, many familiar names, and an attractive cover to boot. What more could you ask for? (besides a more reasonable price…)


Alright, I know I’ve missed things. What has stood out to you in the last year within Mormon studies? What are the major themes that stick out to you?

[Note: Next year should be equally–if not more–plentiful, with exciting and significant monographs coming from Pat Mason, Sam Brown, Spencer Fluhman, and Matt Grow/Terryl Givens; some excellent documentary works promised from JSP, Signature (whom we are all grateful to be back in the publishing game!), and Columbia UP; and even a splendid collection of articles edited by Taysom, just to name a few. A bright future, indeed!]

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews JIers in Print Methodology, Academic Issues State of the Discipline


  1. One book that particularly sticks out to me is Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

    It might have snuck under the radar here because it’s a literary as opposed to a historical approach to the BoM text.

    Comment by BHodges — December 6, 2010 @ 9:59 am

  2. I’d second Blair’s recommendation: I think Hardy’s book is the most significant piece on the Book of Mormon since By the Hand of Mormon.

    Great list, Ben.

    Comment by DLewis — December 6, 2010 @ 10:16 am

  3. Neat, Ben!

    Stan, does your article include a practical guide to water-walking?

    Comment by ep — December 6, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  4. Awesome wrap-up, Ben.

    I think my favorite article from this year is Dave Hall, “A Crossroads for Mormon Women: Amy Brown Lyman, J. Reuben Clark, and the Decline of Women’s Activism in the Relief Society,” Journal of Mormon History 36 (Spring, 2010): 205-249. I simply can’t wait for the full bio.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 6, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  5. Ahem. You’re far too modest, Ben.


    Comment by Kristine — December 6, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  6. Has anyone heard anything about The Missouri Mormon Experience?

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 6, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  7. I knew I’d forget something! Yes, both Hardy’s book and Hall’s article are not only excellent, but extraordinary. D’oh!


    J: David Howlett reviewed it for a journal, so hopefully he can chime in. (I only know because he told me so while I stayed with him at MHA.)

    Comment by Ben — December 6, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  8. Stapley, we’ll have a review of Missouri Mormon Experience coming soon–Ryan T is doing it- hopefully he’ll chime in.

    Comment by Jared T — December 6, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  9. Oh, and thanks a lot for putting this together Ben. This is an excellent run-down. Also, my post on recently published and forthcoming books is coming up in the next few days.

    Comment by Jared T — December 6, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  10. Thanks for the review Ben. Great.

    Comment by WVS — December 6, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

  11. Thank you for the informative post, Ben.

    Re We can only hope that [Reid Neilson] can continue his fabulous scholarship from his new prestigious position in the LDS Historical Department.

    What is his position?

    Perhaps this will be covered here soon, but I am also curious about Lyndon Cook’s A tentative inquiry into the office of the seventy, 1835-1845 .

    Comment by Justin — December 7, 2010 @ 10:48 am

  12. Justin, although I just talked with him about it not too long ago at the Western Historical Association, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve lost track of what the name of his position is. I believe it’s managing director, which places him just below Rick Turley and Elder Jensen. Before he was (again, terminology is not precise here) director over the “products” division (publications, etc.) and was one of four or five division directors and under the managing director (the position he now holds). I may or may not have butchered that, but I think it’s fundamentally right. If someone has more precise info, please opine. All those positions can get a little confusing for the outsider (moi) and the organizational flow chart changes too from time to time, so that adds sometimes to the uncertainty.

    I have a copy of a Tentative Inquiry, and I will probably be able to offer some thoughts on it sometime during the Christmas break. I was not pleased to buy something for $40 that has “Tentative” in the title, but we’ll see how it pans out. Stay tuned, though hopefully someone else has something to add about it.

    Comment by Jared T — December 7, 2010 @ 11:48 am

  13. Thank you, Jared, for the helpful information.

    While looking at BYU Religious Education’s faculty directory for Reid Neilson’s listing, I noticed that Rachel Cope is an assistant professor in the church history department. Congratulations to her.

    Comment by Justin — December 7, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

  14. Thanks, Justin. And thanks for pulling this together, Ben.

    Comment by Rachel — December 7, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  15. Justin, agreed. The Church history department is lucky to have Dr. Cope on board. Reid is directly under Rick Turley, who is under Marlin Jensen, as I understand it.

    Comment by smb — December 7, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

  16. Has anyone heard anything about The Missouri Mormon Experience?

    Yeah, J. I’ve got a short review ready to roll out here as soon as there’s a window for it. Interesting book with some noble aims and novel scholarship. Good to have a volume that finally takes Missouri seriously as its own theater of Mormon history.

    And I agree with Kristine. Ben certainly belongs to the order of the up-and-coming. Good year for you too, old boy, and a great review.

    Comment by Ryan T — December 8, 2010 @ 1:12 am

  17. J, you may know this already, but the MO Mormon Experience volume brings together papers given at a 2006 conference held in commemoration of Kit Bond’s 1976 rescision of the extermination order. If I remember right, the conference was co-sponsored by the Columbia, MO stake and the religious ed. department, but not all of those who presented were included in the final volume. Tom Spencer’s a super nice, non-LDS historian who teaches in MO and has developed an interest in Mormon history.

    Comment by David G. — December 8, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  18. […] are some exciting books that have recently come off the press and which are still forthcoming. Ben did a good job last week of mentioning some highlights from recent publications, so I’m going a bit light on the […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Recently Published and Forthcoming Books in Mormon History, 2010 Edition — December 13, 2010 @ 12:24 pm


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