2011 in Retrospect: A Look at Important Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 5, 2011

(I’ve closely followed Mormon history for only six years, but the previous twelve months were, by far, the strongest year in Mormon historical studies that I’ve seen yet. As always, JI is the place to be for looking at past and present scholarship in Mormon history. Besides the following recap of the 2011 year, Jared T’s perennially exhaustive “Recently Released and Forthcoming” list will appear later this week. Also make sure to check out Stapley’s Christmas Book Guide here.)

Continuing a tradition from the last two years, this post will give a quick run down of what I thought were important articles and books in Mormon history from the past twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently “hot” in Mormon historiography.

As with previous years, I am posting this in early December and will thus miss those books published later this month. Further, the selection process was purely subjective and represent my own interests; please add your own suggestions in the comments.

And finally, a bonus: for the first time, I will venture to give my vote for various MHA awards. Following the general criteria found on their website, I will name the works I thought deserving of prominent categories.

Enough with the introduction. On with the list!


All Hail Apostle Pratt!

I’m biased, but I would say that Parley Pratt is finally receiving the scholarly attention he has long deserved. Givens’s and Grow’s biography is, of course, the jewel of Pratt’s renaissance, but the articles found in both the JMH roundtable (not that I’m biased or anything, but it does include JIers Ryan T., David G., Matt B., Jared T., and myself) and the edited collection (including brilliant chapters by our own David G. and Jordan W.) are provocative in their interdisciplinary approaches. Pratt, never one to shy away from praise, is likely smiling at this recent outpouring of scholarship devoted to his life and thought.

Sam Brown Single-handedly Reorients the Study of Early Mormon Thought

…but, frankly, we’ve seen this coming for a long time. This year’s publication of his long-awaited book on early Mormon thought is as monumental as it is fascinating. All future treatments of Joseph Smith’s thought will have to come to terms with Sam’s excellent work.

Mormonism and Broader Issues

These volumes exemplify what I believe is the future of Mormon studies: using Mormonism as a case study to examine broader issues. We’ve had reviews of all three works (see here, here, and here), each of which garnered grand praise. The books by Holland and Mason, especially, reached immediate “must-read” status for the rising generation of Mormon scholars.

Insightful Works on Women and Gender

  • Catherine A. Brekus, ?Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency,? Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 59-87.
  • Amy Hoyt and Sara M. Patterson, ?Mormon Masculinity: Changing Gender Expectations in the Era of Transition from Polygamy to Monogamy, 1890-1920,? Gender & History 23, no. 1 (2011): 72-91.
  • Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 1-85.
In a field that always needs more attention within Mormon historiography, these authors provide first-rate scholarship. Where Brekus’s work is as theory-rich, Stapley’s and Wright’s is grounded in foundational and original research, and Hoyt’s and Patterson’s is an impressive combination of the two. Together, I hope this is a sign of change in how we treat women and gender: methodologically sophisticated, respectful in approach, and steeped in incredible research.

Important Stand-Alone Works

  • Reid L. Neilson, Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Jeremiah John, ?The Site of Mormon Political Theology,? Perspectives on Political Science 40 (2011): 87-96.
  • Patrick Mason, “God and the People: Theodemocracy in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism,” Journal of Church and State 53, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 349-375.
  • Jonathan Stapley, ?Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,? Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 53-118.
  • Jonathan A. Stapley, ?Last Rites and the Dynamics of Mormon Liturgy,? BYU Studies 50, no. 2 (2011): 96-128.
Ok, so this category is more a mish-mash of scholarship that I thought were tremendous but couldn’t really be grouped together with other sections. Reid’s volume, hot off the press (literally–I posted this recap, checked amazon, and noticed that it is now available) is an important look at the beginning of Mormonism’s transition from excluded heretics to America’s darling; it details how modern Mormonism came to highlight their cultural appeal while downplaying religious belief. John’s article is a look at the intersections of Mormon thought, culture, and politics is a great addition to the finally emerging field of Mormon political studies. Mason’s is a fascinating and sophisticated look at how Mormons balanced the tension of revelatory authority and democratic politics in the nineteenth century. And Stapley’s work is, as always, built on impressive research and buttressed with insightful reconceptualizations.

JIers in Print

  • Matthew Bowman, ?Matthew Philip Gill and Joseph Smith: The Dynamics of Mormon Schism,? Nova Religio 14, no. 3 (2011): 42-63.
  • Christopher C. Jones, ?The Power and Form of Godliness: Methodist Conversion Narratives and Joseph Smith?s First Vision,? Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 88-114.
  • Max Mueller, “Changing Portraits of the Elect Lady: Emma Smith in Non-Mormon, RLDS, and LDS Historiography, 1933-2005,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 183-214.
  • Max Mueller, “Playing Jane: The History of a Pioneer Black Mormon Woman is Alive Today,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin 39, nos. 1&2 (Winter/Spring 2011), found here.
  • Stephen C. Taysom, ?Approaching the First Vision Saga,? Sunstone 163 (2011): 12-22.
Also note JIers who are listed in other categories (Ryan T., Matt B., David G., and Jared T. on Pratt, and Kris on female ritual healing). It is an honor to be part of a blog whose contributors publish such extraordinary published work. If you ever wonder why JI doesn’t produce as many posts as we used to, its because our bloggers are busy writing quality scholarship.

JIers Invade The New Republic

It takes talent to published scholarly articles. It takes even more talent to translate those scholarly insights into public essays that are digestible for a general audience and still sophisticated enough for the respected periodical The New Republic. Kudos to Matt and Max, even if they’re accomplice to a broader liberal plot to destroy the Church.

Documentary Sources

Documentary histories have always been Mormonism’s forte, and this year is no exception. Anderson’s volume on temple worship provides valuable insights into the progression of LDS theology and practice, especially the routenization of ritual. (I have a review of this volume that should be finished over the break.) Neilson’s work offers an important glimpse into a specific family’s struggles through the tumultuous 1880s, as seen through their correspondence with Wilford Woodruff. Ricks’s edited edition of Joseph F. Smith’s book is similarly fascinating and important. (See Nate’s reflections here.) And finally, the JSP team is hitting their stride with phenomenal volume, each seemingly topping the last in quality. Next year, plan on seeing the first two volumes of their History series—be very excited. They are truly setting a new standard for documentary editing, and are worth all the hype (and wait!) over the years. (And if this post were done a couple weeks later, it would likely include John S. Dinger’s The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes [Signature, 2011], which is due this month.)

Quality Edited Collections

These are three excellent volumes, each with solid essays. The latter two are especially noteworthy, for not only do they cover fascinating topics but they include articles that utilize sophisticated methodologies and important new approaches to the Mormon past; indeed, more than just providing quality scholarship, they represent a model for how Mormon studies will look in the future.

Dialogue’s Roundtables and, well, Dialogues

  • “Finding the Presence in Mormon History: An Interview with Susanna Morrill, Richard Lyman Bushman,and Robert Orsi,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 174-187.
  • Grant Underwood et. al., “A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 1-43.
In a wonderful development in Mormon studies, Dialogue has begun to feature more conversations and roundtables that are at the center of Mormon studies’ most important issues. Both of these pieces contain numerous nuggets of wisdom, and I found them as important as most articles I’ve read this year. I hope this trend continues.

Contributions from Seasoned Scholars

  • B. Carmen Hardy, “The Persistence of Polygamy,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no. 4 (Winter 2011): 43-105.
  • Armand L. Mauss, “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Campaign for Respectability,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no. 4 (Winter 2011): 1-42.
  • David Paulsen and Martin Pulido, ??A Mother There?: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,? BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011): 70-126.

All of these scholars (save the youthful Pulido) have published many foundational works in Mormon studies and are now retired from their respected departments. It’s commendable that they are still offering quality scholarship.

Contributions from Kofford Books

Building off of a great year where Mark Staker’s Hearken O Ye People won MHA’s best book award, Kofford Books continues to publish provocative works by insightful amateurs. And by the looks of their forthcoming page, they have ambitious plans for 2012.


My picks for a handful of  MHA’s awards are as follows. (Drumroll please…)

  • Best Book: Sam Brown, In Heaven as it Is on Earth
  • Best Biography: Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow, Parley P. Pratt
  • Best First Book: Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace
  • Best Article: Stapley and Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism” (Stapley also gets recognition for “Adoption Sealing Ritual,” which is equally deserving of the award)
  • Awards of Excellence (2 Articles): Patrick Mason, “God and the People”; Chris Jones, ?The Power and Form of Godliness”
  • Silver Award for Women’s History: Catherine Brekus, ?Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency?

Of course, there is room to quibble on these awards. Any of the three books mentioned above, as well as Neilson’s Exhibiting Mormonism, would be worthy of “Best Book” in most years; indeed, I vacillated with my decision several times over the last two weeks. Further, there are numerous articles worthy of the article awards, so it was very tough to determine winners.

I said it above, but it is worth saying again: this was an extraordinarily strong year for Mormon history. The field is progressing in remarkable ways.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews State of the Discipline


  1. And, just so I’m clear: despite what it looks like, my book awards section is not sponsored by Oxford Press.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 5, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  2. Thanks for the run-down, Ben. I agree with your general assessment that 2011 was a particularly strong year for Mormon studies, and from the looks of it, 2012 should be pretty strong, as well. It’s especially exciting for me to see so many young scholars’ articles and books being published (especially JI authors and other good friends).

    Comment by Christopher — December 5, 2011 @ 8:32 am

  3. Love this Ben. I look forward to adding these to an already laughably unmanageable reading list.

    Comment by Jacob — December 5, 2011 @ 8:46 am

  4. Ben, this is really excellent. I think that there are a couple of items, particularly articles, that I would have otherwise let fall through the cracks. I appreciate it. It seems like there are more journals represented here than in previous years, another good sign.

    I always like to play guess the awards. And I appreciate your inclusion of Kris’s and my paper. As you say it is a tough year, and I can see any number of books and articles being selected. You didn’t include a pic for best documentary volume. Care to take a plunge on that? I understand that the JSP are not going to get it every year, which really makes it a challenge, I think.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 5, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  5. Thanks, Chris, Jacob, and J.

    J: I went back and forth about choosing a documentary history award. It’s tough because the JSP is just structured to publish documentary editing on a different level than anyone else; no other publication has a full-time staff of researchers, editors, archivists, and copy editors devoted to those single volumes. This should not detract from what they do, though, since they all present such top-quality work. But it does make it difficult to include them in the same award category as the other volumes. If Revelations 1—in my estimation, the most important documentary edition in a long time—didn’t win the award in 2010, I see that as a message that the JSP will not be considered anymore. Perhaps their award for Journals Volume One was meant to be an award for the entire series.

    If we were to include the JSP, then JSP Journals Vol. 2 would be my pick. If not, then it might be Ricks’s edition of JFS’s mission diaries.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 5, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  6. For every book I read 5 more get added to my reading list. This is not working for me.

    And to the Kofford list, I would also add Leland and Gentry’s “Fire and Sword” and Veda Hales’s wonderful biography of Maurine Whipple.

    Comment by the narrator — December 5, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Ben, though single-handedly is a bit of a stretch given my intense reliance on my wife’s intelligence and insight in my historical writing (and many others, including Jana Riess and most of the bloggernacle history people). I agree it was a great year for Mormon Studies publishing and I think a harbinger of years to come. Whatever we call this generation of scholarship on Mormonism(s), I think it is definitely a “thing.” I have also seen a wonderful camaraderie despite so many people being at very different institutions and writing in different situations. I don’t envy the people on the awards committee having to make decisions on 2011 or coming years either.

    Do you have a TOC for the Pratt edited volume from Arthur Clarke? I saw Grua’s excellent piece in an earlier version but don’t know about the rest of the book.

    Comment by smb — December 5, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  8. The awarding of writing prizes and similar distinctions is always a challenging, risky business. Invariably and unavoidably, it seems, factors other than quality, originality, contribution, etc., enter into play. Is there ever truly a Best Book? Best First Book? Best Biography? And singling out an individual publisher? … Almost every book, almost every article is, or should be, a reason to celebrate. Kudos to all writers, historians, scholars who published in 2011! Each of you has enriched life that much more. Thank you.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 5, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  9. Ben, great list.

    smb: Here’s the TOC for the new Pratt volume from Arthur Clark:

    Introduction, by Gregory K. Armstrong, Matthew J. Grow, and Dennis J. Siler

    1. Parley P. Pratt and the Coming of a New Religious Tradition to America, by Jan Shipps

    2. The Family Life of Parley P. Pratt: A Case Study of Mormon Plural Marriage, by R. Steven Pratt

    3. Parley P. Pratt and Early Mormon Print Culture, by David J. Whittaker

    4. ??Tis Not for Crimes That I Have Done?: Parley P. Pratt?s Missouri Imprisonment, 1838?1839, by Alexander L. Baugh

    5. ?We Glory in Tribulations?: Parley P. Pratt, Martyrology, and the Memory of Persecution, by David W. Grua

    6. ?All of One Species?: Parley P. Pratt and the Dialectical Development of Early Mormon Conceptions of Theosis, by Jordan Watkins

    7. Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism, and Latin America: A Mission?s Contribution to Latter-day Saint Growth, by David Clark Knowlton

    8. Honor, the Unwritten Law, and Extralegal Violence: Contextualizing Parley Pratt?s Murder, by Patrick Q. Mason

    9. Martyred Apostle or Un-Saintly Seducer?: Narratives on the Death of Parley P. Pratt, by Matthew J. Grow

    10. The Murder of Parley P. Pratt and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Richard E. Turley Jr.

    11. Finding Parley: A Family?s Quest to Fulfill Parley P. Pratt?s Dying Wish, by Robert J. Grow

    Comment by Matt — December 5, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  10. I nominate Ben for an award just for providing this incredibly helpful service for us all. It’s increasingly difficult to keep track of — let alone read — all the new and impressive scholarship in Mormon studies, so overviews like this are absolute gems.

    Comment by Patrick Mason — December 5, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  11. Thanks Ben. Appreciation here.

    Comment by WVS — December 5, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

  12. Great compilation, as usual, Ben. Thanks.

    Also, I throw in my personal kudos to Tom Mould for his excellent Still, the Small Voice, which I hope does not fade to obscurity because it’s great. Reviewed here.

    Comment by BHodges — December 5, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  13. Excellent. I love these kinds of posts. Thanks Ben!

    Comment by aquinas — December 5, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

  14. Great post! Shocking to see how much stuff I have missed. Only critique is: I think perennial only has one r. Otherwise it means “has to do with dogs.”

    Comment by Travis — December 5, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  15. BH: thanks for mentioning Mould; I considered including him, but concluded to leave him off because it is not really a history book.

    Travis: how do you know that Jared isn’t making a subtle swipe at the field? Or that his post this year has a canine element to it? I fear you jump to conclusions…

    Comment by Ben Park — December 6, 2011 @ 3:26 am

  16. PS, I hate to rain on the flattering parade of prognostication, but my book is pub date 2012, so it will be ineligible for any 2011 awards. Alas.

    Comment by smb — December 6, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  17. Way to throw a wrench into the whole operation, Sam! Don’t you think of anyone else! 🙂

    Comment by Ben Park — December 6, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  18. Mea culpa and many requests for forgiveness. I’m very grateful for your kind prediction, but I don’t want your bookie to be fleecing you.

    Comment by smb — December 6, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  19. […] and forthcoming Mormon history books. See last year’s list here. Be sure to also check out Ben’s recap of significant scholarship in 2011 and Stapley’s Christmas Gift Book Guide. Be sure to let me […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Recently Published and Forthcoming Mormon History Books, 2011 Edition (Also: JI’s 1000th Post!) — December 15, 2011 @ 6:00 am

  20. […] and provocative interpretations of Mormonism’s more recent past, and that there are several recently-published and forthcoming books treating various aspects of that history as well. This list may well be […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Mormon Books in the Wall Street Journal — January 8, 2012 @ 9:44 pm


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