2012 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Articles and Books in Mormon History

By December 3, 2012

Continuing a tradition from the past three years, here is my overview of what I found to be the most noteworthy books and articles from the last 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. (Also make sure to check out Stapley’s always-helpful Christmas book list.)

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.

As I outlined in my “Best of the Mormon Moment” list, this last year witnessed record-breaking coverage of the Church. This resulted in loads of essays and columns, of which I tried to gather the best in my Mormon moment roundup. However, I will limit this Retrospect to academic work, rather than media.

And like I did last year, I will venture to give my vote for various MHA awards, which you will find at the end of the post. Following the general criteria found on their website, I will name the works I thought deserving of prominent categories. (While I rightly predicted four books/articles that would receive rewards last year, I failed to match a specific text to a specific reward.)

And here…we…go.


Meet the Mormons

  • Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).
  • Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (New York: Free Press, 2012).
  • Terryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012).

All these books were in some way connected to the attention brought by the “Mormon Moment,” and all serve as introductions to the faith. Matt’s book is now the best one-volume history of the Church; Joanna’s memoir is a poignant overview of the tensions inherent in being an American Mormon, and Terryl and Fiona’s volume is a sophisticated and brilliant look at Mormonism’s theology. To me, these may be the most long lasting and beneficial results from the “Moment,” because I can’t imagine three better introductions to the Church for anyone curious about our history, our practice, and our belief.

The Heavyweights

  • Spencer J. Fluhman, A Peculiar People: Anti-mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
  • John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).
Both of these books were a long time in coming and both were well worth the wait. Fluhman has acted as mentor for a number of JIers, and his slim-yet-provocative volume is representative of the future of Mormon studies: it speaks to broader issues with sophistication and precision, and will likely be widely read outside the field of Mormon history. Turner’s volume is a biographical tour-de-force and does a brilliant job capturing so many issues and nuances from a heavily-documented life into only 400 pages. We recently finished a roundtable on the book (all links are found here), and the general consensus is that it will be a monumental work for years to come.

A Provocative Roundtable Shows Future of the Field

  • Rachel Cope, introduction to “New Ways In: Writing Interdisciplinary Mormon History,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 99-100.
  • Rachel Cope, “Shifting the Plot: Possibilities in Mormon Women’s History,” 100-107.
  • Matthew Bowman, “History Through Liturgy: What Worship Remembers,” 108-113.
  • Amy Easton-Flake, “A Shared Historicist Enterprise: Mormon History Through a Literary Lens,” 114-118.
  • Ryan G. Tobler, “Mormom History and ‘Lived Religion,'” 119-124.
  • Rebecca de Schweinitz, “‘Where Nothing is Long Ago’: Childhood and Youth in Mormon History,” 125-138.
  • Kate Holbrook, “Religion in a Recipe,” 139-142.
Much like the roundtable a few years ago on “What do we do Now that New Mormon History is Old,” this is a trend-setting look at the future of Mormon studies. I already said a lot on this issue here, so I’ll just repeat that you need to read this if you want to know the issues that should dominate our discipline in years to come.

Re-Thinking Political Theologies

  • Patrick Q. Mason, “‘The Wars and the Perplexities of the Nations’: Reflections on Early Mormonism, Violence, and the State,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 72-89.
  • Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Zion in America: The Origins of Mormon Constitutionalism,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 90-101.
  • Mauro Properzi, “LDS Understandings of Religious Freedom: Responding to the Shifting Cultural Pendulum,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 128-162.
  • David Campbell, Russell Arben Fox, Matthew Bowman, and Kristine Haglund, “Mormon Authoritarianism and American Pluralism,” Dialogue 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 148-163.
It’s fitting for the “Mormon moment,” which was driven by Mitt Romney’s run for the White House, has also brought new and sophisticated looks at the intersections between Mormonism and politics. The first three of these articles were part of Bushman’s commemorative JMH issue and nuance/problematize previous narratives of this thorny topic. The final discussion is part of Dialogue’s new (and excellent) tradition of recording longer, well, dialogues with smart people on pertinant issues.

Mormon Print Histories

  • Lisa Olsen Tait, “Between Two Economies: The Business Development of the Young Woman’s Journal, 1889-1900,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 1-54.
  • Lisa Olsen Tait, ?The Young Woman?s Journal: Gender and Generations in a Mormon Women?s Magazine,? American Periodicals 22, no. 1 (2012): 51-71.
  • Paul C. Gutjahr, The Book of Mormon: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
  • Michael Hicks, “Emma Smith’s 1841 Hymnal,” Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 1 (2012): 12-27.
  • Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, vol. 3 (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).
All of these works look at the convergence of Mormonism and print culture, and each uses sophisticated and provocative tools to do so. We have come to expect such excellence from Tait, Hicks, and (especially) Crawley, but Gutjahr’s work is his first entrance into the field after making a big name for himself in American religious/print studies. We can only expect further great works from both this evolving topic as well as these excellent scholars.

The Philosophy of History and New Methodologies

  •  Stuart Parker, “The Hermeneutics of Generosity: A Critical Approach to the Scholarship of Richard Bushman,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 12-27.
  • Stephen C. Taysom, “Abundant Events or Narrative Abundance: Robert Orsi and the Academic Study of Mormonism,” Dialogue 45, no. 4 (Winter 2012): forthcoming.
Too often we as Mormon scholars overlook the actual methods we use in our work. Parker and Taysom, however, demonstrate how assumptions saturate our scholarship and frame our research. Parker’s is one of the most brilliant and thought provoking pieces I’ve read in a while by demonstrating Bushman’s modus operandi; Taysom’s is similarly smart in examining a new and popular methodology in religious studies and how it could be of use in Mormon studies.

New Directions in Intellectual History

  • Boyd Jay Peterson, “‘One Soul Shall Not be Lost’: The War in Heaven in Mormon Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 1-50.
  • Evan Carton, “American Scholars: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Smith, John Brown, and the Springs of Intellectual Schism,” New England Quarterly 85, no. 1 (2012): 5-37.
  • Stephen J. Fleming, “Joseph Smith as the Philosopher King: Neoplatonism in Early Mormon Political Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 102-127.
  • Jordan T. Watkins, “Early Mormonism and the Re-Enchantment of Antebellum Historical Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 187-209.
  • Benjamin E. Park, “‘Reasonings Sufficient’: Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the Context(s) of Early Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 210-224.
These articles point to the necessary transition in Mormon historiography when looking at LDS thought: look broader, dig deeper, be interdisciplinary, and, most especially, contextualize, contextualize, contextualize.

Joseph Smith Papers, Doin’ Work

  • Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844, volume 1 of the Histories Series, Joseph Smith Papers Project (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012).
  • Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker, eds., Assigned Histories, 1831-1847, volume 2 of the Histories Series, Joseph Smith Papers Project (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012).
  • Alex D. Smith, “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 131-163.
Nothing to see here, folks; just the JSP doing what they do best: standard-setting documentary editing. Also, Alex’s article rocks, and should be required reading for how to, well, read a document, especially one with as much mystique as the Book of the Law of the Lord.

Fascinating Work from JWHA

  • Richard Clothier, ?The Hymns of David Hyrum Smith, Nauvoo?s Tragic ?Sweet Singer,?? John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 1 (2012): 33-46.
  • Scott C. Esplin, “Competing for the City of Joseph: Interpretive Conflicts in Nauvoo’s Restoration,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 1 (2012): 47-62.
  • Kyle R. Walker, ?Looking after the First Family of Mormonism: LDS Church Leaders? Support of the Smiths after the Murders of Joseph and Hyrum,? The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 1 (2012): 17-32.
  • Melvin C. Johnson, ?Wightites in Wisconsin: The Formation of a Dissenting Latter-Day Community (1842-1845).? The
    John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 1 (2012): 63-78.
  • John Hamer, “Mapping Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint Movement,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 (2012): 1-35.
I think this last year has been especially strong for JWHA’s work. If you haven’t noticed, they recently became a biannual publication (their annual issues were becoming too massive!). The key here, I think, is they have found their niche of what they want to explore, and their core group of historians continue to deliver.

Conversion and Social History

  • Christopher C. Jones, “Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace: James Covel and the Historical Background of Doctrine and Covenants 39-40,” Brigham Young University Studies Quarterly 51, no. 1 (2012): 67-98.
  • Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, “To Forsake Thy Father and Mother: Mary Fielding Smith and the Familial Politics of Conversion,” Dialogue 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 26-37.
  • Benjamin E. Park, “The Theology of a Career Convert: Edward Tullidge’s Evolving Identities,” Dialogue 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 38-50.
The latter two papers were part of a panel at MHA (Chritopher was also part of that panel, and his paper was in part based on “Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace”), and are found in Dialogue’s conference issue. They explore the social politics of conversion, Amanda’s focusing on the family and me on identity formation. Christopher’s excellent article began as a brief blog post for JI and turned into a work of model scholarship: exhaustive archival research, sophisticated analysis, and significant contextualization. A must-read.

Fresh Takes in Modern Cultural History

  • Patrick Q. Mason, “Mormon Blogs, Mormon Studies, and the Mormon Mind,” Dialogue 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 12-25.
  • Rachael Givens, “Lost ‘Wagonloads of Plates’: The Disappearance and Deliteralization of Sealed Records,” Dialogue 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 98-126.
  • Saskia M. Tielens, “The Gold Plates in the Contemporary Popular Imagination,” Dialogue 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 127-138.
These three articles, with varying scopes, help bring Mormon cultural history to the present. Mason, the Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at Claremont, offers insightful analysis on the academic digital presence by exploring things like academic tensions, the balance of faith and history, and gender as present on Mormon blogs. Rachael previewed some of her excellent analysis on the blog, and this article explores the concept of the “sealed portion” in Mormon memory and culture; while seemingly esoteric, her analysis expertly examines shifts in how Mormons view scripture, authority, and millennialism over the past two centuries. And Saskia, who has recently guest blogged here, gives an overview of the gold plates in Mormon imagination that is both entertaining and incisive. Indeed, we can expect excellent scholarship from both Saskia and Rachael in the future.

Problematizing Historical Theology

  • Jacob T. Baker, ed., Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology: Essays in Honor of David L. Paulsen (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).
  • Benjamin E. Park, “(Re)Interpreting Early Mormon Thought: Synthesizing Joseph Smith’s Theology and the Process of Religious Formation,” Dialogue 45, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 59-88.
So I’m biased not only because this theme includes one of my articles, but also because this is one of my favorite topics. But make sure to read Jacob’s fantastic compilation of sophisticated essays in Mormon philosophy and theology. While not history per se, many in the volume, following Paulsen’s tradition, offer historical looks at Mormon thought, and do so in ways that complicate and nuance traditional narratives.

Mormon Schools

  • Scott C. Esplin, ?Saving Their School: The 1933 Transfer of Dixie College as an Indicator of Utah?s Changing Church and State Relationships,? Utah Historical Quarterly 80, no. 2 (2012):173-191.
  • Thomas W. Simpson, ?The Death of Mormon Separatism in American Universities, 1877-1896,? Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 22, no. 2 (2012): 163-201.
Two early-career scholars doing excellent work on Mormonism and education. Esplin teaches religion at BYU and has slowly been chipping away at the history of Mormon-sponsored schools. Simpson is a good friend of the blog who has published some great research in the past. This particular article has already been highlighted by Christopher a few months ago.
Early Utah History
  • Thomas Alexander, Edward Hunter Snow: Pioneer-Educator-Statesman (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2012).
  • Todd M. Compton, “‘In & Through the Roughefist Country it has Ever Been my Lot to Travel’: Jacob Hamblin’s 1858 Expedition Across the Colorado,” Utah Historical Quarterly 80, no. 1 (2012): 4-21.
  • Chad M. Orton, ??We Will Admit You as a State?: William H. Hooper , Utah and the Secession Crisis,? Utah Historical Quarterly 80, no. 3 (2012): 208-225.
For people who are allergic to Utah history, which I at times can be, it takes a lot to grab interest. These are excellent articles, so even I can recommend them. All are seasoned and respected historians and their work lives up to their reputation.
Stand-Alone Works
  • Justin R. Bray, “The Lord’s Supper during the Progressive Era, 1890-1930,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 88-104.
  • Marjorie Newton, Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854-1958 (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).
  • Michael Reed, Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo (Independence: John Whitmer Books, 2012).
  • Hokulani K. Aikau, A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
  • Armand L. Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press).
Yes, here is where I place books and articles that don’t easily fit in other categories, but still deserve mention. Justin, a friend to many on the blog, recently finished his BA at Brigham Young University and is already contributing significant scholarship; this paper is one of two Bray articles that have won MHA’s best undergraduate paper award. Look for more from him in the future. Newton’s excellent book was reviewed by Amanda here, and is the model for local history–not to mention an important addition to Mormon history’s growing international field. Mike’s book on the cross is a long time coming, and does excellent work in both showing the porous relationship between Mormonism and Christianity as well as including within his analysis Latter Day Saint groups outside of the LDS Church. Aikau’s book is a sophisticated look at race and local adaptation through Mormonism’s long sojourn in Hawai’i. And Mauss, one of the veterans of the field, offers a personal account of both his scholarship and his own experiences; I’ve only started it this weekend and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Helpful Compilations from the RSC

  • Scott C. Esplin, Richard O. Cowan, and Rachel Cope, eds., You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine & Covenants (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).
  • Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper, eds., Exploring the First Vision (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).
  • Reid L. Neilson and Riley M. Moffat, Tales from the World Tour: The 1895-1897 Travel Writings of Mormon Historian Andrew Jenson (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).
  • Kenneth L. Alford, ed., Civil War Saints (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2012).
A handful of decent edited collections from the RSC on various topics. In You Shall Have My Word, make sure to read articles by Steve Harper, Mark Staker, Justin Bray, and Kate Holbrook. The First Vision volume helpfully includes many of the monumental articles on the topic written from a faithful perspective. Neilson and Moffat’s book offers an interesting account of when the Mormon church began to think internationally. The Civil War volume has a number of fantastic articles, but make sure to read JIer Brett Dowdle’s, JI guest blogger Joey Stuart, and JI’s good friend Ardis Parshall’s.

Roundtable on Faith and History in BYU’s Religious Educator

  • Rachel Cope, Introduction to “Uniting Faith and History,” Religious Educator 13, no. 2 (2012).
  • Rachel Cope, “By the Power of the Holy Ghost, Ye may Know the Truth of All Things.”
  • Brian Q. Cannon, “Building the Kingdom: Pioneering Historians within the Church Educational System.”
  • Matthew B. Bowman, “The Supernatural and the Boundaries of the Discipline.”
  • Patrick Q. Mason, “Faith and History, Old Testament-Style.”
  • Steven C. Harper, “Obtain a Knowledge of History.”
  • Matthew J. Grow, “Mormon History and the Rules of the Academic Game.”
  • Tona Hangen, “What is So Sacred about History?”
  • Paul E. Kerry, “History, Philosophy, and Natural Law.”
Rachel Cope is doing wonderful things at BYU. While this particular roundtable is not directed at the MHA community–it is published in a journal designed primarily for CES teachers–she is subtly working to improve the understanding of how history is done among LDS instructors. But I think there is a broader use, too, as this is an important topic that we need to be more willig to discuss, in my opinion. The entire roundtable can be found here. (Also see another recent roundtable Rachel put together on Women’s studies, also in Religious Educator, found here.)


And now, my awards (drumroll please….):

Best Book Award: Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

Best First Book: Fluhman: Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America

Best Biography: Alexander, Edward Hunter Snow: Pioneer-Educator-Statesman

Best Documentary Book: Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, vol. 3

Best International Book: Newton, Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854-1958

Best Article Award: Simpson, ?The Death of Mormon Separatism in American Universities, 1877-1896?

Awards of Excellence: Smith, ?The Book of the Law of the Lord?; Jones, ?Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace”

Best Article on Mormon Women’s History: Tait, “The Young Women’s Journal: Gender and Generations in Mormon Women’s Magazines”

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Historiography Reflective Posts State of the Discipline


  1. Awesome list, Ben. I’m honored to be included.

    Comment by Saskia — December 3, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  2. This is always a fun read, Ben, in part because it reminds of all the excellent scholarship from the past year (much of which I still need to read!).

    Thanks for the kind words about my article, too.

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  3. Might I suggest adding Richard Bushman, Patrick Mason, and David Pulsipher’s War & Peace In Our Time: Mormon Perspectives to the Re-Thinking Political Theologies section.

    Comment by the narrator — December 3, 2012 @ 10:36 am

  4. A fair suggestion, narrator.

    Comment by Ben P — December 3, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  5. Thanks, Ben.

    Comment by David G. — December 3, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  6. Great job Ben! Really helpful list for those of us not able to dedicate significant time to searching out good Mormon thought and scholarship.

    Comment by Guy — December 3, 2012 @ 11:04 am

  7. Thanks, Ben. Very helpful.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 3, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  8. Fantastic list, Ben.

    I was working on a piece called “Faith and History: Gangnam Style,” but I see that some combination of Patrick Mason and Psy beat me to it.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — December 3, 2012 @ 11:22 am

  9. This is fantastic, Ben. Thanks for the year-end summary. Lots of great stuff out there. Here’s to an even better year in 2013.

    Comment by Robin — December 3, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

  10. Great list! Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    I’m curious about “The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes” by John Dinger, which you reviewed here at JI. Where, in your opinion, does it fit on a scale of noteworthiness (if at all)?

    Comment by Hunter — December 3, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  11. Hunter: it was a 2011 volume (I was very slow in reviewing it), and it received awards from both MHA and JWHA.

    Comment by Ben P — December 3, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

  12. Another brilliant, invaluable compilation, Ben. And I’m thrilled beyond words to be in this company…a thousand thanks.

    Comment by Tom S. — December 3, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  13. So, I just remembered this very recent article, which not only deserves to be mentioned, but should also be considered for one of the awards:

    Kathleen Flake, “Joseph Smith?s Letter from Liberty Jail: A Study in Canonization,” Journal of Religion 92, no. 4 (October 2012): 515-526.

    Comment by Ben P — December 3, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

  14. This really is a great list (and Flake’s article was a justified addition, worth of an award indeed).
    I was surprised to see nothing from the IJMS, I thought the latest issue was full of awesomeness. I would have also included Shepherd&Shepherd’s piece on patriarchal blessings in J Am Acad Relig (2012) 80 (3): 718-749.
    But I am just a layreader, so I know nothing about the noteworthiness of any article.

    Comment by Niklas — December 4, 2012 @ 3:19 am

  15. Thanks for the additions, Niklas! They are indeed worth it.

    Comment by Ben P — December 4, 2012 @ 8:43 am

  16. Great list! Would have liked to have seen “Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow” by Dennis Horne here, as it contains a lot of really great content, but as it’s a pretty new work – released only a few weeks ago, and that may explain why it didn’t get mentioned. I think Dennis is also working on an Orson F. Whitney bio later down the road that will be worth watching. You can see more of his stuff at dennisbhorne.com if your’e interested; I would really recommend checking out his work.

    Comment by Josh J — December 4, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  17. Thanks for the heads-up, Josh!

    Comment by Ben P — December 4, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

  18. […] Previewing 2013: A Lookjack: Previewing 2013: A LookJared T.: Previewing 2013: A LookBen P: 2012 in Retrospect: AnJosh J: 2012 in Retrospect: AnJ Stuart: Previewing 2013: A LookBen P: Previewing 2013: A […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Previewing 2013: A Look Forward to Exciting Books in Mormon History — December 4, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

  19. Might I suggest adding the beautiful Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History to the list? At least in my mind it is a notable work in Mormon geography and demography.

    Comment by Tod Robbins — December 4, 2012 @ 11:08 pm


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