2014 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 15, 2014

Just a few books from this last year that should be found on your bookshelves.

Just a few books from this last year that should be found on your bookshelves.

It’s that time of year again.

This is the sixth annual installment of my “Restrospect” series, which attempts to overview what I thought were important books and articles from the last 12 months. (Previous installments are found here, here, here, here, and here.) Every year, I wonder if I want to do this post again; every year, I decide it is once again worth it. (Though no promises for next year.) Mostly, it is an excuse to catch up on what has been published and to chart historiographical trends–something that really is only possible when you look at articles as well. I’ll also continue my tradition of offering my selections for MHA’s awards.

The usual caveat: my selections represent my own interests, and I admit I likely have many blindspots. So please fill in the gaps with your comments.

Of course, if you want more substantive engagement with recent scholarship in Mormon studies, you’d read the recent issue of Mormon Studies Review, especially since digital subscriptions are only $10. But you already knew that.

The Return of Historical Theology

Actually, historical theology never left. And actually, historical theology is still overrepresented in the Mormon history field. But hey, there’s still good stuff! And these works move forward the discussion in important ways. I’ve reviewed Wrestling the Angels here, so I won’t say much more. The Standing Apart volume is not necessarily historical theology, but it does have important corrections to, analysis of, and suggestions for Mormon thought; all of the essays in the volume are solid, and overall it is a must-read. (See Blair Hodge’s overview of the book here.) Boyd’s article is important in that it adds to the great work being done to recapture women’s voices in the Utah period. (See Susanna Morrill’s excellent response to the article here.) And Bradley Kime, a very bright young student of Mormon studies, looks at how James Talmage actually proves a counter-example to our general narrative of Mormons downplaying theological distinctiveness in the twentieth century.

A New Look at the Kirtland Temple

David Howlett is one of the brightest minds in Mormon studies today. Besides Steve Taysom’s book, Howlett’s work on the Kirtland Temple is perhaps the most theoretically sophisticated book on Mormonism in quite some time. It is also a significant book in that it 1) analyzes the various Mormon groups together, and 2) focuses on the twentieth-century (even though it has a very thoughtful chapter on the Joseph Smith era). A classic book that should not be overlooked. And don’t miss the review of the book in the Mormon Studies Review by Jeanne Kilde, one of the foremost scholars of American religious architecture!

Mormon Studies in the Classroom

  • Terryl L. Givens and Reid L. Neilson, The Columbia Sourcebook of Mormons in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press).
  • Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Patrick Q. Mason, Jill Peterfeso, John G. Turner, Robert A. Reese, and Sara M. Patterson, “Forum: Teaching Mormon Studies,” Mormon Studies Review 2, 1-48.

As Mormon studies is more broadly accepted in the academy, it is showing up in more classrooms. That means we need to explore more effective methods to do that very thing. Givens and Neilson’s compiliation is enormously helpful in that regard, as it provides a broad swath of primary sources from a variety of perspectives; if I were teaching a course on Mormonism, I’d probably assign the book. And the roundtable features people who have taught Mormon studies to students and now share the lessons they have learned.

Novel Insights into the Book of Mormon

  • Jared Hickman, “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse,” American Literature 86:3, 429-461.
  • Clyde D. Ford, “The Book of Mormon, the Early Nineteenth-Century Debates over Universalism, and the Development of the Novel mormon Doctrines of Ultimate Rewards and Punishments,” Dialogue 47:1, 1-23.

Apparently I can’t write anything about the Book of Mormon without every word being torn apart, so I’ll keep this brief: Jared Hickman’s article is the most brilliant thing I’ve read on the Book of Mormon in a long, long time. We highlighted it here before, and have a Q&A with him forthcoming.

Contextualizing the “Mormon Moment”

Three talented political scientists offer an excellent overview of the intersections between Mormonism and politics. Though not necessarily historical, it has important lessons for historians. We have long waiting for such a thoughtful overview in a long time–you often hear questions like, “when did American Mormonism become synonymous with Republicanism?”, and “where are the divergences and convergences between Mormonism and other conservative Evangelical social groups?” Now, we finally have a one-stop-shop.

The JSP’s gotta JSP

Top quality documentary editing blah blah blah important JS documents blah blah blah set a new standard blah blah blah.

The Church History Library Shares More of Its Archive

  • Adrian W. Cannon, Richard E. Turley, and Chad M. Orton, eds., The Journals of George Q. Cannon: Hawaiian Mission, 1850-1854 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book).
  • Mark L. Staker and Robin S. Jensen, “David Hale’s Store Ledger: New Details about Joseph and Emma Smith, the Hale Family, and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53:3, 77-112.
  • LaJean P. Carruth and Robin S. Jensen, “Sidney Rigdon’s Plea to the Saints: Transcriptions of Thomas Bullock’s Shorthand Notes from the August 8, 1844, Morning Meeting,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53:2, 121-139.

As a sign of the great work being done in the Church History Library, we keep getting glimpses of more and more excellent work. We have waiting a while for the second volume of Cannon’s journals, which is an important contribution to our understanding of missionary work in the Pacific. (I’m sure Amanda HK would say it reveals something about race, too.) The ledger that Staker and Jensen highlight add important details about the Harmony period of the Church. And Carruth and Jensen’s article adds a very important sermon that was at the heart of the succession crisis, yet has not been really engaged since it was written in shorthand. Three cheers for archive hounds! (And shorthand skills!)

Trendy Documentary Editions–Just in Time for Christmas

Speaking of documentary histories, here are two excellent examples of them. Jedediah Rogers’s volume adds important insight into a much-discussed but seldom-understood element of Mormon history: the Council of Fifty. More importantly, he demonstrates the long-lasting legacy of the organization, and the role it played in the post-Joseph Smith era. I will have a brief review of the volume next week, and we will have a Q&A with Rogers sometime soon. Stevenson’s volume is a useful collection whose especially important contribution is to introduce us to global voices in what is typically presented as an American problem. And both arrive just in time to stock your stockings!

New Insights into Utah History

  • Ronald W. Walker and Matthew J. Grow, “The People are ‘Hogaffed or Humbugged’: The 1851-52 National Reaction to Utah’s ‘Runaway’ Officers, Part 2,” Journal of Mormon History 40:1, 1-52.
  • David L. Clark, “Violence and Disruptive Behavior on the Difficult Trail to Utah, 1847-1868,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53:4, 81-108.
  • Ben Carter, “Segregating Sanitation in Salt Lake City, 1870-1915,” Utah Historical Quarterly 82:2, 92-113.
  • Jessie L. Embry, “Indian Placement Program Host Families: A Mission to the Lamanites,” Journal of Mormon History 40:2, 235-276.

These articles cover a broad swath of topics and a long chronological span, but I enjoyed all of them–which is saying something, given I am still a novice with Utah history! Walker and Grow are doing excellent work on the early territorial period; more importantly, this article not only offers a cogent and moderately revisionist account of Brigham Young’s political thought, but it places Utah’s events within a larger American context. The other articles are excellent as well, especially in reproducing tensions and issues that influenced far more people than Mormonism’s elite.

A Journalist Looks at Joseph Smith

Alex Beam’s book is a very readable and engaging look at the months that led up to Joseph Smith’s death. Though some of his historical interpretations can be questioned, his writing style is something I hope more Mormon historians invoke. (I have a more detailed review of the book coming out in Christian Century soon, so I’ll hold off on saying more.) And his American Scholar article is a thoughtful reflection on the general history of Joseph Smith’s, well, history.

Thinking About Method(s)

  • Michael D. K. Ing and David Howlett, Roundtable on Mormonism and Religious Studies, Dialogue 47:2, 113-132.
  • Anne Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates,” Numen: International Review for the History of Religions 61:2/3, 182-207.
  • John-Charles Duffy, “Is It Good To Be a ‘New Religion’? Mormonism and the Status Politics of Novelty,” Cross Currents 64:2, 180-201.

I, and many others, have long argued for more theoretically sophisticated approaches to Mormonism, so I am thrilled to see smart conversations like those found in these articles. The Ing and Howlett articles are papers they presented at the Mormon History Association last year, and ask specifically what religious studies methods can offer Mormon historians. Taves, one of the leading scholars in American religious history, does something revolutionary in her article: she takes the gold plates seriously from a non-believing perspective, and posits an approach to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon that attempts to move beyond the prophet/fraud dichotomy. And Duffy, who is at his best when he makes us uncomfortable with our basic methodological assumptions and historiographical debates, asks important questions about the way we frame Mormon peculiarity.

Not Quite History, but…

Okay, these aren’t historical books that fit within our field, but they all use historical lessons for thoughtful and reflective purposes. So I’m just going to leave them here and recommend them to Mormon readers.

Mormon Schisms

  • Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “Anchored in Revelation: Scripture and Schism in the Restoration,” JWHA Journal 34:1, 34-49.
  • H. Michael Marquardt and William Shepard, Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve (Salt Lake City: Signature Books).
  • Christopher James Blythe, “The Upper-Room Work: Esotericism in the Church of Jesus Chirst (Cutlerite),” Journal of Mormon History 40:3, 43-92.
  • Kyle R. Walker, “William B. Smith and ‘The Josephites,'” Journal of Mormon History 40:4, 73-129.
  • Steven L. Shields, “The Early Community of Christ Mission to ‘Redeem’ the Church in Utah,” Journal of Mormon History 40:4, 158-170.
  • Danny L. Jorgensen, “Early Mormon Marriage, Family, and Networks of Kinship: Begets and Horizontal Genealogy in the Case of the Later Cutlerites at Nauvoo,” JWHA Journal 34:1, 127-150.

As I mentioned with Howlett’s book, it is great to see solid historical work that engages the wide array of Mormon movements. These articles, written by some of the leading figures in the JWHA community, explore important case studies amongst divergent Mormon paths. The essay by Maffly-Kipp, another leading scholar of American religious history and incoming president of MHA, is a thoughtful reflection on how scripture has been understood in the different movements.

Rethinking the First Two Decades of Mormonism

  • Matthew C. Godfrey, “‘The Redemption of Zion Must Needs Come by Power’: Insights into the Camp of Israel Expedition, 1834,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53:4, 125-146.
  • Andrea G. Radke-Moss, “‘I hid [the Prophet] in a corn patch’: Mormon Women as Healers, Concealers, and Protectors in the 1838 Mormon-Missouri War,” Mormon Historical Studies 15:1, 25-40.
  • John S. Dinger, “‘A Mean Conspirator’ or ‘The Noblest of Men’: William Marks’s Expulsion from Nauvoo,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 34:2, 39-51.
  • Michael W. Homer, Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.)

What’s more fun than revising traditional narratives of early Mormonism? Ok, probably a lot, but this is fun, too. Godfrey’s article offers new details to what is often thought as an over-understood period. JI’s own Radke-Moss had the radical idea to incorporate women into a male-dominated historical narrative–how dare she. Dinger’s article reconsiders the events that led up to and followed William Marks’s difficulties in Joseph Smith’s city-state. And Michael Homer’s book looks at the historically complex relationship between Mormonism and freemasonry. (His book covers a much broader chronological timeframe, but much of the work deals with Joseph Smith’s life.) I reviewed Homer’s book here.

Other Odds-and-Ends

These articles and books don’t have much in common, but they all deserve to be read. Trust me.


And now, if you?ll cue the drumroll, here are my awards?.

Best Book Award: Givens, Wrestling the Angel

Best First Book: Howlett, Kirtland Temple

Best Documentary History: Joseph Smith Papers Project, Documents, Vol. 3

Best Article Award: Hickman, “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse,”

Awards of Excellence: Taves, “Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates”; Walker and Grow, “The 1851-52 National Reaction to Utah’s ‘Runaway’ Officers, Part 2”

Best Article on Mormon Women?s History: Radke-Moss, “Mormon Women as Healers, Concealers, and Protectors in the 1838 Mormon-Missouri War”

Best Personal History/Memoir: Craig Harline, Way Below the Angels

Best International Article: Alston, “The Cumorah Baseball Club”


What did I miss? Add your reflections concerning the year in the comments.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Historiography


  1. Thanks, Ben. Helpful and insightful.

    Comment by David G. — December 15, 2014 @ 7:03 am

  2. Thanks, as always, Ben. I always look forward to this post, and it always makes me realize how behind I’ve fallen in keeping up with the field.

    I do think you sell the JSP Docs volume a little short with at least 4 too few “blahs.” 🙂

    Comment by Christopher — December 15, 2014 @ 7:33 am

  3. Off to rework my “to read, urgently” list. Thanks, Ben.

    Comment by Saskia — December 15, 2014 @ 8:09 am

  4. Very helpful, Ben. Looks like I have some catching up to do over break!

    Comment by J Stuart — December 15, 2014 @ 8:40 am

  5. Really helpful summary. Thanks, Ben.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 15, 2014 @ 9:05 am

  6. Nicely done, once again, Ben. Thanks.

    Comment by Ryan T. — December 15, 2014 @ 9:58 am

  7. Thanks Ben!!

    Comment by Bradley Kime — December 15, 2014 @ 10:27 am

  8. Thanks for this summary, Ben! And thank you for the very generous comments.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — December 15, 2014 @ 11:03 am

  9. Thanks Ben for this act of service, to which you are now perennially oath-bound.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — December 15, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

  10. Thanks, Ben. The summary is useful.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — December 15, 2014 @ 5:15 pm

  11. Well done. I appreciate your thoughtful efforts.

    Comment by Sherman Feher — December 15, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

  12. Thanks Ben. This is more than helpful.

    Comment by Terry H — December 16, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  13. Ben, will you also be doing a preview of forthcoming titles for next year? That’s what I have been really looking forward to.

    Comment by Nathan — December 16, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  14. Nathan: unfortunately, I’m begging off that this year. But my JI colleagues are putting together a list, so look forward to that.

    Comment by Ben P — December 16, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  15. Thanks Ben. Glad someone will be rowing that oar. Put Ryan T. to the task.

    Comment by Nathan — December 16, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  16. Wow, my plans for a leisurely Christmas break just got smashed. It’s amazing how little time I have to read Mormon history given that my day job is, um, Mormon history! Just be sure to tell your nominees that they have to actually nominate themselves for the MHA awards, or they risk being passed over.

    Comment by LisaT — December 17, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

  17. Wish the Horner volume was available on Kindle or iBooks. I’m doing my best to avoid new paper books. (Wish I could digitize all the paper ones I can barely fit in my office)

    Comment by Clark — December 18, 2014 @ 11:35 am

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