2018 in Retrospect: An Overview of Recent Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 3, 2018

2018 was an exciting year for Mormon history. The Journal of Mormon History and other Mormon-specific journals published loads of strong material and other pieces found their way into broader historiographic journals. Mormon history, what some historians of American religious history describe as an “article-heavy” field, witnessed the publication of several books that will shape the field for generations. While reviewing the material published this past year, I was particularly pleased to note how the field continues to grow in key areas, both topically and methodologically.

These sorts of lists always lay bare the interests and biases of their writers. What did I miss? Tell me in the comments!

Women’s History

  • Matthew McBride, “Female Brethren”: Gender Dynamics in a Newly Integrated Missionary Force 1898-1915.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Colleen McDannell, Sister Saints: Mormon Women since the End of Polygamy OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Lori Motzkus Wilkinson, “Scribbling Women in Zion:Mormon Women’s Fascination with Fanny Fern.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)

I’ve been citing Matthew McBride’s article for awhile as “unpublished paper” and am thrilled to see it in print. It’s an important history tied to the Woodruff Manifesto, the LDS Church’s globalization, and the complicated interplay of authority and gender in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Similarly, Wilkinson’s article examines the way in which Mormon women were connected to broader trends in American culture, particularly literary culture.

We will be hosting a roundtable on McDannell’s Sister Saints in the New Year. I’ll suffice it to say here that it is a field-changer and is worth picking up as a holiday gift, course adoption, or requesting your local library to purchase it.

Black Mormons, Lineage, and Post-colonialism

  • W. Paul Reeve, Ardis Parshall, et. al, “Century of Black Mormons Project.” WEBSITE (University of Utah)
  • Tonya Reiter, “Life on the Hill: The Black Farming Families of Mill Creek.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Joseph R. Stuart, “A More Powerful Effect upon the Body”: Early Mormonism’s Theory of Racial Redemption and American Religious Theories of Race JSTOR (Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture)
  • Matthew L. Harris, “Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-1918.” DIALOGUE: A Journal of Mormon Thought
  • Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks, Decolonizing Mormonism: Approaching a Postcolonial Zion University of Utah Press

The Century of Black Mormons is the most exciting non-LDS Church sponsored digital project in many years. Be sure to check it out. The Reiter article highlights the ways that Black Mormons lived their lives in the Salt Lake Valley. Like in her award-winning article on Black baptisms for the dead, she narrates a difficult-to-document history with careful arguments and graceful writing. Matt Harris’s article is one of the most interesting approaches to studying Mormonism and race I’ve seen in some time. Please forgive my for mentioning my own article, but I believe it’s focus on the role of the temple in the LDS Church’s racial restriction is an important historiographical intervention.

The Colvin and Brooks edited collection moves beyond the Black/White binary in Mormon history to examine colonialism,post-colonialism, and the power dynamics of race, class, gender, and sexuality in Mormon contexts. The book is powerful and provocative.

Interdisciplinary Studies

  • Janiece Johnson, “Becoming a People of the Books: Toward an Understanding of Early Mormon Converts and the New Word of the Lord.” JSTOR (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies)
  • Christopher Blythe, “The Exorcism of Isaac Russell: Diabolism and Nineteenth-Century Mormon Identity Formation.” JSTOR(Journal of Religion)
  • Joshua M. Matson, “Where the World, Babel, and Zion Meet: Redefining the Mormon People at the 1964-1965 Mormon Pavilion.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Jonathan Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Laura Rutter Strickling, On Fire in Baltimore: Black Mormon Women and Conversion in a Raging City GREG KOFFORD BOOKS

Mormon history continues to benefit from applying a variety of theories and methods to strong archival work. That’s especially true of the Johnson, Blythe, and Matson articles. Johnson’s, in particular, rewrites the reception history of the early Book of Mormon and provides a lived religion framework for early Mormonism. 

We hosted a roundtable on Stapley’s book (full disclosure:he blogs for Juvenile Instructor),where you can read several of our blogger’s thoughts on the topic herehereherehere,and Tona H. reviewed it here.

Strickling’s book takes both race and gender into account in her analysis: I look forward to more intersection work in Mormon history.

International Mormonism

  • Erik J. Freeman, “True Christianity”: The Flowering and Fading of Mormonism and Romantic Socialism in Nineteenth-Century France.” JSTOR(Journal of Mormon History)
  • James Perry. “British Latter-day Saints in the Great War, 1914-1918.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Jeremy Talmage and Clinton D. Christensen, “Black,White, or Brown? Racial Receptions and the Priesthood Policy in Latin America.”JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Po Nien (Felipe) Chou and Petra Chou, “History of Seminaries and Institutes in Hong Kong.” MORMON HISTORICAL STUDIES
  • Mary Jane Woodger, “Laying the Foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong: Seminary and Institute Programs.” MORMON HISTORICAL STUDIES

Freeman and Perry both demonstrate the ways in which non-American Mormon history can and should be written. Any non-United States history of American Mormonism that doesn’t begin with pioneers/settlers, a maturation of new members, and the establishment of a first stake/temple in the nation is an important addition, for my money. Freeman’s is particularly interesting to me as someone fascinated by the political contexts of Mormonism outside the United States.

The Chous’ and Woodger’s articles are valuable to those interested in the growth of the LDS Church in non-Christian nations. Recording the histories of those involved is particularly important work and both articles are accessible and informative.

Talmage and Christensen’s article highlights the difficulty the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in establishing and maintaining its racial restriction in nations where interracial relationships are and were common. Highly recommended.

Textual Criticism

  • Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Jensen, and Sharalyn D.Howcroft, Foundational Texts of Mormonism OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • William Victor Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural MarriageRevelation GREG KOFFORD BOOKS
  • Colby Townsend, “Behold, Other Scriptures I would that Ye Should Write”: Malachi in the Book of Mormon.” DIALOGUE: A Journal of Mormon Thought
  • Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and BoydJ. Petersen, The Expanded Canon:Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts GREG KOFFORD BOOKS

These wonderful books and articles are valuable contributions to Mormon history, giving academics and buffs alike new ways to approach historical problems. I think prospective MA students and up-and-coming undergraduates might especially profit from reading these collections and thinking about the ways that Mormonism’s texts have been created and interpreted over time.

Documentary Editing and Primary Sources

More primary sources for everyone! Bergera’s editing of Leonard J. Arrington Diaries are essential to anyone interested in the postwar history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Joseph Smith Papers’ publications are always top-notch, but I especially recommend that textual specialists and history buffs dive into the Book of Abraham volume. The Book of Abraham has long been a lightning rod in historical and religious communities and this is the single best source one could hope to read to put it into context.

Mormonism(s)

  • Casey Paul Griffiths, “A Renewal of the Faith: The Origins and Progress of the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” JSTOR (Journal of Mormon History)
  • Daniel P. Stone, William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet SIGNATURE BOOKS

While most of Mormon history examines the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, important historical work is also being done on other branches of Joseph Smith’s religious family tree. Non-LDS Mormon history, as they say, continues to be white and ready to harvest.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for this, J! Love these lists, and they always turn into holiday catch up reading for me

    Comment by Jeff T — December 3, 2018 @ 10:38 am

  2. Great writeup, Joey!

    Comment by Christopher Blythe — December 3, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

  3. Thanks for this great list J! I look forward to reading the “Retrospects” every year (and thanks for the mention!) 🙂

    Comment by Daniel Stone — December 3, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

  4. Love the lineup for international Mormonism and your description–and can’t wait until that’s the norm for the field!

    Comment by Saskia — December 3, 2018 @ 4:56 pm

  5. At the risk of self promotion, you may be interested in an article of mine that was just published:
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09523367.2018.1496083

    Comment by Ryan — December 4, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

  6. Readers may be interested in a recent article I published about missionaries who were also professional athletes in Argentina just prior to WWII.

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09523367.2018.1496083?scroll=top&needAccess=true

    This is my second attempt to post the information. We’ll see if it goes through.

    Ryan Davis

    Comment by Ryan — December 5, 2018 @ 3:59 pm


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