Articles from the Journal of Mormon History 45, no. 2 (April 2019)

By April 23, 2019

The latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History arrived in mailboxes this weekend. Here’s a preview of what you’ll find inside:

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The first article and 2018 MHA President address, authored by Patrick Mason, examines Latter-day Saints and members of the RLDS Church (now Community of Christ) who refused to participate in the First World War. “When I think of War I Am Sick at Heart’: Latter Day Saint Nonparticipation in World War I” answers previous calls to think of those at the margins of Mormonism to illuminate the theological and political possibilities within its traditions. Mason shows how the “Saints who did resist war service did so out of individual conscience, without the corporate sanction of either of the two major restoration churches” (19). The article builds upon Mason’s previous work on Mormon ethics of peace; interested parties should look for his volume on the subject from Cambridge University Press in the next year or so.

Next in the issue is Judith Weisenfeld’s Smith-Pettit Lecture entitled “Framing the Nation: Religion, Film, and American Belonging,” which investigates how the early cinematic feature A Mormon Maid reflects how white Protestants imagined and represented minority religions in their nation-building project (48). Not to be missed by scholars of Mormonism, race, film, or the Progressive Era, Weisenfeld highlights how “A Mormon Maid contributed to early American cinema’s broad vision of the American ideal as white…and Protestant, as it situated the white men as the guardians of the purity of white women, the white race as they conceived of it, and their ideal of a white nation” (48).

Next comes a roundtable on Saints: the Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days featuring editors and authors Steven Harper, Lisa Olsen Tait, and Scott Hales, with reactions from Linda Hoffman Kimball and Patrick Mason. The first three share the nuts-and-bolts of how and why the Saints series was created and produced, including the religious imperative set forth by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The next section features reactions from Kimball and Mason from the perspectives of a lay member and an academic, respectively.

John Dinger’s article, “Mormons and the Grand Jury in Hancock County, 1839-1845,” tells how Latter-day Saints and their neighbors served on grand juries and the myriad of conflicts that arose from their wariness of each other. As Alex Smith and others have shown, the Mormon/non-Mormon frictions in Hancock County was often tethered to how each side viewed the other’s uses (or abuses) of the law.

Kenneth L. Alford’s “’We have now the Territory on wheels’: Direct and Collateral Costs of the 1858 Move South” analyzes the history of the “Move South” during the Utah War. He reconstructs the context of the Move with sermons, newspaper articles, and especially helpfully, with diaries and letters from average Latter-day Saints who participated in the event. He wisely does not try to estimate the direct or indirect costs of the move but suffices it to say that the monetary, social, and political price ran high. The article could be especially helpful to those who teach Utah history; undergraduates will grasp the complexity of Brigham Young’s decision to move south from Alford’s narrative approach.

Mark Grover’s work has always been underappreciated, in my opinion. He explores the German origins of Brazilian Mormonism in “Sprechen Sie Portugiesisch? Nein: The German Beginnings of the Church in Brazil.” Grover reveals how the LDS Church’s decision to focus on German-speaking immigrants in Brazil, rather than Portuguese speakers, contributed to the nation’s slow growth for pre-1978 Latter-day Saint history. I won’t give away his conclusion, but his thoughts on that decision’s import for the rest of Latter-day Saint history is worth pondering. I look forward to the growth of international histories of Mormonism, particularly attuned to race, that are coming forward in future years. Those that work on South America will surely build upon Grover’s foundation.

The four book reviews are very much worth your time. However, one review is worth notice for less than positive reasons. Robert McPherson’s assessment of Farina King’s The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century summarizes the book, but also questions whether or not King should have included “both sides” of the story of American colonialism, arguing that handwashing and agricultural assistance should have been framed as positive advancements brought to the Diné by the federal government. While McPherson’s acknowledges the “damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t” realities to discussing the effects of colonialism, his review is tone-deaf and spends more time stating what he thinks the book should have presented and not evaluating what it contends. The other reviewers, Cristina Rosetti, Stephen Betts, and Jessica Nelson, admirably provided reviews that summarized their subject’s arguments and placed them in historiographical context.

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