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Guest Post – Mormonism and Book History: A Search for Sources

By October 1, 2019


Tyler Balli is a master’s student in history at Virginia Tech working on a thesis project that intersects at the history of Mormonism and the history of the book. He can be contacted at tylerab AT vt.edu.

In August of 1877, seventeen-year-old Annie Wells confided to her diary about the “splendid novel” she was then reading, Marquis of Lossie. She wrote, “I never read a good novel, with out I [feel] allmost [sic] jealous of my heroine, and even now I keep building castles in the air about this book only putting my self in as the heroine.” She even composed a poem about her reading experience:

Who ever read the daring deed;

Of some great hero,

Who rode upon his flashing steed

As brave as any hero

Without a thought of admiration

A longing for such a one they feel

And when they close the splendid volume

They recognize their beau-ideal

Concluding her entry, she writes, “Really not a very excellent poet am I, but then that expresses my opinion and no one else need read it.”[1]

Wells’s frank admissions of reading a romantic novel written by a non-Mormon, as well as her fantasies of becoming the novel’s heroine, would have alarmed many church leaders, editors, and other cultural arbiters of the day. Many of them often warned against the dangers of fiction, which could give readers “false ideas about human nature” or inspire “poor, weak-headed creatures . . . [to] assume the character of [a novel’s] heroine, until it passes from recollection, or is superseded by another heroine of a novel read subsequently,” never allowing them to develop their true selves.[2] These are just a few of the ideas about proper or improper reading that swirled around in nineteenth-century Utah, of which ideas about fiction only composed a small part.

I’m interested in uncovering more sources like Wells’s journal. I’m currently a master’s student in history at Virginia Tech working on a thesis project that intersects at the history of Mormonism and the history of the book, and I’d greatly appreciate the help of my fellow scholars in suggesting sources.

I’m specifically interested in looking at Mormon readers from 1869 till the turn of the century: what they read (both secular and religious publications, fiction and nonfiction), how they read, their reactions to reading, how they navigated the contemporary proscriptions and prescriptions of reading, and how reading helped them make sense of the tumultuous transformations going on during this period. I’d like to look at this through the lens of gender as well.

If you have come across a primary source that sheds light on any of these topics, I would greatly appreciate you pointing me toward it. Since comments about reading material and reactions to it are often spread widely across letters, journals, or other places, I won’t be able to scan them all, and I’d greatly appreciate your help if you’ve spotted something.



[1] Annie Wells Cannon, journal, 1877 Jun 30–1881 Sep 4, typescript, MSS 2307, box 2, folder 7, pp. 7–8, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, UT.

[2] “What We Women Do with Our Time,” Woman’s Exponent, February 1, 1878, 132; O. F. Whitney, “The Way to Be Great,” Contributor, April 1880, 158–160.


Review: Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith

By July 29, 2019


Juvenile Instructor is grateful for a JI-emeritus writer, Brett Dowdle, for writing this review! Dr. Dowdle is a historian for the Joseph Smith Papers Project and holds a Ph.D. in American History from Texas Christian University.

Review, Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019).

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            Despite its immense popularity, few genres of historical writing are more complex than that of biography. Those figures who tend to merit the kind of biographies that will be widely read generally carry with them a host of popular perceptions and myths that either border on demonization or hagiographic adoration. In most cases, the best biographies must ultimately find someplace in the muddy middle, displaying the complexity and humanity of the subject. Thomas Alexander’s recent biography of Brigham Young does an admirable job of finding just such a place for the controversial leader. The result is a highly readable and fast-paced biography that is approachable to both trained historians and the interested public.

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THE ARRINGTON CHAIR: A Reflection on What Could Go into Selecting a Mormon Studies Chair

By November 8, 2018


We’re happy to welcome friend of the Juvenile Instructor, Chris Blythe.

Christopher James Blythe is a Research Associate at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He is a graduate of the Religious Studies program at Utah State University and previously held a predoctoral teaching fellowship in the department.

 

Over the next few weeks, the three finalists for the Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture will have visited Utah State University and soon thereafter the hiring committee will make their decision. Their choice will have a far-reaching impact on the Religious Studies program there and, also, because of the legitimacy and funding that such a hire bestows, on the field of Mormon Studies at large. Currently, there are Mormon Studies chairs at Utah State University (est. 2006), Claremont Graduate University (est. 2008), and the University of Virginia

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Seminar Workshop Hosted by the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University (June 3-5, 2019 )

By October 16, 2018


In the last decades of the twentieth century, New Western historians grappled with conceptions of the “Modern” West, encouraging scholars to investigate the region’s history up to the present. They held debates, panels, and conferences on modern American West topics to discuss their findings and publish them in articles, anthologies, and monographs. Several decades have elapsed since those shockable discussions and path-breaking publications appeared. In the interceding decades, the region has continued to evolve. It is time for Western scholars to gather again and consider how the “Modern” West has changed in the 21st century.

To facilitate this effort, the Charles a Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University will host a workshop seminar (tentatively scheduled) on June 3-5, 2019 entitled “New Modern Histories of the 21st Century West.” We solicit proposals from historians and scholars who will author article-length essays and gather at BYU campus to workshop them together. Those essays will subsequently be edited and published as an anthology. All historical sub fields are welcome. The geographic scope of the “Modern West” is broadly defined to include the western states and provinces of the United States and Canada, adjacent borderlands, and areas such as Alaska, Hawai’i.   

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Review: Stone, William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Signature 2018)

By October 15, 2018


Christopher James Blythe is a Research Associate in Book of Mormon Studies at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He is a documentary editor/historian for Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Vols. 7, 9, and 12. Blythe is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Mormon History.

Daniel Stone’s William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet is a biography of a significant nineteenth century Latter Day Saint “prophet, seer, and revelator.” It is largely a religious story, as much about the founding of a church, the Church of Jesus Christ, as it is the life of a man. One of Signature Books’ most significant contributions to the field of Mormon Studies has been its publication of scholarship on non-LDS Restoration traditions. Previous examples have included Vickie Cleverley Speek’s “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons (2006), Will Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt’s Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve (2014), Richard S. Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (1994), and Victoria D. Burgess’s The Midwife: A Biography of Laurine Ekstrom Kingston (2012). These well-researched studies have added to our knowledge of fascinating but (unfortunately) obscure communities and individuals. Stone’s volume rightfully belongs on this list and admirably fills out some of the gaps in our collective knowledge. This volume is particularly significant as the first full-length academic study written by a Bickertonite scholar with interested outsiders in mind. It is exciting to see the contingent of Mormon Studies scholars whose numbers largely consist of LDS and Community of Christ scholars (with the occasional Strangite and Fundamentalist) add another unique voice to the conversation.

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Job Ad: Women’s History and Writer

By September 18, 2018


Historian/Writer – Church History Department  
UNITED STATES |  UT-Salt Lake City
ID 217340, Type: Regular Full-Time
Posting Dates: 09/14/2018 – 10/05/2018
Job Family: Library, Research&Preservation
Department: Church History Department

PURPOSES: The Church History Department announces an opening for a historian/writer with an emphasis on women’s history within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Duties will include researching and writing, in collaboration with others, documentary and narrative histories on the experience of Latter-day Saint women.

RESPONSIBILITIES
• Conducts appropriate research accurately and within professional standards under the supervision of project management.
•  Produces publishable volumes and material for websites. Possible duties include historical research, verification of transcriptions of documents against original sources, developing and writing annotations and supplementary material, writing introductions and narrative history, or other tasks as assigned.
• Meets deadlines and performs all assigned tasks and according to professional and CHD standards.
• May perform duties on multiple projects simultaneously.
• Manages and supervises task specific research questions.
• Occasionally consults with project team on project management questions.
• Contributes to a collegial and professional atmosphere that incorporates the highest standards of behavior and cooperation, promoting teamwork and group purposes.

QUALIFICATIONS: Masters or PhD (or doctoral candidate) in history, religious studies, or related discipline, with demonstrated competence in women’s history.  Excellent writing skills and the ability to work in an academic environment that requires personal initiative and collaborative competence. Some experience with creative non-fiction or fiction writing.Professional and personal integrity required to maintain the trust and confidence of professional colleagues, department leadership, and archivists working in other public and private repositories.

WORTHINESS QUALIFICATION: Must be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and currently temple worthy.

POSTING NOTICE/MORE INFO.Please Note: All positions are subject to close without notice. Find out more about the many benefits of Church Employment at http://careers.lds.org.

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MHA 2019: Tips and Reminders

By September 17, 2018


On June 6-9, 2019 the Mormon History Association will gather for their fifty-fourth annual conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is a friendly reminder from the 2019 program co-chairs, Brittany Chapman Nash and Taunalyn Rutherford, that the deadline for submitting proposals is November 15, 2018.

We are excited about the potential for the production of scholarly work inspired by the 2019 conference theme, “Isolation and Integration.” Gathering in Salt Lake City affords the ideal location to contemplate the duality of the Mormon yearnings to be a peculiar people (isolation) and the contradictory impulse to be accepted and “mainstream” (integration). Historical commemorations marked by 2019 echo this theme and are rich topics for potential panels and papers. Consider for example, the 150th anniversaries of the laying of the Golden Spike and John Wesley Powell’s first Colorado River exploration, the 1869 national discussion over granting Utah women suffrage, and the centennial of the dedication of the Laie Hawaii Temple.

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Review: Credulity: The Cultural History of US Mesmerism

By September 11, 2018


We are pleased to publish this review by Cristina Rosetti, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. You can follow her on Twitter HERE.

Believe in Belief: A Review of Emily Ogden’s Credulity: The Cultural History of US Mesmerism

In the last year, the field of religious studies underwent a renewed interest in “presence,” largely due to Robert Orsi’s History and Presence. In this groundbreaking and theoretically significant work, he writes, “The study of religion is or ought to be the study of what human beings do to, for, and against the gods really present—using ‘gods’ as a synecdoche for all the special suprahuman beings with whom humans have been in relationship in different times and places—and what the gods really present do with, to, for, and against humans.” [i] Orsi’s work challenged scholars to take the religious claims of adherents seriously. Much like studies on secularism raise questions about the subject as much as the object of study, Orsi challenged the “modern” scholar to “believe in belief.” [ii] But, what about fraud? What do scholars do with falsity that, nevertheless, exerts a powerful force over people? What happens to these questions within a world that succeeded in the project of disenchantment? Enter, Emily Ogden.

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Women in Mormon Studies Website Launch

By July 22, 2018


This post comes from friend-of-JI Cristina Rosetti:

This year, during the Mormon History Association’s annual meeting, I was excited to learn about more women in the field that share my common interests. These women are brilliant, are the sources of exciting new research, and are breaking new ground in the field. Then, I wondered why I had to drive to Idaho to learn about their work. Women are underrepresented in the field of Mormon Studies (and academia, generally). Because of this, having a place to highlight their work and connect them with other scholars in invaluable.

This week, Women in Mormon Studies launched their website with the goal of highlighting the work of women in the field.

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Author’s Response: Mueller’s *Race and the Making of the Mormon People*

By April 5, 2018


Below is Max Perry Mueller’s response to JI’s roundtable on his book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People.

Thanks to the JI crew, especially to Jessica Nelson, Ryan T, and J Stuart for their thoughtful comments on my book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People. It?s a great honor and an immense pleasure to interact with readers who have read one?s work so deeply and carefully.

Each of the roundtable?s comments/critiques focuses on one or both of two of the major interventions of my book: the first is to theorize ?whiteness? and ?race? more broadly; the second is to theorize the ?archive.? And my response?or, better put, self-critique?is to remind us (me!) not to think too literally about race or the archive. That is, the book tries (intentionally) to have it both ways: that race and the archive are ?real??as in literal, tangible things and/or experiences?as well as ?metaphors??as in literary signifiers of signified (imagined/constructed) things.

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