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Review: The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History

By September 18, 2017


This review was written by Courtney Jensen Peacock, a PhD student in American Studies at Heidelberg University.

Book Review: Grow, Matthew and R. Eric Smith, eds. The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History. Religious Studies Center, BYU, Provo, UT: 2017.

The release of the Council of Fifty minutes by The Joseph Smith Papers project last year (Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844?January 1846) is a fantastic example of the exciting new developments currently occurring in Mormon studies, as more sources are becoming available for the first time to both scholars and the public. The release of new primary sources is always cause for celebration, but the fact that the Council of Fifty minutes cover the late Nauvoo period make them especially valuable. Scholars working on the Nauvoo period have always struggled with a shortage of available contemporary sources, which has hindered a full understanding of this crucial time in the development of Mormonism?s distinct theology and culture. The publishing of the Council of Fifty minutes, along with other sources recently released by The Joseph Smith Papers or published elsewhere, has and will contribute to important and innovative analyses of the Nauvoo period and nineteenth-century Mormonism.[i]

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JI Summer Book Club 2017: A House Full of Females, Chapter 7

By July 17, 2017


This is the seventh entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor, written this week by Charlotte Hansen Terry. Charlotte earned her BA and MA from the University of Utah and will begin her PhD at UC-Davis this fall. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.

While chapter six of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females depicts a people in motion, chapter seven looks at a people in place. Ulrich mainly uses the writings of three people (Hosea Stout, Mary Richards, and Patty Sessions) to unpack the winter of 1847 in Winter Quarters. What is especially interesting about Ulrich?s work in this chapter is how she weaves together the diaries and autobiographies composed by these authors. Since autobiographies are a product of the moment in which they are written, ?they are not only windows into [the author?s] early lives but reflections of their minds as they endured the winter of 1847 in a refugee camp.? (160) The experiences of these writers in Winter Quarters shaped how they wrote about earlier periods of their lives at the same time that looking back helped these writers find meaning in their current situation.

Both Hosea Stout and Mary Richards worked on their diaries and autobiographies simultaneously while in Winter Quarters. Ulrich uses their writings to show the different ways that Winter Quarters was experienced, even by those moving in the same circles. She brings both of these historical figures to life by masterfully weaving together their reminiscent and daily accounts. Their actions in Winter Quarters are made all the more compelling since they are placed in context with their previous experiences. Mary Richards emerges as a particularly wonderful character, especially with her sharp wit.

Since Patty Sessions did not write an autobiographical account in Winter Quarters, Ulrich uses the writings of her son Perregrine Sessions to make sense of certain references in Patty?s diary to her earlier life. Patty emerges as a woman who is deeply concerned for her family. Ulrich uses Patty as way to explore the powerful spiritual manifestations that occurred among a certain group of women during this period. Since Patty was generally quite limited in her descriptions of her life, her longer entries on the ?religious rhapsody? of the ?visionary sisterhood? become all the more powerful and significant. (162) Eliza R. Snow?s diary is also used to provide more information on these gatherings where women employed the spiritual gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Patty?s diary entries show the importance of familial relationships in these spiritual gatherings, and encouragement of these gifts in younger generations. I was left wanting more analysis of these spiritual gatherings, as well as the networks of women coordinated by the matrons of the community that are touched on in this chapter. [1] By placing the descriptions of these spiritual manifestations alongside the writings of others in Winter Quarters who never hint at these occurrences, I wondered how widespread this ?visionary sisterhood? was.

Here are some questions to consider while reading this chapter. How can we better approach autobiographies in our own research projects? How can this chapter serve as a model for weaving together the various writings from historical characters in our own work? How do we balance the accounts of experiences in a certain place, particularly when our sources describe overlapping worlds but with such different details?

 

[1] Another important piece to read on this period is Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, ?Women in Winter Quarters,? in Eliza and Her Sisters (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1991), 75-97.


The JST at the JSP

By November 2, 2016


We are pleased to have a guest post from Nathan Waite, who is the manager of the Joseph Smith Papers web team

Note: You may be thinking this is nothing more than a shameless promotional post for the Joseph Smith Papers. And you?re partially right. It is unquestionably a plug to visit josephsmithpapers.org, but it?s also a brief look at the history and historiography of the Joseph Smith Translation. And if you make it to the end, I?ve got a question (an actual I-don?t-know-the-answer-and-really-want-to-know question, not a rhetorical one) about the shifting landscape of digital research.

On Monday, the Joseph Smith Papers Project published all the original texts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.[1] The LDS Church has never published the JST before this?and the JSP is not the same thing as the LDS Church, but we?re part of the Church History Department, which makes this feel like a significant milestone, a first for the church.

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Research Query: Mormonism in Palestine and Israel: Globalization, Peoplehood, and Zion

By April 13, 2016


We’re pleased to host this research query from Amber Taylor, a PhD student at Brandeis University. Please feel free to suggest readings in the comments below. Amber can also be reached at ambercecile3 AT gmail DOT com.

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I am working on the history of the LDS Church in Palestine and Israel. One of the larger historical arcs that I am working with is the Church and globalization – how that has affected the Church’s position regarding the people and politics of Israel-Palestine. As of yet, I have found very little material on the Church and globalization itself – I recognize that this is a rather recent topic, and Mormon studies as such is a rather emerging field. I have read various articles by Arnold Green that address various aspects of Mormon views on Jews/Judaism and Muslims/Islam. I am also familiar with works by Steven Epperson and Grant Underwood on similar topics. Likewise, I have the book Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century from the Sperry Symposium, and have been perusing Reid Neilson’s work, as well as Marie Cornwall’s and Tim Heaton’s Contemporary Mormonism. I am wondering if anyone can point me to other scholars – including articles and books – that have looked at the way that the 20th century globalization of the Church has affected the way that leaders have talked of peoplehood and chosenness, and other such good things related to that.

Also, I have been considering the notion of “Zion” as a major aspect of my research. I am attempting to set my dissertation in a comparative framework, looking at the Church in its American setting, and examining the ways that American views of the Holy Land, Jews, and Muslims related to the Mormon views – and how both the broader American cultural setting and Mormon particularity affected one another. Specific to the concept of Zion, American culture (especially Protestant culture) has, from its very origins, been prone to talk of America and American Christianity in terms of “Zion,” or had themes of Zion weaved throughout it in myriad ways. Likewise, the concept of American exceptionalism is, of course, bound up with this. But the Mormons went a step further – they established an actual Zion, a physical space with teleological meaning. Their peoplehood as Israelites, and their actual American Zion, makes the question of the Mormon presence in Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel rather intriguing. America has always had a fascination with the Holy Land and its import in latter-day fulfillment of prophecy, yet the Mormon ethos is unique. What were/are the Mormons actually doing in the Old Zion, if they had their Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American continent? What purpose does the BYU Jerusalem Center actually serve in all of this? Can anyone recommend any literature on this, specifically relating to the two Zions and what LDS leaders have said about them, what they mean in terms of physicality, sacred territory, and gathering?

Thank you for your help.


The First Fifty Years of Relief Society and the Church Historian?s Press Website

By February 26, 2016


Matt Grow is Director of Publications in the Church History Department and co-editor (with Jill Derr, Carol Madsen, and Kate Holbrook) of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History  (The Church Historian’s Press, 2016). He is also a general editor for the Joseph Smith Papers and he has authored or co-authored multiple award-winning books. He received his Ph.D in American history from Notre Dame in 2006.

While the initial reason for creating the Church Historian?s Press in 2006 was to provide a publisher for The Joseph Smith Papers (hereafter JSP), the proposal contemplated that the ?imprint could also be utilized in the future for the publishing of other approved Church history works of highest quality.? With the publication of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women?s History, that day has arrived. The First Fifty Years of Relief Society is the first volume published by the Church Historian?s Press outside of the JSP, signaling the commitment of the Church to Mormon women?s history.

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The New Early Mormon Missionaries Database

By February 8, 2016


Matthew McBride is the Web Content Manager of the Church History Department, author of A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple, and a graduate student at the University of Utah.

Over 30 years ago, Mel Bashore began to create a list of Mormons who migrated to the Great Basin, pre-railroad. According to legend, the ?database? was stored for years in a Word document. Eventually, the data was made available on the web as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travels database. In addition to becoming an instant hit with family historians, the database has become an indispensable resource for historians of 19th-century Mormonism and sparked scholarship on the trail experience.

The pioneer database began as an incomplete set of data gathered by Bashore and other researchers?tens of thousands of trail pioneers were unaccounted for. With time and the help of missionaries and the community of family historians and trail scholars, it has grown by thousands of pioneers to become far more comprehensive. This combination of crowd sourcing and careful verification (which continues under the leadership of Marie Erickson at the CHL) was the model that inspired the new Early Mormon Missionaries Database, launched last Thursday at RootsTech.

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Understanding “Interest” in Joseph Smith’s Original Tithing Revelation

By February 2, 2016


We’re pleased to present this guest post from Sam Brunson, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, regular blogger at By Common Consent, and tax and business law geek extraordinaire. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.31.42 PMBoth in and out of the church, people are fascinated by tithing. On the one hand, according to Pres. Kimball, ?it?s not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect.? On the other hand, while one-tenth is precise and easy to calculate, the church never defines what ?income? means, leading to internal debates over, among other things whether we should pay on our gross or net income and whether we tithe on barter or gifts we receive.

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Guest Post: 1923 Photographs of the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript

By August 28, 2015



Robin Scott Jensen is the mastermind behind the Joseph Smith Papers’ Revelations and Translations Series, which just released its third volume reproducing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Jeffrey G. Cannon is the JSP’s photo archivist and as such is the point man for the numerous textual and contextual illustrations that appear in JSP volumes. When R3 was released, photographs of Joseph Smith’s seer stone dominated attention here on the blog. This guest post sheds light on the history of the printer’s manuscript by focusing on the 1923 effort to photograph the entire manuscript for conservation purposes and the recent addition of the complete set of 1923 photos to the JSP website.

With all the excitement about seer stones in the weeks since the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was released, it is easy to overlook the fact that the volume also contains hundreds of high-quality, full-color photographs of the printer?s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Another set of important images was also recently posted exclusively to the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.

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Mormonism and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America

By April 20, 2015


Today’s post comes from Bradley Kime, who will graduate this spring with a Masters in history rom Utah State University. Bradley has published in the Journal of Mormon History and is an editorial fellow at the Western Historical Quarterly.  He will begin his PhD program in religious studies at the University of Virginia this fall (WAHOOWA!).

For the last few years, Stephen Webb has generously praised LDS Christo-centrism. Back in 2012, before the publication of his Mormon Christianity[1], he offered the First Things crowd a positive take on Mormonism?s eternally embodied Savior titled ?Mormonism Obsessed with Christ.? When First Things recently posted the article on their Facebook feed, the 108 comments (and counting), almost entirely from creedal Christians across the Protestant-Catholic spectrum, were overwhelmingly negative. One comment summed up the general consensus: ?You know who else was obsessed with Christ? Arius.? In other words, earnestness doesn?t equal orthodoxy, and calling a spade a spade is important. Almost as a chorus, First Things readers reaffirmed that the Mormon Christ was a heresy, notwithstanding Webb?s misguided generosity.

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Guest Post: From the Archives: Missionary Work, Race, and the Priesthood and Temple Ban in Brazil, circa 1977-78 (Part II)

By April 3, 2015


This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.

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The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.

This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don?t know what percentage it was, but it couldn?t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to ?remove? his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy.

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