This is the third post in a roundtable on Quincy D. Newell’s Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth-Century Black Mormon (Oxford University Press, 2019). Find the first and second here
Newell knows the value of a good story, but she is also wary of the simplistic historical messages that such stories send. Newell is critical of the scholars of religious history who tell only the liberatory story of Biddy Mason*, an African American woman who sued and won her freedom in a California court, and not that of Jane Manning James who repeatedly and unsuccessfully petitioned white male church leaders to receive her temple endowments. Newell critiques this absence in the historiographical record but she is also wary of the narratives that do get told about Jane. In the post-1978 era, after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lifted the temple and priesthood ban on its black members, historians and members alike have searched for racial diversity in the Church’s beginnings. They have resurrected Jane’s story because it highlights this diversity and, more importantly, because it shows her close interactions with the movement’s founder, Joseph Smith. Newell is, however, also unsatisfied with these narratives. She writes:
as a scholar of American religious history, I often find these popular representations of Jane James deeply discomfiting. The stereotypes of blackness, the “traditional” constructions of femininity, and the selective presentations of fact that they employ make me squirm. They flatten Jane’s experience, tidying up the messiness of her life. (4)
Newell’s book therefore serves as a counter to this easy narrative about Jane. It is the anecdote to excluding Jane from the historical record and to over-simplifying Jane.
Last year, MHA’s Face-to-Face mentorship event was a smashing hit, so we are bringing it back to this year’s conference! The purpose of this ninety-minute event is to facilitate conversations between applicants and experienced scholars of Mormon history. We are seeking applications from those interested in participating, whether as mentors or as students, independent researchers, non-traditional students, and so forth. Applicants can propose to talk to people about their research, career trajectories, digital humanities, publishing, and public history, and more! This is an amazing opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation and to receive specific advice about your unique place in the field of Mormon history.
For those seeking mentoring, use your application to describe your current research and interests in Mormon history. Who would you love to talk to and why? Or, if you are new to the field (or not sure who would best align with your interests), tell us about the conversation you’d like to have. Are you trying to think through a research problem? Figuring out how to take the next step to publish your book? Wondering how independent historians make it work? Exploring what’s next for you in the field?
In your application:
• Tell us who you are and what brings you to Mormon history (student, independent researcher, non-traditional student etc)
• Tell us about your research. What is your research project and the questions that drive it? What kind of historical sources and scholarship inform it?
• What do you hope to get out of this conversation? What problems are you hoping to brainstorm or solve?
• What is your career trajectory, what challenges do you face?
• Identify people in the field of Mormon history who would be helpful mentors and briefly state why. (Hint: check out the preliminary conference program w to see who will be at the conference)
Email applications to mha.face2face [at] gmail.com by May 5, 2019. Applications will be reviewed by members of the MHA Board. If you are interested in participating in this event as a mentor, please send us an email to the same address.
For more information please contact Hannah Jung at junghannah [at] gmail.com.
On April 12th and 13th (this coming weekend!) there is a festschrift/retirement event in celebration of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s illustrious career as a Pulitzer and Bancroft Prize winning historian. She joined the history department faculty at Harvard in 1995 and did incredible work to transform the university and mentor students there.
But, as many of us in the Mormon history world know, Laurel was not only prolific author and mentor in the Ivy League halls. She also helped to foster Mormon feminists and upcoming scholars in Mormon history. On April 13th, MHA’s executive director Barbara Jones Brown will be speaking about Laurel’s mentorship in the Mormon history community. She would love to have people send her their experiences with Laurel as a mentor in the Mormon history community. People can do so directly by emailing her (bjonesbrown [at} gmail [dot] com) or they can comment on this post with their experiences.
To get the ball rolling, I will start:
I first met Laurel at MHA in 2013. I had bought her book Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History and I decided to muster up the courage to ask her to sign it. She agreed and opened the book only to find that it was an already signed copy. Oops. I asked her to sign it again because I am an awkward human being.
In 2015, I moved to Boston and reintroduced myself (without mention of the first incident). I asked to audit her Harvard class on the family in American history and she graciously let me do so. This was the beginning of the mentorship relationship that I had with Laurel: she served as an anchor point for me in a vulnerable period for me as I was applying to PhD programs. I am certain that her letter of reference was one of the turning points that got me accepted into two history programs.
Yes, Laurel is a well-decorated historian and Harvard professor. But to me she modelled something beyond just that. During the MHA conference in 2013, I remember watching as she challenged one presenter during the Q&A about the specifics of the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes. Laurel always seemed to me to model a quiet confidence in her ideas and research. She was not afraid to challenge assumptions or prod someone to better articulate their ideas. Laurel managed to strike a fine balance between critical and supportive that we so often long for in mentors.
Consultation on Latter-day Saint Women in Comparative Perspective 2019–2021
This three-year consultation will bring together a cohort of approximately twelve scholars with interests in gaining an in-depth understanding of the history and contemporary status of Latter-day Saint women in comparative perspective. Participants will gain and share critical tools for research, share drafts of work, and propose further avenues for future analysis.
The deadline to apply for the Face-to-Face Mentorship event is coming up in less than a week! The deadline for applications is May 1st (email them to email@example.com). The call for applications can be found here. In the meantime, here are some details about the event and clarifications about the application process.
Why is it called a “Face-to-Face” mentorship?
The event is designed to facilitate dialogue. Your conversation, however, could take a number of different forms: you could workshop a research or source problem, strategize your career trajectory, or investigate an alternative occupation. Do you want to talk to the main scholar in your field about your research idea? Do you want to understand the ins and outs of the Church History Library archival process? Do you want to strategize how to get an academic job? Do you want to explore alternative career possibilities in publishing, digital humanities, public history, or archival work? MHA attracts so many different types of scholars that we have the unique ability to facilitate many different kinds of conversations.
The face-to-face mentorship also means that the mentorship will happen in a concentrated amount of time. Any continued contact between you and your mentor outside the event will be up to the two of you.
Who can apply?
The call for applications says “students” and “young scholars.” I would like to think of the “young scholar” category, especially in this first year, as an expansive category. In other words, if you think you could benefit from an event like this (whether you are an undergraduate, independent historian, or anything between) make a case for yourself in your application!
Who will the mentors be?
It is highly encouraged that you identify potential mentors (up to five people) and explain why they might be helpful. If you don’t know who to ask for that is okay! But make sure you describe in as much detail as possible what type of mentor and conversation you are looking to have so that the committee will get a better idea of who to pair you with.
The mentors will be people who are already attending the conference. So when you are listing potential mentors with make sure you keep in mind who will be at the conference. A good place to start is by looking at the preliminary program to get a sense of who will be there (although there will be more people coming who are not involved with the program).
How long is the event?
It will go from 5:30-6:30 on Friday and will be directly followed by the awards ceremony. We will start with a round of 2 minute introductions and then the rest of the time will be yours to talk with your mentor.
Why do we need to apply to take part?
Some academic organizations pre-select mentors and have drop by sessions where people can engage in general conversations.The idea for this event, however, is to have specialized one-on-one conversations.The application process will help you, in part, to understand the type of dialogue that will be useful for you.
This sounds cool! I’m available to participate as a mentor.
Great! Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you can offer.
We are happy to relay the great news that Barbara Jones Brown (a past contributor to the Juvenile Instructor) has been hired as the new executive director for the Mormon History Association. We wish you all the best and look forward to the energy you will bring to the job!
Here is the message written by Mormon History Association President Patrick Mason:
It is with great pleasure that I announce that the MHA Board of Directors has hired Barbara Jones Brown as the association’s next Executive Director. Barbara is well-known to our association as a former member of the board and a longtime champion and supporter of MHA. Most recently she has worked as the Historical Director of Better Days 2020, a non-profit dedicated to elevating and commemorating the history of the suffrage and women’s rights movement in Utah. In addition to her nonprofit leadership experience, she also has extensive professional experience as an editor, researcher, and writer. An active historian with an M.A. in American History from the University of Utah, she was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. She is co-author with Richard E. Turley Jr. on the book’s sequel, detailing the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre which, through a happy coincidence of timing, she will be speaking about as one of the plenary speakers in our upcoming annual conference.
The board of directors is enthusiastic about working with Barbara to fulfill our shared vision of an expanded MHA that serves an increasingly large and diverse set of members and constituencies. As the oldest and premier organization dedicated to the scholarly study of the Mormon past, MHA is poised to establish an even stronger profile in both the historical community and broader public. Barbara represents both a commitment to the legacy of MHA and a vision of how to take the association to the next level of excellence and impact.
Barbara’s term will begin on May 1, 2018, and she will work alongside our outgoing Executive Director Rob Racker through the June conference. There will be additional opportunities over the next two months to thank Rob for his service to MHA, but for now it suffices to say that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership the past three years. He helped navigate the association through some challenging times, and MHA’s current forecast for success rests in no small part on the foundation of financial sustainability that he has worked so hard to build.
I am grateful to the search committee and board of directors for their many hours of volunteer labor committed to conducting this successful search. I am truly excited to see what the future holds for this association we all love under the forward-facing leadership of Barbara Jones Brown. Thank you for your continued support of MHA, and I look forward to seeing you all in Boise!
The Mormon History Association will be hosting a mentorship event this year at our annual June conference and is seeking applications from students and early career scholars to participate. Successful applicants will be paired with an advanced scholar in Mormon history and discuss their research interests and career trajectory. We welcome applications not only from those seeking traditional academic appointments but those interested in digital humanities, publishing, and public history. This is an amazing opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation and to receive specific advice about your unique place in the field of Mormon history.
The goals of the event are:
to introduce current research and receive feedback
to support students with information and advice on their career goals
to foster talent early career scholars in the field of Mormon history
to help inform people about career options
Each applicant should be clear about their accomplishments thus far, their research interests, and what they could gain from this event. Applications should be up to 500-700 words and should include:
key research questions and methodology of the applicant’s research
scholarship that informs the applicant’s research
professional goals and trajectory
optional: identify up to five people in the field of Mormon history who the applicant feels would be helpful mentors and briefly state why *hint* check the MHA program to see who will be attending the conference
Applications will be reviewed by members of the MHA Board.
Please direct questions and applications to Hannah Jung (or in the comment section below) , MHA Student Representative, at email@example.com. Deadline for applications is May 1st.
The deadline for the Mormon History Association’s annual conference in Boise, ID is coming up in about two weeks on Wednesday November 15th. The deadline is significantly later than usual so I trust that most of you are prepared and have already submitted. If not, no worries! There is still time.
While Idaho provides a rich tableau for the study of Mormonism in the context of the state’s history as a multiracial, multi-ethic, and multireligious place, we also seek papers and panels that address the theme of “Homelands and Bordered Lands” from any vantage point in the Mormon past. In addition to papers and panels that address the conference theme, the program committee also welcomes proposals on any topic in Mormon history.
In other words, Idaho is a fascinating place to explore the evocative theme of “Homelands and Bordered Lands” BUT the conference organizers will also welcome proposals on any area in Mormon history.
At MHA, as with other conferences, proposals for panels (consisting of a chair, three presenters, and a commentator) are much likelier to be accepted than individual papers. The first reason for this is that the program committee is made up of volunteers and shuffling all the papers to fit into cohesive panels would takes a lot of work. Secondly, unified panels enable both the audience and commentator to draw thematic threads throughout the presentations. Individual papers will still be considered but organizing a panel will significantly improve your chances.
I also want to draw your attention to the following part of the call for papers: “We encourage people to organize roundtables, ‘cafés’ in which participants are arranged in small groups to discuss a topic, pre-circulated papers, and so forth.” In other words, a good panel proposal does not have to consist of a chair, three presenters, and a commentator. You could propose a roundtable on professional development issue or under-explored methodology that is relevant to Mormon History. For other ideas look here.
What does a compelling abstract look like? A few years ago JI contributor Ben wrote a post where he summarized what conference organizers look for in a proposal. Y’all should read the whole post, but let me liberally quote some of the most important points.
When providing a description of your proposed paper, be as specific as you can about your topic, your approach, and your potential findings. It is not reasonable for you to have your entire paper written at this time – heaven knows we all submit paper proposals as a way to jump-start future research – but it is pretty obvious when a proposal is written without much thought. As a program committee, we want to know that you have given the topic serious thought, that you are familiar with the sources you will consult, and that this is something that will turn out to be a fine finished product. Put simply, your paper proposal should not be something you write on a whim an hour before you submit it, perhaps with a bit of academic jargon thrown in, but should rather be a reflection of your engagement with, knowledge of, and excitement for your topic.
Both the paper and panel proposal should cover what makes your submission relevant. What will be new in these presentations? What stories are you telling that have previously been ignored? How are they filling a space in the field previously overlooked? We sometimes like to cover the same stories, arguments, and theories again and again, so it is crucial to show what is going to be novel and important in these new presentations.
In putting together your panels, try your best to be as diverse as possible. This diversity includes not only demographic background, though that is always important, but also institutional or occupational backgrounds. For example, a panel on a particular person or event could include papers from an academic professor, a public history employee, as well as an interested observer. And it is always to crucial to ask if your panel could benefit from a different gender or racial perspective, a sensitivity that MHA has recently tried to address more frequently.
In an effort to help you through the difficult task of organizing a panel we want you to use the comment section of this post to network and find fellow panelists. Please summarize your idea for your paper. If others have similar ideas they can get in touch via the JI moderators.
Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward album quilt. Image taken from https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/part-2/2-3
Ulrich frames chapter fourteen through her close analysis of a quilt made by different women from the Fourteenth Ward’s Relief society in Salt Lake City. Quilts such as this were commonly made in the mid nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Ulrich shows that the quilt’s intricately sewed flowers and aphorisms become significant when understood in light of the contemporary writings of the women who made it and the tumultuous social backdrop of 1857 when it was produced. Life on the frontier was arduous and uncertain for these women; two immigrant pioneer companies barely survived their passage to Utah and the settlers already there struggled with implementing plural marriage and surviving near famine. Additionally, outside pressures continued to bear down on the saints: Mormon leader Parley P. Pratt died after being shot by a former husband of one of his plural wives, and now a threatening federal army was heading to Utah. Part of what makes the quilt striking is the gentility it projects despite the challenges that faced the women that made it.
The visual language of the quilt becomes increasingly interesting as Ulrich explores the process and context through which it was made. Ulrich examines several of the individually crafted squares and draws out interesting themes such as the women’s commitment to flowers despite the fact that they worked against drought conditions to cultivate their crops. She also focuses on the women’s assertion of defiant patriotism displayed in Aura Annette Cumming’s folk adaption of the Great Seal of the United States and the eagle in English-born Keziah Pratt’s square despite the looming conflict with the federal army. In sum, Ulrich highlights the importance of performing respectability for the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society despite the widely held American judgment that these women’s religious and marital practices were considered anything but respectable.
In this chapter Ulrich shows off a skill she uses throughout the book and more generally in her work as a scholar; she takes texts, often ones that have been overlooked by others, and shows us the complex world of women behind the names on a page or signatures on a quilt. In the previous chapter, Ulrich used Caroline Crosby’s diary to reveal a remarkably intimate view of the domestic life of San Bernardino. The steady flow of names in Crosby’s diary, as Andrea R-M discussed in her post yesterday, shows us how San Bernardino became a key part of the migratory route for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It is this same analytical skill that has earned Ulrich acclaim with A Midwives Tale when she used the diary of Martha Ballard to discuss the economy of women’s labor in medicine and textiles in colonial New England. In the case of Chapter 14, one of the things we see is that despite the diverse backgrounds of its makers, the unified textile emphasizes their new collective identity as refined women of Zion. Ulrich takes women’s names, mentioned in a diary or on the margin of a quilt, and uses them to illustrate women’s social landscapes.
The title of Chapter 14, “The house was full of females” reflects the title of the book itself. The phrase comes from Wilford’s diary where he was describing his attendance of the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society. Ulrich argues Wilford’s interesting phrasing had less to do with the number of women at the meeting. Instead, “This was apparently the first time he had participated in a meeting where women not only filled the benches but presided.” (336) This observation helps give the reader insight not only to the origin of the title but also to what she means by her subtitle “Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism.” Women’s religious authority in the early history of the Latter-day Saints led to their ability to quickly mobilize and establish themselves politically. One early reviewer has negatively reviewed Ulrich’s book based on the assumption that a book that advertises itself as being about women’s rights should feature less “well-behaved” women. Instead, he wished that Ulrich would become a “badly behaved historian calling out fraudulent iniquities faced by female Saints.” Yet Alex Beam’s critique completely ignores the complex ways in which Ulrich shows Mormon women empowering themselves both through negotiating the every day life of the frontier and of their religion. Ulrich’s book shows readers a pre-history of women’s rights that paralleled the traditional narrative of women’s rights in the northeastern United States in the development of women’s charitable organizations and even the bloomer costume. But in other ways, Mormon women gained their empowerment through developing systems of women’s social and religious organizations unique to Mormonism. Ulrich shows how Mormon women developed their own unique brand of women’s rights through their varied experiences of plural marriage, ecstatic religion, and building Zion in their everyday lives.
The central idea of Chapter 11 (“Synopsis of My Labors”) is what can be learned about Wilford Woodruff’s home life from what he does and does not include in his synopses of his labors. These end-of-year tallies are part of what makes Wilford’s journal such a pleasure to read. He writes, for example, that in 1853 he traveled 100 miles, attended 650 meetings at the tabernacle, wrote 38 letters, and so on. Despite this impressively detailed list, Ulrich points out three main events that he did not include: his wife Phebe’s birth, his marriages to Sarah Brown and Emma Smith, and his divorce from Mary Jackson. The chapter is divided into four parts, each dealing with something on Ulrich’s list of omitted family events. The Woodruffs (Wilford and the numerous types of marital relationships he had) act as a case study for what marriage, fertility, sex, and divorce meant in early Utah.
Ulrich starts with a discussion of Phebe’s reproductive pattern over her sixteen years of marriage with Wilford. It is no coincidence that Ulrich conducts a deep analysis of fertility and marriage in this chapter: its title advertises a discussion of labor. Ulrich writes, “Phebe’s labors were more difficult to summarize on their own.” (273) Ulrich’s discussion, whether through economics or fertility, forces the reader to consider women’s labor alongside Wilford’s more easily recognized (and countable) tasks.
Ulrich then discusses Wilford’s marriages to Emma Smith (age fifteen) and Sarah Brown (age nineteen). Emma bore her first child nearly four years after her marriage (at age nineteen). Both Sarah and Emma represent a different type of class of wives than Phebe Woodruff, who monogamously married her husband at age thirty. Instead of being Wilford’s peers, these new young wives were integrated into an already functioning household economy as dependents.
Ulrich’s discussion of Mary Ann Jackson’s divorce from Wilford approaches dependency in marriage from a different angle. Ulrich notes how divorce in Utah, as opposed to in other states, was relatively easy to obtain. In fact, she informs us that Brigham Young authorized a shocking 1,645 divorces in Utah. (280) Despite the existence of no-fault divorces, Ulrich shows that the needs of their young son James made Mary Ann and Wilford’s separation messy. The archived letters Wilford sent to Mary Ann gives us a (one-sided) view of the conflict they continued to have even after their marriage formally ended. Their relationship was fraught as they negotiated their economic obligations to their son and one another.
The last segment discusses Wilford’s earlier marriage with Mary Webster in 1852, a woman who was still technically married to her first husband. Her marriage with Wilford only lasted a few months because Mary died in October of 1852. Mary Webster’s story fits into a larger theme throughout the book of women who prioritize their new adopted religious family over their existing marital and family ties. Ulrich compares the letters written by Webster’s husband with the letters the Henry Jacobs writes to Zina years after their separation. Both sets of letters reveal an uncomfortable aspect of Mormonism as they show the raw feelings of the men left behind by these Mormon women. The section also brilliantly shows the fickle nature of the dynamic religious world of Mormon families; some informal divorces were accepted, while other remarriages were considered unlawful and worthy of church discipline. The discussion in this section is expanded in Ulrich’s fascinating article “Runaway Wives 1830-1860.”
Throughout the chapter Ulrich’s writing has an authoritative academic voice, yet she consistently prioritizes her narrative over a systematic analysis of her claims. For example, in the beginning of the chapter Ulrich contrasts Phebe’s birth rate (about one child every 1.7 years) with Parley P. Pratt’s six childbearing wives, who averaged a child every three years per wife. She uses this comparison to suggest that “polygamy increases the number of children per father, it decreases the number of children per mother.” (271) This interesting claim is easy to miss in Ulrich’s unrelenting narrative and deserves more discussion. How does this claim work, for example, with less economically affluent families or religious leaders lower in religious hierarchy than the Woodruffs and the Pratts? Did men who were often away on church missions have fewer offspring than men that stayed local? Was there a potential divide between urban and agricultural polygamists? Even within her qualitative framework there is much more to say. She could have, for example, added information about some of the other families that the readers follow throughout the book, such as the households of Peregrine Sessions, George Smith, Heber Kimball, or the George Taylor.
Using the Woodruff household as a case study, Laurel gives us a macro view of the complexity of the Mormon polygamous household. Throughout the book Ulrich points to gaps in Wilford’s journal pertaining to his children and recently contracted plural marriages. This chapter, then, represents a full-length discussion of what those gaps in his journal could say.
Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever.
I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends.
The setting at…”
Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”