Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet–A Round Table

By October 14, 2012

The Juvenile Instructor is pleased to announce a round table discussion of one of the most important works to appear on Mormon history in recent memory–John G. Turner‘s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Turner’s biography, published by Harvard University Press, represents perhaps the apex of what I’ve called elsewhere a “Brigham Young Revival,” as historians have revisited the second Mormon prophet with renewed vigor after a long period of scholarly neglect. In the early twentieth century, historians found Brigham Young to be a far more interesting figure than Joseph Smith, since the former embodied scholars’ fascination with the frontier as the source of American culture and distinctiveness. Smith, by contrast, was usually cast as a womanizing deceiver who preyed upon credulous dupes, whose achievements paled in comparison to those of his successor. By the 1940s, however, scholars began to see Smith in a more positive light, producing several important studies and biographies, while the interest in Young waned. In the post-Civil Rights era, Young’s primary importance for historians lay in his racial policies and controversial theological teachings.  Only Leonard Arrington published a major work on Young during this period, whose 1985 Brigham Young: American Moses reflected an earlier era of frontier historiography.

At the turn of the century, though, scholarly interest turned again to Brigham Young, just as Richard Bushman was completing his definitive biography of Joseph Smith. With the approaching 150th anniversary of Mountain Meadows, scholars and journalists debated Young’s culpability and whether the contemporary church retained any liability for the wrongs of the past. The appearance of Rough Stone Rolling in 2005 invited reflection on whether Young deserved a second biographical look. Publication of volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers likewise prompted speculation over whether the church and Larry Miller would bankroll a Brigham Young Papers Project. Scholars trained in the reinvigorated field of Western history also investigated Young’s impact on the Great Basin’s indigenous peoples and environment.

In this context, John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet makes a significant intervention in the literature on Mormonism. The book’s publication at the height of the “Mormon Moment” likely magnifies and sharpens Turner’s contributions. Over the next month or so, JI bloggers will be lending their considerable expertise to analyze and dissect various themes in Turner’s work, including controversial aspects such as Young’s role in implementing the priesthood and temple ban on black members, his practice of polygamy and treatment of women, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In addition, we’ll look at not-so-controversial yet crucial themes such as Young’s conversion and religious life, his role in settling the West, and his personality. Professor Turner has kindly agreed to respond at the conclusion of our round table.

Roundtable contributions:

David G.: Introduction

Christopher: Brigham Young’s Early Life and Conversion

Ben P: The Succession Crisis

Amanda: “Either a misogynist or proto-feminist”: Women and Polygamy

David G.: Mormon-Indian Relations

SC Taysom: The Mormon Reformation

JJohnson: The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Max: One Family? Race and Mormonism

matt b.: Brigham Young and the Creation of Mormon Doctrine

Robin: Documenting History

Turner: Response



Article filed under Announcements and Events Biography Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Historiography Memory


  1. Get out the popcorn! Fasten the seatbelts! This is going to be a great ride!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — October 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  2. Amen Gary! Not a historian, just an LDS history junky! Stoked to hear JI Blogger takes on each theme!

    Comment by jasonb — October 14, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  3. Thanks for getting the announcement up, David. I look forward to this!

    Comment by Christopher — October 15, 2012 @ 9:37 am

  4. Excellent.

    Comment by Ben S — October 15, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  5. What a fantastic idea! I’ll look forward to the various postings with interest.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — October 15, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  6. Sounds very interesting. Thanks, JI, for organizing the round table. I guess it’s convenient that Brigham Young was complex enough that we’re not all going to get tired of discussing him anytime soon. : )

    Comment by Amy T — October 15, 2012 @ 10:02 am

  7. As always, I’ll have my two cents on BY’s Native interaction. When is this part happening?

    Comment by Smallcanyon — October 15, 2012 @ 11:03 am

  8. Smallcanyon, assuming eveything goes as planned, my post will appear on 11/1.

    Comment by David G. — October 15, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  9. “Only Leonard Arrington published a major work on Young during this period” ignores Stanley P. Hirshson’s The Lion of the Lord: A Biography of Brigham Young (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969). Like it or not, it’s a major work.

    Comment by Will Bagley — October 15, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  10. 9.
    Good point, Will.

    Comment by Kurt — October 16, 2012 @ 1:25 am

  11. […] instalment in the roundtable on John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » The Succession Crisis in Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet — October 18, 2012 @ 4:32 am

  12. […] installment in the roundtable on John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.] Amanda's Aunt Ann Eliza, also known as Wife […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » “Either a misogynist or proto-feminist”: Women and Polygamy in John Turner’s “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet” — October 23, 2012 @ 6:01 am

  13. Hi, I was going to humbly ask that you provide a link to all the round table installments, but I can see that of Ben & Amanda can be found in the comment sections – Christopher’s post is not yet linked here.
    Thanks for your understanding – I hope to get linked ’em all once I come to this page…

    Comment by FrancisE. — October 23, 2012 @ 8:04 am

  14. […] installment in the roundtable on John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Documenting history — November 24, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  15. […] Garcia: Documenting historyn8c: Documenting historyJuvenile Instructor » Documenting history: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet–AKevin Barney: Brigham Young and theBHodges: Brigham Young and […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Pioneer Prophet Roundtable: Turner Responds — November 27, 2012 @ 8:53 am


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