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Biography

In Memoriam: Milton Backman, Jr., 1927-2016

By February 11, 2016


mou0046346-1_20160210I do not remember the first article I read authored by Milton Backman, Jr. It was almost certainly something he published in the Ensign during the 1970s or 1980s. As a 19-year-old missionary with a previously-untapped love for reading, learning, and history, those old Ensigns that occupied so much of the shelf space of ward libraries were treasure troves of information to me. Much to the annoyance of at least a few of my companions, I would eagerly request that we stay a bit longer at the church building after playing basketball on P-day so that I could flip through a dozen or so issues and photocopy each article dealing with church history, doctrine, or scripture. I don’t know if it was the first, but I do remember reading Backman’s 1989 essay, “Preparing the Way: The Rise of Religious Freedom in New England.” In addition to shattering some myths I had imbibed at some earlier point in my life (i.e. “Although many who sought religious liberty had immigrated to those colonies, the Pilgrims and Puritans did not, generally speaking, believe in extending religious freedom to others.”), Backman’s essay tied Mormonism into a larger narrative of American religious history in a way that I had not previously encountered. I was hooked.

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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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Scholarly Inquiry: Ignacio Garcia, Part 2

By July 9, 2015


garciaFor Part 1, see here.

5. How do you envision your memoir contributing to both Mormon studies and Chicano studies?

While all of us want a legacy most of us never do enough to make it beyond a footnote or a family member?s sacrament meeting talk.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Ignacio Garcia on Chicano While Mormon

By July 8, 2015


garciaIgnacio M. Garcia is the Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor of Western and Latino History at BYU. He is the author of several significant scholarly studies of Chicano and Mexican American history and he mentored several JI bloggers when they were students at BYU. Ignacio recently published a memoirChicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith, which is the first installment in Farleigh Dickinson University Press’s new Mormon Studies Series. Dr. Garcia’s memoir recounts his early years, from his family’s migration to Texas from Mexico, his growing up Mormon in a San Antonio barrio, his time in Vietnam, and his college activism in the incipient Chicano Movement. With the Latino/a population now the largest minority in the United States, and Latino/as joining the church in growing numbers, understanding Mormon Latino/a history will becoming increasingly important in years to come. As the first published autobiography of a Mormon Mexican American, Dr. Garcia’s memoir is an important milestone.  For those interested in purchasing the memoir, here is a code for a 30% discount: UP30AUTH15 (enter it at the Rowman and Littlefield website, linked to above)

Continuing the JI’s occasional series, Scholarly Inquiry, Dr. Garcia agreed to answer the following questions:

1. Briefly, could you summarize the main points of the memoir for the JI?s readers?

I don?t know if you write a memoir with main points in mind.

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 8: Chapters 19-21

By July 6, 2015


This is the eighth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman?s landmark biography of Mormonism?s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.

Installments:

  • Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
  • Part 2: Chapters 3-4
  • Part 3: Chapters 5-6
  • Part 4: Chapters 7-9
  • Part 5: Chapters 10-12
  • Part 6: Chapters 13-15
  • Part 7: Chapters 16-18
  • Next week (Part 9): Chapters 22-24

 

32493_000_01_Title.qxdIn the previous installment of the summer book club, Tona brought us through early January 1838, when, acting on a revelation, Joseph Smith (JS) fled Kirtland, Ohio, and reestablished the church?s headquarters in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. As chapter 19 begins, Bushman lays out JS?s vision of the burgeoning Mormon settlement in northwestern Missouri and the palpable optimism that the Saints felt regarding Far West?s prospects. However, as 1838 progressed, that optimism would fade in the face of internal dissension and external opposition, ultimately resulting in the violent deaths of perhaps forty church members, the government-sanctioned expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from the state, and JS himself incarcerated on charges of treason and other crimes. Sifting through an uneven historical record, Bushman seeks to evaluate JS?s role and responsibility in these difficulties.

The internal dissent that had plagued JS and the church in Kirtland in 1837 followed him to Missouri. In February 1838, church members voted to remove David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer as the presidency of the Missouri church, based on charges of mishandling church funds and properties. In March and April, church courts excommunicated the Whitmers, Phelps, and Oliver Cowdery, another church leader. These men had been among JS?s earliest and staunchest supporters, but by 1838 they had become estranged from the prophet. Cowdery had objected to what he saw as un-republican ecclesiastical interference in personal affairs. Bushman uses Cowdery?s trial as ?a reminder of the complex ideological environment of Mormons in the 1830s. Most of the time they spoke Kingdom of God language, using words like ?faith,? ?righteousness,? ?Zion,[?] ?gathering,? ?priesthood,? and ?temple.? At the same time, as American citizens, they knew the political language of rights and freedom? (348). Although JS himself used republican language when declaring that the Mormons would not submit to mob violence, he was less enthusiastic when his followers used it to undermine Latter-day Saint beliefs in consecration and unity.

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 2: Chapters Three and Four

By May 18, 2015


RSR Image

This is the second installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings.We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions. This week Steve Fleming takes a closer look at Chapters 3 (“Translation: 1827-30”) and 4 (“A New Bible: 1830”).

Previous installments in the series:

Part I: Prologue, Chapters 1-2

__________________________

3 Translation, 4 A New Bible (See part 1 here).

Bushman ends Chapter Two and begins Chapter Three by discussing how to make sense of the possible connections between the Smiths’ “magical” treasure-digging activities and Mormonism’s foundational events: receiving and translating the golden plates. Such similarities include seer stones, special treasure in the ground, and treasure guardians.

Bushman concedes that “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture,” (51) but he argues that by 1827, the year he married Emma and received the plates, “magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates” (54). Thus treasure digging played a “preparatory” role in the beginnings of Mormons, argues Bushman, and the treasure-digging elements in the events related to the golden plates played the purposed of Smith gaining his treasure-digging father’s support.

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JI Summer Book Club: Richard Lyman Bushman?s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Prologue + Chapters 1-2)

By May 11, 2015


This post kicks off the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks from now through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings. We begin today with the Prologue, which sets the tone in several important respects for the rest of the book, and Chapters 1 (“The Joseph Smith Family: To 1816”) and 2 (“The First Visions: 1816-1827”). We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions.  

__________________________

RSR ImageI first read Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) when it was first released in 2005. I was an undergraduate history major at the time, a recently-returned Mormon missionary, and an avid if novice and somewhat naïve student of Mormon history. Bushman’s biography was not my introduction to the scholarly study of Joseph Smith or Mormon history, but it still threw me for something of a loop, challenging many of the assumptions of my faith-promoting worldview. Nevertheless, I pushed through and finished the book. I next read it three years later, in a reading seminar in BYU’s now-defunct MA program in history. My familiarity with both Mormon and American religious history more broadly was deeper by then, and reading the book alongside both an experienced historian and several budding young scholars made the book both more familiar and yet so foreign from my initial reading. That a book reads differently to the same individual at different stages in her life is a truism of nearly all books, but it is especially true in reading Rough Stone Rolling.

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Summer Book Club: Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

By April 27, 2015


Ten years ago, Richard Bushman published Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling with Knopf. Bushman’s biography of Mormonism’s founder garnered widespread praise and provoked a number of conversations within the Mormon Studies community. Jan Shipps argued in the Journal of American History that Bushman’s biography represented a new chapter in the study of Mormonism. She wrote that Rough Stone Rolling is “a work of new American history that forces readers to recognize that religion is as much of our past as anything else.”[i] Through doing so, she argued that Mormon history would soon function be used as a lens to understand broader topics in American history and American religion rather than for exclusively Mormon purposes to Mormon audiences.[ii]

Shipps’ review appears to have been, well, prophetic. The past decade has witnessed an explosion of scholarship on Mormonism that historians and religious studies scholars must take seriously. Books by Spencer Fluhman, Patrick Mason, John Turner, Christine Talbot, the Joseph Smith Papers Project Team, Paul Reeve, Jared Farmer, Steve Taysom, Sam Brown, as well as many journal authors, have produced work useable in university classrooms.[iii]

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#JMH50 Roundtable: Matthew Grow, ?Biography in Mormon Studies?  

By April 22, 2015


JMH50Matt Grow?s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.

In short, Grow believes that ?the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries? of the New Mormon History?s call for ?engage[ment] with larger historical themes? and ?greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons? (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. ?There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,? he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: ?More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field? (196).

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“Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs”: David Howlett in JMH50

By March 23, 2015


JMH50

Today’s contribution to JI’s Roundtable on the Journal of Mormon History’s 50th anniversary issue comes from longtime friend of (and occasional guest contributor to) JI, David Howlett. David is currently visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College and author of The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Here he previews his own article published in JMH50, entitled “Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.” 

_________________________

Early career scholars (new PhDs and graduate students) across the country are studying Mormonism in greater numbers than ever before. At venerable institutions like the University of Virginia and Claremont Graduate University, MA and PhD students may even study with experts whose job descriptions include the field of Mormon studies. However, these same early career scholars and their post-PhD comrades face a strange paradox: never before have there been so many opportunities to do original research on Mormonism for so many people who compete for so few paying jobs.

My article in the most recent Journal of Mormon History focused on three ?fields? in which an early-career Mormon studies scholar finds herself positioned: the field of publishing, the field of employment, and the new fields of study in Mormon history itself. For this brief abstraction of my relatively short article, I will only address two of these social fields: publishing and employment.

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