By June 27, 2018
Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft, eds. Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Most historiographical essays on recent shifts in Mormon Studies point to new subjects of study or new theoretical frameworks that build on, depart from, and challenge earlier generations of scholarship. In Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, editors Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft have compiled a set of original essays that encourage scholars to return to the archival and documentary roots of the earlier historiography. But instead of simply mining those records for content, the editors invite students and scholars of Mormonism to “interrogat[e] documents as products of history rather than just as sources of historical information.” Historians, they insist, should take a nod from “archivists, descriptive bibliographers, and documentary editors” and ask “routine methodological questions of textual interpretation, production, transmission, and reception” (2). Their call here builds on both their own training and the Joseph Smith Papers Project that employs each. The goal of the volume isn’t simply to tell historians what to do, but rather to demonstrate what more sustained attention to the production, transmission, reception, and custodianship of the documentary record can illuminate about early Mormonism.
By June 21, 2018
Back by popular demand, the Juvenile Instructor will be hosting its Fourth Annual Summer Book Club in 2018! This year’s book is Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). The selection of Farmer’s book continues our ongoing emphasis on biography. The first two years, we read and discussed Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and then Newell and Avery’s Mormon Enigma, biographies of Mormonism’s founding couple. Last year, we read Ulrich’s A House Full of Females, a group biography of several women (and a few men) of the movement’s first generation. On Zion’s Mount is perhaps best understood as the biography of a place—Mount Timpanogos—and how it became such a prominent landmark in Utah.
By May 17, 2018
The LDS Church recently announced that it will be severing its ties with the Boy Scouts of America and is creating a new program for all the children and youth in the Church. With this announcement, there have been discussions (here and here) about what these changes could mean for the youth programs in the Church, particularly for young women. Knowing the history of the LDS youth programs for the past one hundred years can help put all of these recent announcements in perspective.
By May 10, 2018
On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth”. On the associated FAQ page it says that, among others, the “Personal Progress” program “may be affected by this change” beginning in 2020. In a preliminary effort to better understand the context for these potential changes, I looked at what has been said about Personal Progress in General Conference (or, at least, has been published in the Conference Report editions of the Ensign).
By May 9, 2018
We are pleased to present a Scholarly Inquiry Q&A with Seth Perry, Assistant Professor of Religion in the Americas at Princeton University and a past guest contributor to the JI. Professor Perry earned his PhD from the University of Chicago (whoop whoop!) in 2013, and he maintains an active research interest in Mormonism, which he discusses both below and in his article “An Outsider Looks In at Mormonism,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, iss. 22 (3 February 2006) [subscription required for full access]. He is also the author of “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 3 (September 2016): 750-75. See my overview of that article here. Perry’s first book, imminently forthcoming from Princeton University Press, is Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States.
By March 19, 2018
As Joan Scott said, ?Those who would codify the meaning of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history.?  Jonathan Stapley?s important new book, Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology explores the history of priesthood, one of Mormonism?s most fractious and fertile ideas, a word that contains worlds of complex meaning and diversity of lived practice about sacred authority and divine power. His work does so primarily by cleaving elements of Mormon priesthood into two general categories, which have too often become conflated in contemporary Mormon discourse and history: cosmology and ecclesiology . Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.
By January 24, 2018
From our Friends at the Joseph Smith Papers:
In 2018, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will release volume four of the Revelations and Translations Series, consisting of Book of Abraham manuscripts and related documents. To celebrate the publication of this volume, the project is sponsoring a conference on the topic of translation and Latter-day Saint history on October 26, 2018, at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. We invite proposals for scholarly papers related to Joseph Smith and translation for this conference. Papers could cover subjects such as the concept of translation in the nineteenth century, Latter-day Saint or nineteenth-century understandings of ancient languages, the production of Latter-day Saint scripture or biblical translation/revision. We encourage papers that utilize the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers to illuminate the ministry and work of Joseph Smith, how Joseph Smith and other Saints understood the gift of translation, and the methods behind specific translation projects.
By December 12, 2017
The following is a guest post from friend-of-the-JI Mark Ashurst-McGee, the Senior Research and Review Historian at the Joseph Smith Papers and co-editor of several volumes in the series. He holds degrees in American History from Arizona State University, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University. Ashurst-McGee has authored award-winning graduate theses on Joseph Smith’s Zion project and the Mormon prophet’s use of seer stones and he is the author of several articles. He is the co-editor, along with Robin Scott Jensen and Sharalyn D. Howcroft, of Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, forthcoming in February 2018 from Oxford University Press.
Early next year, Oxford University Press will publish a major new book on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism. If you are a scholar or an avid reader of early Mormon history, you will want to own and read this compilation.
By June 26, 2017
This is the fourth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. 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.
The introduction of polygamy during Nauvoo has received plenty of attention. Starting with Fawn Brodie’s exploration of Joseph Smith’s dozens of wives, scholars ranging from Todd Compton, Richard Bushman, George Smith, Brian Hales, Martha Bradley-Evans, Lawrence Foster, and Merina Smith have offered interpretations of the complex topic. The paucity of solid contemporary documents and proliferation of problematic reminiscences–not to mention the presence of teenage brides and polyandrous unions–make it a briar patch for writers. However, a common theme has dominated much of the general narrative: Joseph Smith, either divinely appointed of personally driven, sought to extend his sacerdotal connections through plural marriages. Fellow male leaders, eager to please their prophet and capitalize on his teachings, entered their own polygamous marriages. This secretive practice drew outside ire whenever rumors leaked, but internally it caused solidarity and strengthened loyalty. In this traditional framework, Nauvoo polygamy revolved around power and confidence.
Laurel Ulrich’s treatment of polygamy in her new book, A House Full of Females, bucks this trend.
By March 22, 2017
In Part I, I introduced the relevance of “fake news” to the beginnings of Mormonism by looking at the “Golden Bible Chronicles,” a serially published satire of the Book of Mormon published in Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin in the summer of 1829 – several months before the Book of Mormon itself was published. Noting that the “Chronicles” fit within a much broader culture of scriptural parodies in early America, but that it differed in one important respect: Unlike Benjamin Franklin’s biblical parodies of the eighteenth century, Paul Pry’s work satirized an unpublished book. It did so, I surmised, as part of an effort to emphasize (and mock) the absurdity of a boy from Palmyra translating ancient records.