By March 13, 2018
(detail from John Arrowsmith, Map of the Windward Islands, 1844. Click on image for original)
Last month, Elder Dale Renlund visited the West Indian island of Barbados, which he dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. The timing of his doing so carries with it some special significance. As Elder Renlund noted in his remarks, the West Indies Mission was first dedicated thirty years ago, in 1988. And it was, of course, forty years ago this summer that the temple and priesthood ban denying black women and men certain blessings and opportunities in the church was lifted, which opened up Barbados and the other predominantly black Caribbean islands for full-fledged missionary work.
By June 27, 2017
Among my very favorite parts of archival research is the small and unexpected glimpses into the lives of historical figures that have nothing directly to do with the research at hand.
I was reminded of this last week while going through some of Leonard Arrington’s correspondence to his family at the Arrington Papers at Utah State University. Stashed in between Arrington’s near-weekly typewritten letters to his children was a copy of his diary entry for June 24, 1978 describing a retreat “up the slopes of Ensign Peak” with “all of the persons in the History Division of the Historical Department,” minus the secretaries “and Glen Leonard, who was ill.” As part of the retreat, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher passed out a questionnaire, inviting those assembled “to participate in some self discovery” and “respond to fifteen questions.”
By April 17, 2017
For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it’s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager’s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we’re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child’s parable tracing one girl’s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.
By January 12, 2017
When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who’ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism – indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn – never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it’s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people’s prized possessions.
One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it’s from the local archives, and there’s more where this came from. It’s uncatalogued. But it’s a gem, nonetheless.
The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.
By December 30, 2016
It’s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church’s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart’s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
By May 19, 2016
In September 1853, John C. Frémont embarked on his fifth and final overland expedition of the American West. Accompanying the noted explorer on his final journey was Solomon Nunes Carvalho, a South Carolina-born Sephardic Jew of Spanish and Portuguese descent. Carvalho was an accomplished painter and photographer, and in spite of having a wife and three children at home, eagerly “accepted [Frémont’s] invitation to accompany him as artist of an Exploring Expedition across the Rocky Mountains.”
Over the course of the next year, Solomon Nunes Carvalho traveled with the Frémont expedition “across the Great American Desert,” including an extended stay in Utah, where he spent three months recovering from sickness. Unfortunately, almost all of the sketches, paintings, and daguerrotypes from Carvalho’s journey (including several from his time among the Mormons) are no longer extant, evidently destroyed in a fire. But an account of his journey was published in 1856 as Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, a volume that proved popular enough to go through several additional printings on both sides of the Atlantic.
By December 28, 2015
This post begins with a rather cryptic instruction for Relief Society leaders, published in the Bulletin No. 13, July 1981, p. 2, which reads:
Homemaking Meeting Materials:
Relief Society leaders should ensure that all materials used in homemaking meeting are reliable and accurate. They should be especially careful about materials focusing upon color analysis for wardrobe planning. Materials presented in homemaking meeting should use basic color principles and promote an understanding of the use of color. Sisters should avoid “systems” of color analysis, many of which contain misinformation. 
Fellow JI blogger J. Stapley stumbled upon this puzzling little gem; I have a pretty solid hunch about it, but I also invite further interpretation / speculation about its meaning in the comments. The specific context might very well be forever lost in the mists of time, but it’s worth seeing if we can unpack this passage a little.
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.
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.
By April 2, 2015
Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Flynn, a longtime student of church history who currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona. Shannon holds a B.A. in history from the University of Utah and had published four book reviews in the Journal of Mormon History. Today’s post is the first in a two-part series that draws on his experience and presents documents (with accompanying translations) from his time serving as a missionary in Brazil Sau Paulo South Mission from 1977-79.
While the significance of Brazil and its unique cultural heritage and hierarchy of race often receives at least a passing mention in discussions of the ending of the ban in June 1978, often lacking from historical accounts of this era are the first-person perspectives and (especially) documents of the sort provided by Shannon below. Part II of the series will be posted tomorrow.
I was called to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission from the first week of March 1977 to the first week of March 1979. Because of visa problems, I did not arrive in Brazil until October 13, 1977. I was assigned to the Maua area of Sao Paulo during the month of June 1978. It was there that I heard of the announcement of extending the priesthood to all worthy males. The impact this had on missionary work and the progress of the church cannot be underestimated — it was a sea change. Previous to that time the way the church dealt with blacks and the priesthood had been a vexing problem since the first missionaries landed in Joinville in 1926. In the first few years blacks were almost never proselyted but that eventually changed and methods were developed to handle the ensuing problems. Previous to the time I arrived there was a lesson that was added to the regular discussions that dealt with the problem of determining whether the investigator had black lineage (scans of the documents, together with accompanying translation, can be found here). This lesson was given at the conclusion of the regular discussions. I don’t ever remember using this exact catechism style of discussion but we would try to accomplish the goal of determining the lineage of the persons being taught. Missionaries elsewhere in Brazil used similar lessons during this time — in a 2013 guest post at Keepapitchinin.org, Grant Vaughn provided scans of the lesson he taught in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission from 1976-78. Moreover, I would assume that most missions before my time had something of a similar nature.
By March 18, 2015
This post resurrects an older occasional series here at JI devoted to interesting finds in the archives (manuscript, digital, or otherwise).
I’ve recently been reading Philip Gura’s recently released biography of William Apess, an itinerant Methodist preacher and American Indian activist in the early 19th century. While I was hopeful that Gura would note Apess’s fascinating encounter with Mormon missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde in 1832 (he regrettably doesn’t), I nevertheless recommend the book to readers here. As Jared Hickman has noted in his article on “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse” (see our Q&A with Hickman on the article here), the Book of Mormon and Apess’s writings speak to one another in interesting ways, and Gura’s biography fleshes out the meanings of Apess’s corpus of biographical, polemical, and prophetic writings, and the life of the man behind them, like nobody has before.
By January 21, 2015
In many anti-Mormon cartoons from the 1880s (and a few before and after), the Salt Lake Tabernacle functioned as a graphic shorthand to communicate Mormon-ness. That is, from its completion in 1867 until sometime after the completion of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, the presence of the Salt Lake Tabernacle was one of the ways you knew you were in a (usually anti-) Mormon cartoon. In retrospect, the point seems rather obvious, but it surprised me a bit when I noticed so I wrote it up.
By November 17, 2014
And now for something completely different…
A few weeks ago, I introduced my first-year students to the Internet Archive, and we played a bit with the Wayback Machine, which has archived portions of the web since its beginning so we can know what digital environments looked like and how they’ve changed over time.
I also had occasion recently to pull out the files I collected while pursuing my undergraduate thesis on Mormon Indian Placement. I conducted that research between 1990 and 1992, which included some library research trips and a month of field research and collecting oral interviews. It was an interesting in-between time to engage in this kind of study. Research began at the literal card catalog in each library. I had access to computers, yes, but laptops were clunky and large, and could not wirelessly connect to anything. So I bought an electric typewriter on which to make my field notes. I carried a cassette tape recorder for interviews, and after I collected them all, I got some funding to rent a transcription machine with a foot pedal stop/start to help me transcribe them and save them on our home desktop. I backed up everything on 3.5″ disks (called floppies, for you millennials). Thinking I might need to present my research at some point, I brought a camera loaded with 35mm film and took a couple rolls of slides. Now all those things are stored in two very heavy cardboard boxes in my attic. I.e. accessible to no one, barely even me.
Tucked among my papers I found this small brochure from the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, listing ALL of its available computer research databases, most of which were installed on the library’s terminals (i.e. not accessed real-time via internet yet) and some of which required the user to switch out numbered CD-ROM disks manually. I thought it such a quaint artifact of early electronic academic resources that I took the liberty of uploading it to the Internet Archive, where it now lives. I’ve also Flipsnack’d it below (sorry it’s sideways, they don’t do landscape orientation apparently). The brochure was published in 1990, which I guess depending on your age seems like either a lifetime ago, or not very long ago at all.
By November 12, 2014
Although recent scholarship has done much to understand Native conversions to Christianity in early America, asking intriguing questions about indigenous agency and adaptation within colonial contexts, little has been written on Native converts to Mormonism. Part of the hesitance, at least for nineteenth-century historians, stems from the nature of the source material. There are, simply put, few “Native texts”—written accounts drafted by indigenous converts to Mormonism that reflect their viewpoint—prior to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the 1850s through the 1880s, thousands of Native peoples accepted Mormon baptism in the inter-mountain American West and the Pacific Islands. Few if any of these converts could read Roman script, meaning their experience with Mormonism was largely oral in nature. They heard about rather than read the Book of Mormon and Mormon beliefs about the Lamanite ancestors of indigenous peoples. The corollary to this point is that few if any Mormon Natives could record in writing their own interpretations of church teachings, meaning historians are left with accounts of Native words that have been filtered through white interpreters and scribes. That said, some indigenous converts such as the Ute Arapeen, although unable to read or write English himself, used ingenious techniques to turn writing to his own purposes as he navigated the world around him that was rapidly being transformed by Mormon settlement.
By November 6, 2014
This post comes out of my experiences this fall teaching a senior seminar on “Writing Recent History” (which my students are finding especially challenging), and thinking about what that might mean in the Mormon context. And it’s also prompted by something that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said about Claudia Bushman at the Exponent II 40th celebration last month that caught my ear and which I’ve been thinking about ever since. Laurel said that one of the motivations for starting the journal was Claudia’s desire to “contain our anger by coming up with a project.”
By October 1, 2014
Okay, so this is from a different era. Still, I think it applies!
1863 was a troublesome year for Abraham Lincoln. His Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, but it needed to be vindicated by victories on the battlefield. However, Grant’s prolonged siege of Vicksburg and the game-changing victory at Gettysburg wouldn’t see completion until early July.
Those victories were inconceivable mid-1863, especially after costly Union losses at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the previous winter and spring. Lincoln had another problem on his hands, too: political trouble in Missouri, brewing since the start of the war and coming to a head in the summer of 1863. The Border State had a large population of slave owners and had been occupied by a heavy Union military presence since early in the war. The various Unionist factions that arose in the state continued to press Lincoln to support their respective camps, either in spreading immediate emancipation to Missouri or allowing slavery to exist with a more gradual emancipation plan. When a delegation of the more radical faction visited Lincoln in Autumn to appeal for his support, he refused to add presidential clout to either group.
Frustrated with the politicking in Missouri, but unwilling to join sides, Lincoln remarked to a reporter that he had “adopted the plan learned when a farmer boy engaged in plowing. When he came across stumps too deep and too tough to be torn up, and too wet to burn, he plowed round them.” In other words, he opted for the course of least resistance rather than directly dealing with the most difficult of situations—and possibly unwinnable ones— as in Missouri.
Wait—he said that about Missourians?
By January 13, 2014
Or: All Web is Not Created Equal, have you noticed?
One of the sessions I attended at the AHA this month was Session 151, Social Media and History. It featured one of our JIers, Max Mueller, talking about tensions and complications in the church’s “I am a Mormon” campaign, including the fascinating case of one woman whose tattoos were airbrushed out of her profile pic (her profile is now gone, for other reasons). Great talk, by the way, along with several others that reflected on the ethical and methodological problems of using social media as historical sources for researching marginalized groups or threatened voices. In each of the presentations — Max’s on constructing Mormon online “diversity,” Jessica Lingel’s on underground music scenes, Sadaf Jaffer’s on online discussion boards for Pakistani atheists, and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s on sites made by and about Tibetans — the very existence of the sites to begin with, and especially their continued life on the web, is inherently unstable. It was actually a rather terrifying session, like watching 4 canaries in a coal mine (Hey! There’s a pocket of air over here! Oh wait, never mind).
By November 26, 2013
Filed away in the Brigham Young Papers at the Church History Library, there is a document that records the vision of a nineteenth-century prophet. That visionary, however, was not Brigham Young. Rather, it was Arapeen, a leading Ute chief during the Mormons’ first two decades in the Great Basin. That the Saints believed that Arapeen had received a legitimate revelation is revealed in the language they used to categorize the document. John Lowry, Jr., the Manti resident who interpreted for Arapeen, and George Peacock, who acted as scribe, entitled the document “Vision of Arapine on the night of the 4th of Feb 1855.” Later, after it had been sent to Young’s office in Salt Lake City, an unidentified clerk scrawled “The Lord to Arrowpin” in the margins. Arapeen’s vision provides a fascinating window into the Utes’ hybrid religious culture that was in the process of formation in the years following the Mormons’ arrival in 1847.
By October 29, 2013
At the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in June, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt delivered a fascinating Tanner Lecture on “Mormons, Freethinkers, and the Limits of Toleration” (a helpful summary of his remarks can be found here). Among other things, I was struck by Schmidt’s discussion of the occasional moments of agreement between Mormons and Freethinkers in the late 19th century. It was, most often, their mutual distrust and dislike of mainline Christians that afforded them these brief instances of mutual respect and accord.
I recently browsed through several issues of The Truth Seeker, a prominent 19th century newspaper devoted to “freethought and reform,” in search of something entirely unrelated to Mormonism. But as I did, I came across a couple of articles on Mormonism. In the May 15, 1886 edition of the paper, Samuel B. Putnam, the secretary of the American Secular Union, reported on his recent visit to Utah. Among other things, Putnam noted with pleasure that “there are many Liberals at Ogden,” including some former Mormons. “Mr. James B. Stoddard was born in Mormonism,” he reported. “He, however, has a keen and fearless mind, and has broken away from the trammels. He will do much for Freethought by his influence and ability.”
By October 1, 2013
The Society for American Archives month has designated October Archives Month. To celebrate, here’s a highlight of the recent SAA journal.
By August 23, 2013
…or how to hack your summer archives trip and come off victorious.
This post grew out of a conversation I had with fellow JI-er Christopher Jones during one of his lengthy jaunts around the Atlantic seaboard during his summer dissertation research. I have the good fortune to be located not too far from the American Antiquarian Society and could offer him room & board during his research trip there, and since I didn’t set foot inside an archives all summer I was living vicariously through everyone else’s treasure-hunting. We got to talking about archival research method: how we historians actually do what we do inside the archives, and reflecting on how we all get very little graduate-level instruction on the nitty-gritty of how to do this, and how it might benefit our JI community to have a broader conversation about it.