Roundtable on Quincy Newell’s *Your Sister in the Gospel*: YOUR SISTER, JANE

By June 25, 2019

This is the second 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). Read the first post here. (I would alternately title itPerhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps—if anyone out there needed a Cake reference.)

Image result for jane manning james

There is much to appreciate in Quincy Newell’s new biography of Jane Manning James. She has masterfully fleshed out an illuminating and complex narrative of a paradoxical life marked by documentary absence more than presence, more atypical than common. Quoting what was perhaps Jane’s final plea for participation in temple rites to Joseph F. Smith—Latter-day Saint church president, the title offers the motivating paradox

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Roundtable on Quincy Newell’s *Your Sister in the Gospel*: Scholarly Humility and Scholarly Innovation

By June 23, 2019

This is the first 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). Look for more posts in the coming week!

Quincy Newell’s biography of Jane Manning James is a concise, informative study of one of the best-known Latter-day Saints of African descent. It is not the first study, nor the last, to examine Jane’s life and faith.[i] Born a free woman in Connecticut and buried a free woman in Salt Lake City, Jane James’ experiences are a crucial part of any study of Mormonism and people of African descent. Newell notes in the introduction that Jane’s life is “comparatively well-documented…she left multiple accounts narrating her personal history, some of which were published during her lifetime, and she appears in many other sources, including other people’s diaries, meeting minutes, and church and government records” (1). Despite the presence of these sources, many parts of Jane’s life remain mysterious to historians.

For all the words left behind by Jane, or about Jane, two words repeatedly used by Newell stick out to me.



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DH and the Woman’s Exponent

By June 14, 2019

“The techno-revolution has begun! Soon, robots will scour women’s words and discover the truth about everything.” Or, at least, that’s what I imagine Brigham Young would have said if he had read the University of Utah’s Digital Matters Lab and BYU’s Office of Digital Humanities’ preliminary report on topic modeling the Woman’s Exponent. Sounds like something he’d say.

The “Quick and Dirty Topic Model” is a sneak-peek at a larger project that will be released with Better Days 2020, which is the sesquicentennial celebration of women’s suffrage and the centennial of the 19th Amendment. It sounds like the results of the later slow and thorough topic model will be released in a digital and explorable format with the Better Days celebrations.

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2020 Church History Symposium CFP: Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts

By June 13, 2019

Church History Symposium, 2020

Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts

The Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU and the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announce the Church History Symposium, March 12–13, 2020. The symposium will convene at Brigham Young University (March 12) and at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City (March 13). Keynote speakers include Sheri Dew and Richard Lyman Bushman (March 12), and President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (March 13).

We invite scholars of all backgrounds and career stages to submit proposals specifically addressing the broad theme of “Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts.” Topics that could be explored under this theme include, but are not exclusive to, the following:

  • Joseph Smith’s First Vision and subsequent visions
  • Latter-day Saint visionaries
  • Other visionaries
  • Presbyterianism and Methodism and the First Vision
  • Unusual excitement—this is typically described as “revivals” without a clear sense of what that meant to Joseph Smith and his peers
  • Women and the First Vision—does it mean something different to women than to men? (see Susa Young Gates in April 1920 Improvement Era)
  • Youth and the First Vision (see MIA speech contests around turn of 20th century; BYU centennial celebration in 1920)
  • J. Reuben Clark’s 1938 statement that religious educators must assent to the First Vision as a historical event—context and implications
  • How the First Vision has been used in general conference (frequency/emphasis/change over time, etc.)
  • How the First Vision has been used in Church curriculum
  • How the First Vision has been used in missionary work
  • How the gospel topic essay “First Vision Accounts” has been used in classrooms and what difference, if any, has it made for students
  • Context and content of Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account
  • Context and content of Orson Hyde’s German translation
  • Context of other contemporary accounts
  • Who did Joseph tell and when?
  • Theological content of the First Vision
  • Music and the First Vision
  • Art and the First Vision
  • Cinema and the First Vision
  • Pageants and the First Vision
  • Joseph Smith among visionaries—how is he alike and different
  • Provenance of the accounts
  • Antagonists of the First Vision—arguments against it

Proposals should consist of a brief abstract (no more than 500 words) and a current CV. Proposals may be sent to any member of the symposium organizing committee (see below). Deadline for submission is September 15, 2019. Notification of acceptance will be given by October 15, 2019. Selected papers will be published by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book following the symposium.


Alexander L. Baugh, PhD

Chair, Church History and Doctrine, BYU

Steven C. Harper, PhD

Professor, Church History and Doctrine, BYU

Brent M. Rogers, PhD

Associate Managing Historian, Joseph Smith Papers

Benjamin C. Pykles, PhD

Historic Sites Curator, Church History Department

Brent R. Nordgren

Operations and Production Supervisor, Religious Studies Center, BYU

2020 Mormon History Association CFP: Visions, Restoration, and Movements

By June 11, 2019

 The 55th Annual Conference of the Mormon History Association will be held June 4-7, 2020, in Rochester/Palmyra, New York. The 2020 conference theme, “Visions, Restoration, and Movements” commemorates the 200th anniversary of Mormonism’s birth in upstate New York. Joseph Smith’s religious movement has grown from a fledgling frontier faith to a diverse set of religious and cultural traditions functioning across the globe. Members of Mormonism’s many branches are found among people of different colors, languages, and nationalities. Consequently, Mormonism shapes and has shaped the lives of millions of adherents and their neighbors from its founding to the present.

People from all of Mormonism’s branches have proven visionary in building their congregations across the globe, in humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering and rebuild communities, in political activism, caring for the environment, and other actions which sometimes push back against accepted traditions, policies and structures.  Transformational activism was a key feature of Mormonism from the beginning, born as it was in a landscape of peoples and movements who changed the world around them– constructing the Erie Canal, “burning” with religious fervor in the Second Great Awakening, nurturing abolitionists and the fight for Black liberation, and producing the struggle for women’s rights and suffrage.

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Hark Lay Wales Grave Dedication: Notes and Reflections

By June 10, 2019

On Memorial Day in 2019, 50-60 people gathered to participate in a monument dedication for Hark Lay Wales, a formerly enslaved African American man buried in Utah’s Union Cemetery. Wales, pronounced either like “whales” or “Wallace,” depending upon the person you speak to, lived and died in Utah Territory. He was enslaved by the William Lay family who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mississippi. Wales entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with the first company of Latter-day Saints.

There is no definitive, published proof that he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though sources have told Juvenile Instructor that information will be forthcoming on which suggest Hark may have identified as a Latter-day Saint at some point in his life. For a full overview of Hark’s life, please consult this piece by Amy Tanner Thiriot on Keepapitchinin.

The program preceding the dedication was remarkable for several reasons. First, it was presided over, guided by, and featured nearly all Black speakers, both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint. Many of Utah’s and the LDS Church’s best and brightest spoke or sang at the event, including Robert and Alice Faulkner Burch,  Marlin Lynch III, Tekulve Jackson-Vann, Salt Lake City Fire Chief Jeff Thomas, Yahosh Bonner, Utah State Representative Sandra Hollins, David Hollins, Andra Johnson, Nate Byrd, & Byron Williams, and the lone white speaker, Sheri Orton. Robert Burch dedicated the grave through prayer and Melodie Jackson, Garrett Whiting, and Sierra Rose unveiled the headstone.

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MHA Awards 2019

By June 9, 2019

Congratulations to all of the winners! JI-ers are in bold.

Individual Awards

Leonard J. Arrington Award: Kathleen Flake

Special Citation: Larry H. Miller, Gail Miller, and Kim Wilson

Book Awards

Best Book: Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Best Book Honorable Mentions: Colleen McDannell, Sister Saints: Mormon Women since the End of Polygamy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); James Swensen, In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).

Best Biography: Daniel P. Stone, William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).

Best International Book: James A. Toronto, Eric R. Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer, Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018).

Best International Book Honorable Mention: Julie K. Allen, Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity 1850-1920 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2018).

Best Person History/Memoir: Vella Neil Evans, My Father’s People: Journeys Across a Landscape of Hope (Self-Published)

Article Awards

Best Article: Matthew McBride. “’Female Brethren’: Gender Dynamics in a Newly Integrated Missionary Force, 1898-1915.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4 (October 2018): 40-67.

Best Article on Mormon Women’s History: Kathryn H. Shirts. “The Role of Susa Young Gates and Leah Dunford Widtsoe in the Historical Development of the Priesthood-Motherhood Model.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 2 (April 2018): 104-139.

Best Article on International Mormonism: Erik J. Freeman, “’True Christianity’: The Flowering and Fading of Mormonism and Romantic Socialism in Nineteenth-Century France.” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 2 (April 2018): 75-103. 

Article Award of Excellence: Joseph R. Stuart. “’A More Powerful Effect upon the Body’: Early Mormonism’s Theory of Racial Redemption and American Religious Theories of Race.”Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 87, no. 3 (September 2018): 768-796.

JMH Article Award: William G. Hartley, “Brethren, It’s the Last Day of the Month’: A History of Ward Teaching, 1912-1963,” 44/4.

Student Awards

Best Dissertation Award: Megan Ann Stanton, “All in the Family: Ecclesiastical Authority and Family Theology in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Best Unpublished Graduate Student Paper: David Dmitri Hurlbut, “Unmasking a Peculiar People: The Entry of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into Mission in Southeastern Nigeria, 1962-1966” (Boston University)

Review: The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays on Mormon Environmental History

By May 27, 2019

Jedediah S. Rogers and Matthew C. Godfrey, eds., The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays on Mormon Environmental History (Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 2019).

Reviewed by Jon England, Ph.D. Candidate at Arizona State University

            In April of 2013, Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Seventy gave a lecture at the University of Utah’s Wallace Stegner Center Symposium. In his lecture, titled “Righteous Dominion and Compassion for the Earth,” Nash explained that the Mormon environmental ethic revolves around the concept of “stewardship” and the need to care for God’s creations. Coincidentally, just a few months later, historians Jedediah Rogers and Matthew Godfrey began exploring the possibility of a book on Mormon environmental history. The result is The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden, a collection of essays from both established scholars and young historians of Mormon environmental history.

Book Cover

            In the first essay, Rogers takes us through the historiography of Mormon environmental history and identifies some of the gaps. He references Lynn White Jr.’s 1967 assertion that Christianity is to blame for environmental degradation. This has become a central debate in environmental history, and each author approaches it through the context of their various subjects. Sara Dant gets at the roots of Mormon environmental ethics by questioning the legitimacy of a Brigham Young quote: “There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out of the canyons, nor the timber that grows on the hills. These belong to the people: all the people.”[1] I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that she reminds historians to double check their sources. She also identifies the tension within the Mormon environmental ethic between communal stewardship and a market economy. Thomas Alexander’s “Lost Memory and Environmentalism” works to confirm Dant’s conclusion. Mormon settlers began with an environmental ethic (a bit of a misguided ethic, but an ethic nonetheless), which they forgot as they secularized their sense of entrepreneurship. As a result, the Wasatch Front environment suffered with overgrazing, air pollution, and a decline of native species.

            Most environmental histories of the Latter-day Saints deal with their time in Utah and settling the West. Matthew Godfrey, however, shows that over a decade before Brigham Young attempted to make the “desert blossom as a rose” in northern Utah, Joseph Smith was teaching the Saints to do the same thing in Missouri. And Brett Dowdle provides an insightful look at how American Mormon missionaries in England and British converts in the U.S. perceived new environments.

            Richard Francaviglia takes us back to the Great Basin and posits that Mormons used and created maps that show how they viewed the land they were settling. These maps obviously proved essential in building cities, but also expressed the vision Mormons had for their settlements. Betsy Gaines Quammen delves into land policy with an examination of the history and founding of Zion National Park. She convincingly asserts that Thoreauvian ideals of wholesome nature converged harmoniously (for the most part) in Zion with Mormon perceptions of practical wilderness use. Jeff Nichol’s essay, however, argues that the Mormon sense of stewardship had its limits. Echoing Dant and Alexander, Nichol exposes the tensions within Mormon environmental thought of communitarian ideals and market successes within the context of the livestock industry. Communal projects, such as shared ranges, helped establish Mormon communities, but overgrazing became more prolific as Utah moved toward a market economy. Overgrazing livestock changed the local environment in disastrous ways.

            Another way Mormons changed their environment was through irrigation. Brian Frehner complicates the history of reclamation projects with the story of St. Thomas, Nevada. Mormons founded St. Thomas in 1865, and for decades struggled to keep it afloat only to watch it literally sink under the waters of Lake Mead in 1938. In 2002 however, remnants of the town reappeared due to the diminished flow of the Colorado River. The story of St. Thomas is one of both success and failure and shows that reclamation projects never fully accomplished their purpose to control nature in the Southwest.

            The last few essays focus on the diminishing agrarian culture of the Church through the twentieth century.  Brian Cannon shows that this change came despite Mormon leaders’ efforts to keep the Church’s agrarian identity. Nathan Waite illustrates how Church president Spencer W. Kimball looked to preserve the connection between the land and the Church by encouraging members to maintain gardens. Rebecca Anderson offers a fascinating look at the history of place and memory by comparing Ensign Peak to the gravel pits that line Beck Street just to the north. While Ensign Peak represents the early Mormon vision of what Zion could become, the gravel pits show the reality of development.

            George Handley provides a fitting conclusion to this collection with a summation of what Mormonism has to offer environmentalism. He also identifies what’s at stake. Mormonism has yet to embrace its own environmental ethic in an effective way. Fortunately, this collection represents a possible turning point as it reflects the growing concern among Mormons, particularly among the younger generation, for the environment.

             The authors touch on issues specific to Utah such as over-development and smog, and global issues like climate change, but not in-depth, leaving room for more discussion and analysis. Just as Elder Nash’s lecture (which is included in the appendix) opened the door for more conversation around the Mormon environmental ethic, Eden lays the groundwork for more substantial work in the environmental history of Mormonism.

[1] Sara Dant, “The ‘Lion of the Lord’ and the Land: Brigham Young’s Environmental Ethic,” The Earth Will Appear as the Garden of Eden, 29

Review: Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 8: February-November 1841

By May 13, 2019

The Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Documents 8: February-November 1841 reveal Joseph Smith’s life as he endeavored to build a city and expand the faith that he led. These documents also reveal the interstices between these two projects. Through correspondence, revelations, sermons, financial documents, meeting minutes and other significant documents, Volume 8’s editorial team helps readers to understand the multifaceted growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after its first large-scale transatlantic push and before the introduction of temple liturgy.

In the documents created over ten short months, readers begin to see how Joseph Smith’s life was complicated by the many forms of government that he oversaw. Most notably, to me, Joseph Smith and his followers strove to build a city that offered a liberal view of religious tolerance to any who would live in it. The Nauvoo City Council Book records, “Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-Day-Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians Universali[s]ts Unitarians, Mahommedans, and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration and equal Privilieges in this City.” Joseph Smith himself promised to hear any case wherein any person “guilty of ridiculing abusing,  or otherwise depreciating another in consequence of his religion or of disturbing, or interrupting any religious meeting, within the Limits of this City,” could be fined up to $500 and receive six months imprisonment.[1]

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MWHIT Lecture: Quincy Newell to discuss her new book on Jane Manning James on June 4, 2019

By May 9, 2019

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