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Reflective Posts

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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Reflections on William Russell’s “RLDS/LDS: Friends on a Shared Journey”

By March 25, 2015


JMH50See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:

William Russell?s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.

His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell?s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with ?affectionately? as the farewell?). Russell?s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA?s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith?s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.

Two aspects of Russell?s essay are worth expounding upon individually.

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A Love Letter to Mormon Women on the Anniversary of the Relief Society, from a Mormon Historian and Feminist

By March 17, 2015


On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Field Trip!

By March 6, 2015


This post is a continuation of last year’s ?Mormon Studies in the Classroom? series.  See the author?s previous post here, on Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom. 

IMG_1295At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, my principal approached me about teaching an elective class related to any of my interests as an educator.  I drafted and submitted a proposal for a class titled ?History Detectives? (no relation to the PBS show), only to find that few students signed up for it.  To make a short story long, I ended up teaching Creative Writing instead (despite the glaring lack of classes on my college transcript that contain either ?Creative? or ?Writing? in their titles).  I had a good time with Creative Writing, though, and geared up to teach it a second time.  (If you’ve never heard of lipograms, you should check them out!  Pretty fun stuff.)

As the second semester of the 2014-2015 school year began, my principal asked if I could resurrect the History Detectives class and take on some of the middle school students that had nowhere else to go for an elective, either because they hadn?t paid their class fees, were behavior problems for other teachers, or simply needed an elective.  I quickly scrapped the Creative Writing syllabus I had planned, and resurrected my plans for History Detectives.   Here is the course description:

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Mormons, Supplementary Worship, and Ash Wednesday

By February 19, 2015


Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.

Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student. 

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Guest Post: Barbara Jones Brown, Remembrance: A Photoessay

By September 29, 2014


We’re pleased to present today’s guest post from Barbara Jones Brown. Barbara was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (OUP, 2008) and is now at work on the book’s sequel. She holds a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Brigham Young University. She serves on the board of directors for the Mormon History Association and on the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team.

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On September 11, 2014, dozens of people from throughout the United States gathered at the lower monument of southern Utah?s Mountain Meadows. We were there to remember the victims of the atrocity that took place in that valley exactly 157 years before, when Mormon militiamen led a massacre of some 120 California-bound emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas. Only seventeen children aged six and under survived. The monument, dedicated September 11, 1999, marks the spot where the emigrants took cover behind their wagons during the five-day siege and where U.S. troops laid many of their bones to rest in 1859.

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Thoughts on MHA: Mormon History, Succeeding Generations of Scholars, and the Need to Move Forward Together

By June 16, 2014


At the Mormon History Association?s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration?it was my favorite MHA I?ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history.

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Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom

By April 28, 2014


As my contribution to the Juvenile Instructor?s series on Mormon Studies in the Classroom, I thought I?d discuss the place of Mormonism in the Utah Studies course, which is a required class for all 7th graders in the state?s public schools.  The structure, sources, and activities for such a class are necessarily tailored to a younger audience than those of the other courses that will make up this series, but I think it?s important to consider how less-seasoned?and more often than not, less-willing?students interact with Mormon studies.

I?m only in my second year teaching the Utah Studies Course, but have been given a lot of latitude by my school (which is a charter school that employs the Core Knowledge Sequence for its main curriculum).  So I?ve put a lot of thought into what I?d like my course to look like, where I think Mormonism should fit, and what I want my adolescent audience to take away from the course.

Course Objective:

The Utah Core Curriculum introduction to the Utah Studies Course says this: 

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Reflections on JI’s Indigenous History Month

By December 13, 2013


For the month of November, we at the Juvenile Instructor hosted indigenous history month. It was a bit of whirlwind with a lot of fantastic posts and content. A few of us thought we would have some thoughts about one or two posts that will change the way that we write about indigenous people in the future.

Amanda Hendrix-Komoto: One of my favorite posts was Farina?s on oral history and the politics of translation. In the post, Farina explores the conversation that was happening between translator, an elderly Navajo woman, and a Church history employee during an interview. Although the translator tries to capture what the woman is saying and to translate it accurately into English, Farina demonstrates that re-reading the Navajo section of the oral interviews provides an interesting glimpse into the mistranslations that occur as the translator is forced to slightly alter the meaning of questions to make them make sense in Navajo. Answers that appear incongruous suddenly make sense when the meaning of the question as it was asked in Navajo is considered.

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Mormon History and Indian History

By November 27, 2013


Todd Compton, award-winning author of the recently-published biography of “Apostle to the Indians” Jacob Hamblin, contributes this installment in the JI’s Mormons and Natives Month.

The problem with Mormon history is that it focuses on Mormons. I make this paradoxical statement to intentionally overstate the case?but there is some truth to it. We Mormons have never existed in a bubble; we have always interacted with non-Mormons. A historian can, of course, focus on the Mormon side of things, and you would expect a writer of ?Mormon history? to do so, to a certain extent. However, if we don?t take the non-Mormon side of the story seriously, looking at it thoroughly and even sympathetically, we will not even understand the Mormon side of the story in a careful, holistic way. (Looking at the non-Mormon side of our history sympathetically can be difficult for modern loyal Mormons, given the polarized Mormon/anti-Mormon conflicts throughout nineteenth-century Utah history.)

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