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State of the Discipline

2012 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Articles and Books in Mormon History

By December 3, 2012


Continuing a tradition from the past three years, here is my overview of what I found to be the most noteworthy books and articles from the last twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently ?hot? in Mormon historiography. (Also make sure to check out Stapley’s always-helpful Christmas book list.)

As with previous years, I am posting this in early December and will thus miss those books published later this month. Further, the selection process was purely subjective and represent my own interests; please add your own suggestions in the comments.

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An open letter to political theorists who presume to lecture historians on how to be historians

By July 20, 2012


To whom it may concern:

I’m thrilled that you’ve taken an interest in Mormon studies. I think that there is much interdisciplinary work to be done in this emerging (sub)field and welcome the perspectives you bring from your own discipline. There seems to be some confusion on your end, though, about what historians do. Let me try and assuage your concerns by assuring you of two things:

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Mormonism in Cultural Context: A Special Journal of Mormon History Issue in Honor of Richard Bushman

By July 16, 2012


The last few years have been a coronation of sorts for Richard Bushman–and rightfully so. After a prolific and prestigious career, the American Historical Association devoted a session to his work, the Mormon History Association distinguished him with their Leonard Arrington Award, and a group of former students held a conference in his honor. (I wrote my reflections of the conference here.) The most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History includes many of the papers presented at that last conference, including several JIers. I just finished the entire issue last weekend, and concluded it was probably the strongest JMH issue in years, as nearly every article was at an exceptionally high level of academic standards.

(It should be noted, however, that the issue as a whole was strong in a few very, very narrow fields: Joseph Smith’s thought, Mormonism and political thought, and historical thought in general. See a pattern? Now this is primarily the result of the participants’ building off of Richard Bushman’s own work–a commemorative issue in honor of Jill Derr would probably look much different, for instance–so the lack of engagement with the 20th century, material culture, lived religion, or, gasp, women’s history can, at least partially, be overlooked. But since these themes tend to dominate Mormon history in general, I maintain the “partially” qualifier.)

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2012 MHA Award Winners

By June 30, 2012


Highest MHA award

Leonard J. Arrington Award

William G. Hartley?citation attached

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JMH Roundtable on Writing Interdisciplinary Mormon History

By April 30, 2012


In the most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History, JI friend Rachel Cope put together a wonderful roundtable titled, “New Ways In: Writing Interdisciplinary Mormon History” (JMH 38, no. 2 [Spring 2012]: 99-144). “The writing of Mormon history,” she opined, “has undergone a series of transitions” (99). The most recent transition has been taking place in the past decade or so, as new interdisciplinary approaches have been introduced into the field of Mormon studies. The prior transition, what is typically called New Mormon History and whose shoulders we all stand upon, brought the academic study of Mormonism to new levels and will always deserve deep appreciation. But it was also, for the most part, dominated by the tools common during the New Social History that swept the historical profession in the 1960s and 1970s (when most New Mormon History practitioners experienced graduate training). While such an approach will remain critical to the field, new complimentary avenues are now being invoked, especially from the growing–if still nascent–field of religious studies. This roundtable, Cope explains, hopes to highlight more questions and possibilities by “asking several young scholars to explain how their particular disciplinary lens enriches approaches to and the evolution of Mormon historiography” (100). As with all thought-provoking and cutting-edge roundtables, this series brought a familiar feeling: conviction. I felt convicted in overlooking important questions and ashamed that I often maintain problematic and dated views of history, as I’ll explain below. But in that conviction, I am also enthused to thoroughly repent and correct my ways.

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Mormons and Politics at Columbia

By February 4, 2012


On the fifteenth floor in a Columbia University building overlooking a majestic New York City skyline, some of the most well known scholars of Mormonism (–and me–) gathered to present papers on the role of Mormonism and American politics during this so-called ?Mormon Moment.? Professors and students from Columbia and other NYC-area universities, a handful of LDS missionaries (including a JIer?s parents!) and reps from local and international news outlets, braved unreliable elevators to bring the large lecture hall to capacity on both days of the conference.

According to co-organizer, Jana Riess, Columbia?s Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life had hoped to hold such an event for years. And with Romney?s train to the nomination in Tampa back on track?CNN just flashed that Romney won the Nevada Caucuses by twenty-three points?timing could not have been better. Dr. Riess, her co-organizer and former doctoral advisor, Randall Balmer, as well as the Institute?s staff, deserve heaps of praise for a smoothly run and stimulating event, the fruits of which will most certainly be enjoyed throughout this election season and beyond.

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2011 in Retrospect: A Look at Important Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 5, 2011


(I’ve closely followed Mormon history for only six years, but the previous twelve months were, by far, the strongest year in Mormon historical studies that I’ve seen yet. As always, JI is the place to be for looking at past and present scholarship in Mormon history. Besides the following recap of the 2011 year, Jared T’s perennially exhaustive “Recently Released and Forthcoming” list will appear later this week. Also make sure to check out Stapley’s Christmas Book Guide here.)

Continuing a tradition from the last two years, this post will give a quick run down of what I thought were important articles and books in Mormon history from the past twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently “hot” in Mormon historiography.

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Scholarship as “Intellectual Kinship”: Richard Bushman’s Vision for the Academic Community

By September 5, 2011


In order for the “Mormon Moment” (however you define it) to be successful, there must be able explicators. In the last half-dozen years, there have been few better faces of Mormonism than Richard Bushman. (See, for instance, the recent write-up here.) Whether the topic is Joseph Smith, religious fanaticism, or even the “Book of Mormon” musical, Bushman has been a go-to voice for reporters, and his insights are often poignant and insightful. He is the perfect blend of approachability, reasonable credentials (many of the highest academic awards, prestigious chair at an Ivy League institution), and brilliance. What makes him so likable in the public sphere is not just what he says, but how he says it.

Importantly, that is also one of the things that makes him so likable in academia.

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A New Framework for a New Generation of Mormon Studies: The Conclusion from my Bushman Tribute Conference Paper

By June 29, 2011


What follows is the conclusion from my paper “On Mormon Thought and its Context(s): Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the Tricky Task of Determining Influence,” presented at the conference in honor of Richard Bushman a few weeks ago. The paper spends most of its time outlining how the question of Thomas Dick’s influence has been handled in Mormon historiography, the problems with past approaches, and then demonstrates a possibly more fruitful approach. (A very early version of the paper is found here.) Then, in this conclusion, I use the topic as an example of how new frameworks are needed, specifically when engaging the development of LDS thought, in the next stage of Mormon studies. This topic—and even much of my message—has been trumpeted of late (both by myself as well as others), including Richard Bushman’s own concluding remarks at the conference, but it is still an important enough message that it is worth repeating.

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The Age of Cultural Power: Reflections on “Mormonism in Cultural Contexts: A Symposium in Honor of Richard Bushman”

By June 20, 2011


What follows are my reflections on “Mormonism in Cultural Contexts,” a conference that took place on Saturday, June 18, 2011, in honor of Richard Bushman’s 80th birthday. The organizers—Steve Harper, Spencer Fluhman, Reid Neilson, and Jed Woodworth—deserve many congratulations for putting together such a great event.

Behind the podium in the Springville Museum?s impressive Grand Gallery hangs the impressionistic painting Sunrise, North Rim Grand Canyon (1928). Painted by Mabel Pearl Frazer (1887-1981), a Fillmore native, University of Utah professor, and distinguished artist, the work captures the majestic image of the southwestern landscape. Vivid color denotes that even in the rough, ever-expanding, and imposing land of the Arizona desert, vivacity still permeates the region. ?The vitality of art is life,? Frazer once explained in an Improvement Era interview. ?All great art must have roots deep in a native soil?Things expressed without deep convictions can never be greatly convincing, rarely are they more than bits of superficial pettiness.? Sunrise, North Rim Grand Canyon is perhaps the best representative of her philosophy. While rooted in a precise locality?its title emphasizes the specific time and location of the painting?s subject?it seeks to capture something deeper; it reaches for a broader meaning and more significant message. A critic for the New York Herald Tribune agreed, noting that the work captured ?the mood and texture of the country itself.? This was a painting?and a painter?that refused to be bound to a specific, narrow context.* There couldn?t have been a better backdrop to a conference dedicated to Richard Bushman.

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