Essential Articles in Mormon History

By February 3, 2011

As I worked on a hypothetical¬†comps list for Mormon history, it quickly became apparent that there have been a large number of important articles over the decades—a point that was made even more vivid in the responses. This post aims to outline the most important, best written, required-for-a-legitimate-overview-of-Mormonism articles over the past half century.

This is a complicated task, for several reasons. First, there is a ridiculous amount of articles on Mormon history out there. There are more journals devoted to various aspects of Mormon studies than perhaps any other similarly-narrow subtopic in academia; JMH, Dialogue, and BYU Studies publish four issues a year, Mormon Historical Studies and Element publish twice a year, JWHA puts out one solid issue annually, just to name the most prominent—and that doesn’t even take into account the numerous published article collections or even those articles published in non-Mormon centric journals. Put simply, there is just a plethora of material to choose from. (See Kent’s recent post here.)

Second, due to the nature of article-writing, articles have a somewhat limited shelf life. For one, articles are often supplanted by books, as the original publication is more of a work-in-progress manifestation. Thus, it is rare that an article ends up standing alone on its own merit after a few decades.

Third, articles are, by design, often specialized and quite narrow. So when dealing with a large movement that spans nearly two centuries, it is difficult to determine which ones are “most” essential. If we were to focus on a specific period or topic, we could make an equally long list for just that category. So I generally tried to focus on articles that dealt with broader issues or had larger implications.

As always, these sorts of lists reveal more about the person putting it together than anything else. My interests and biases are readily apparent (see: origins). An earlier draft of this list had about thirty more articles–and could have easily had much more–but I figured I should get it down to the much more manageable number of 40 (or so).

But without further ado, the following is my “essentials” list, with some of my own remarks in brackets:



Richard Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-98): 183-204.

Todd Compton, “A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith’s Thirty Three Plural Wives,” Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (Spring 1996): 80-136. [I am still somewhat uneasy with this inclusion, though I can’t think of a better article that deals with early Mormon polygamy. Perhaps Fluhman’s recent MHS article? I’m open to suggestions.]

Stephen J. Flemming, ??Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism?: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism.? Religion and American Culture 17, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 129-164.

Steven C. Harper, “Infallible Truths, Both Human and Divine: The Persuasiveness of Mormonism for Early Converts,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 10, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 99-118.

Michael W. Homer, ?Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry: The Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 1-113.

Christopher C. Jones, “The Power and Form of Godliness: Methodist Conversion Narratives and Joseph Smith?s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): forthcoming. [With Bushman’s “Visionary World,” Chris’s article does the best job at situating Smith’s first vision within JS’s context. Also, it highlights the porous relationship between early Mormonism and the broader American culture—a key element in the future of Mormon studies.]

D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844,” BYU Studies 16 (Winter 1976): 187-233. [Though dated and flawed, I can’t come up with another text that goes into more depth over the crisis following Smith’s death. Perhaps include the collection of essays edited by Hamer and Bringhurst?]

Alan Taylor, “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830,” American Quarterly 38 (Spring 1986): 6-34.

Richard S. Van Wagoner and Stephen C. Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,'” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 49-68.

Gordon Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” New York History 61 (October 1980): 359-86.

Early Utah

Matthew J. Grow, “The Suffering Saints: Thomas L. Kane, ?Democratic Reform & the Mormon Question in Antebellum American,? Journal of the Early Republic 29 ((Winter 2009), 681-710.

D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Spring 1985): 9-105.

Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” Journal of Mormon History 15 (1988): 59-87.

Ronald W. Walker, “Grant’s Watershed: Succession in the Presidency, 1887-1889,” BYU Studies 43, no. 2 (2004): 195-229.

International Mormonism

Polly Aird, “Without Purse or Scrip in Scotland,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39, no. 2 (Summer 2006).

James B. Allen, ?Would Be Saints: West Africa Before the 1978 Priesthood Revelation,” Journal of Mormon History 17 (1991): 207-247.

Philip Jenkins, ?Letting Go: Understanding Mormon Growth in Africa,? Journal of Mormon History (Spring 2009): 1-26.

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “Looking West: Mormonism and the Pacific World,” Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 40-63.

[Badly needed: an article dealing with Mormonism in Latin America. Suggestions?]


Thomas G. Alexander, “Historiography and the New Mormon History: A Historian’s Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Fall 1986): 25-49.

Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Winter 1969): 11-25.

Jan Shipps, ?Richard Lyman Bushman, the Story of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and the New Mormon History,? Journal of American History 94, no. 2 (September 2007): 498-516. [Also include Bushman’s response.]

Grant Underwood, “Re-visioning Mormon History,” Pacific Historical Review 55 (August 1986): 403-426.

Women’s History

Catherine A. Brekus, “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): forthcoming.

Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, ?Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842-92,? Journal of Mormon History (Summer 2009): 88-117.

Dave Hall, ?A Crossroads for Mormon Women: Amy Brown Lyman, J. Reuben Clark, and the Decline of Organized Women?s Activism in the Relief Society,?Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 205-249.

Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 1-85.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, ?An American Album, 1857,? The American Historical Review 115, no. 1 (2010): 1-25.


Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology,” Sunstone 5 (July/August 1980): 24-33. [Deeply flawed, but one of the earliest and most influential articles on Mormon historical theology.]

Matthew Bowman, ?The Crisis of Mormon Christology: History, Progress, and Protestantism,? Fides Et Historia, Journal of the Conference on Faith and History 40 (Summer/ Fall 2008).

Samuel Brown, “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): forthcoming.

Samuel Brown, “The Early Mormon Chain of Belonging,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no 1 (Spring 2011): 1-52 (forthcoming). [Sam’s work is at the forefront of the reinterpretation of early Mormon theology—a reinterpretation that could not have arrived too soon.]

Richard Sherlock, “‘We Can See No Advantage to a Continuation of the Discussion’: The Roberts/Smith/Talmage Affair,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Fall 1980): 62-78.


James Allen, ?Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought.? Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43-61.

Lester E. Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Spring 1973): 11-68.

Kathleen Flake, “‘Not to be Riten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon,” Ritual Studies 9 (Summer 1995): 1-21.

J. Spencer Fluhman, ?An ?American Mahomet?: Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and the Problem of Prophets in Antebellum America,? Journal of Mormon History 34 (Summer 2008), 23-45.

William G. Hartley, “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offces, 1829-1996,” Journal of Mormon History 22 (Spring 1996): 80-136.

Jan Shipps, “‘Is Mormonism Christian?’ Reflections on a Complicated Question,” BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 438-465.

Jonathan Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): forthcoming. [Seriously, be very excited.]

Stephen C. Taysom, “A Uniform and Common Recollection: Joseph Smith’s Legacy, Polygamy, and the Creation of Mormon Public Memory, 1852-2002,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 113-144.

Ronald W. Walker, “Walkara Meets the Mormons, 1848-52: A Case Study in Native American Accommodation?¬†Utah Historical Quarterly 70, (Summer 2002).

William A. Wilson, “Freeways, Parking Lots, and Ice Cream Stands: The Three Nephites in Contemporary Society,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 28 (Autumn 1988): 13-26.

Essay Collections

[I figured I would throw this category in so I could include what I argue to be the three best collection of essays available—at least, if I were teaching a course on Mormonism, these are the three collections I would assign. Also, there are a handful of articles in each of these collections that deserve to be on the list and considered “essential.”]

Terryl L. Givens and Reid L. Neilson, ed., Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson, eds., The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (Urbana and Chicago, Il: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

Stephen C. Taysom, Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011, forthcoming).



Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Methodology, Academic Issues State of the Discipline


  1. It was tough to see a few articles not make the list, but I tried to keep it somewhat manageable. Some of the last articles cut were Bushman’s “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution,” and Alan Taylor’s “The Free Seekers”—I obviously already had too many articles in the origins section. I also nearly included Walker and Dant’s Nearly Everything Imaginable to get more “grass roots” representation in the essay collections.

    I went back and forth on including Blake Ostler’s “Expansion Theory,” but in the end decided it probably wasn’t historical enough for this post.

    Also, I was amazed at the number of Dialogue articles included in the list. It became more balanced in this shorter form, but my original list (which had about 75 articles) had Dialogue almost providing more articles than all other journals put together.

    Comment by Ben — February 3, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  2. Thanks, Ben, this is great. (psst, Bushman’s Revolution article is still on your list).

    Comment by David G. — February 3, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  3. Nice list, Ben. There are a lot of recent (and even forthcoming) articles on here, and I see that as a good thing, though I can’t help but wonder what “classic” articles we might’ve missed.

    Two comments on international Mormonism:

    1) It seems that you have to have something on England there, given the huge amounts of early converts from there—Fleming’s Church History article might be good there, though some earlier research (Malcolm Thorp’s statistical analyses, etc.) might be useful, too.

    2) Re: Latin America. Perhaps something by David Knowlton, Mark Grover, or Thomas Murphy? I know the collection of essays revisiting Thomas O’Dea’s book a couple of years ago included some work on Latin America. I think the key here is to find something focused on the experience of Los Mormones in Latin America instead of something on missionary work there that treats the converts as an afterthought.

    Lastly, I’ll just make another call here for two of my own pet projects/interests—we need more work on lived religion (which includes, but is certainly not limited to, ritual, liturgy, and worship), and we need more work on the “ungathered” Latter-day Saints (those who converted to Mormonism during a period of gathering, but who opted for whatever reason, to remain in their home region). Some of Fleming’s research is relevant here, too (esp. his MHS article on Philadelphia), but I’d like to see more on Mormons in the South, for example, in the late 19th century. And I bring this up here because these are the exact kind of case studies that would make fantastic articles—solidly-researched social history that helps us understand what being Mormon meant, and how it was lived, to and by those beyond the Mormon corridor.

    Comment by Christopher — February 3, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  4. David: D’oh! By “last articles cut,” I obviously meant one that I was still teetering on! I did go ahead and cut it off the list, though. Thanks for catching that.

    Chris: great points all around. I am in full agreement on every point.

    Comment by Ben — February 3, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  5. This is a really great list, and a very difficult project. There are so many topics in Mormon History were articles are the only place to go, and then there can be wide variances in quality. Still, we are very fortunate to have the wealth of resources that we have. Consequently, there are invariably dozens of articles in a given area that researchers should be familiar with, however for a wide review like you have here, you’ve done an excellent job.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 3, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  6. These lists are fantastic Ben. Keep em coming. Would be good to see lists in sociology and specifically historical theology as well. (I’m thinking this would also include theological classics like Pratt’s Voice of Warning, Roberts’ Truth, Way, Life, etc).

    Comment by Jacob B. — February 3, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  7. This is excellent, even more helpful than the book selection because it’s very hard to keep current with articles from many periodicals. Two quick comments: 1) in the same Dialogue with the Homer article is one concerning JS and origins by Lance Owens that’s also fascinating and might be considered a candidate for your list, and 2) you need to give us more on why you see Alexander’s “Construction” as “deeply flawed”.

    Comment by larryco_ — February 3, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  8. Thanks, J, Jacob, and Larry.

    Larry: 1) I considered Owen’s article, but decided it didn’t make the cut for this list. It is a good read, though. 2) The main problem with Alexander’s article (and with most treatments of Mormon theology, for that matter) is that he just isn’t schooled in historical theology and misunderstands Protestant thought. Most treatments of LDS thought during the New Mormon History era have suffered from two problems. First and foremost, in most cases they don’t have a strong understanding of American theology—an understanding of broader American themes, sure, but not so much with theology. Second, most Mormon historians of the earlier period did not possess the tools of intellectual or the “new” cultural history, as a majority of them were mostly fluent in the social history that dominated the time.

    Most importantly with Alexander, his problem was trying to fit Mormon theology into neat categories and major transformations. Such taxonomies don’t hold water, and by trying to fit the development of Mormon thought into those categories he misrepresents (or simply misreads) LDS theology and how it related to the broader culture. I could give a more detailed outline, but I touch on some of the major related issues in a post here.

    Comment by Ben — February 3, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  9. Thanks for the work, Ben. Lots of great articles to read and digest. The Owens essay is heavily dated and was inadequate when it was published. I respond in part to Owens (whose essay represents a hobbyist version of the much better work by Brooke) in the Chain of Belonging paper. I agree that books tend to supersede the articles that worked up to them.

    Doesn’t Ardis have a great article on a Utah massacre?

    Comment by smb — February 3, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  10. Ben, thanks for this and the former list–great work.

    Comment by Jared T — February 3, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  11. Thanks for remembering “Pursue, Retake & Punish,” Sam. While I think that event was a significant one, and what I uncovered is important to understanding Mountain Meadows and the mindset of the Mormons at a critical point, it doesn’t have the wide-ranging importance of the other articles Ben lists in the Early Utah section.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  12. Yeah, thanks for bringing up Ardis’s article. Though it may not cover wide-ranging issues like the others on the list, it is certainly one of the best written and thoroughly researched of any articles I mention. Genuinely model scholarship–and this coming from someone typically allergic to Utah topics!

    Comment by Ben — February 3, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

  13. I didn’t know that Gordon Wood had written anything on Mormonism. Thanks.

    Comment by Chris H. — February 3, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  14. Articles give the chance for outside experts to write on Mormonism, like the Tanner lecture. These have offered a lot of very useful context and perspective and are many of my favorites.

    Thanks for the references, Chris. I’m going to try to do as much lived religion as I can when I turn my Philadelphia stuff into a book.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 3, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  15. I really like these lists Ben. Like Jacob B, I’d be very interested in seeing a similar list in historical theology.

    Comment by aquinas — February 3, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  16. I am glad that ?Pursue, Retake & Punish,? got mentioned in the comments, it may not have fit the criteria for the list but it is one of the best articles out there, great work as usual Ardis. I think that “You Nasty Apostates Clear Out” by Aird also deserves a mention, as does “Lonely Bones” by Mackinnon, all though since it was incorporated into a book it too falls outside of your guidelines.

    Comment by Andrew Hamilton — February 3, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  17. If you’re going to throw in a collection of essays shouldn’t Quinn’s The New Mormon History be there? It orients pretty well what the New Mormon History was and frankly has some pretty great papers in it. I love the one of the Mormon cricket story – a great example of demythologizing Mormon history and I think some great papers on demographics. It also has Newell’s essay on women and washings/anointings.

    I understand a lot of the papers have been superceded by better works but it’s still a pretty great collection.

    Comment by Clark — February 4, 2011 @ 12:26 am

  18. Thanks, Chris, Steve, Aquinas, Andrew, and Clark.

    Clark, I considered Quinn’s New Mormon History, but decided that those articles in the collection that aren’t problematic or dated have already been supplanted. For example, while newell’s essay is great, J and Kris’s recent JMH article has replaced it on the subject.

    Comment by Ben — February 4, 2011 @ 5:37 am

  19. These lists are super helpful, Ben. Glad to lean on your knowledge of the scholarly literature.

    Comment by Ryan T. — February 7, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  20. […] a series of posts over the last month or so, this thread aims to give a broad list of important documentary sources […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Essential Documentary Sources in LDS History — March 12, 2011 @ 11:29 am


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