Since the time I began working on my current book project on early Book of Mormon reception history, there have been individuals who have called what I am doing women’s history. I am certainly not offended by someone saying I do women’s history, I am not opposed to women’s history. I think women’s history does significant and important compensatory work to fill a historical chasm empty for too long. My Master’s thesis was clearly women’s history, I have done consistent work in that field, as well as the discipline directly informing other work that I do.
However, I’m always interested in the formal and informal categories that we construct to order the historical field and I’m wondering what makes something women’s history? As editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Joseph Spencer, introduced my recent article here for the Maxwell Institute, he complimented my work (thanks) and summarized the article: “how early converts—and especially women—approached the text of the Book of Mormon.” I suspect Joe wanted to highlight one of the things present in my article that is often absent in Mormon History, women. However, the “especially women” gave me pause. That pause has only expanded as I have heard others describe my current work as women’s history.
After one more similar comment the other day, for fun I tallied the number of personal writings from women and men in that article. As I wrote the article, I worked to have a balanced number of women and men’s sources, but never explicitly counted. My counting was somewhat subjective, I counted people, not examples. If I used more than one illustration from an individual’s personal writings, I only counted them once. I also excluded male leaders if they were ancillary to one’s experience with the Book.
By my count, I highlight the experience of twenty-four women and twenty-six men.
For some, this is “women’s history.”
(If you want to check my tally or just read the article, here is a free link at the bottom of the page.)
I know I’m not the first to raise such a question, I think maybe I’m just amused that this is still a thing. Perhaps because I am a woman I must do women’s history. Or perhaps the equilibrium of some is thrown off by having more than a token woman present. I’m am not principally focused on authoritative writings of Latter-day Saint leaders and some have not begun to consider religion defined by the lived experience of ordinary people. I suppose there are multitudes of possibilities (including people who haven’t actually read the article and just think they’re being nice).
In this article I focused on the personal writings of individuals to access their lived relationship with the Book of Mormon–a new Book that some suddenly and radically decide is scripture. Individuals believed that this Book could not only reveal to them the word of God but bring them to the presence of God. No individual reacts in exactly the same way, neither women or men always act in a prescribed or predictable manner.
Including women’s voices and experiences does not make something women’s history, it just makes it history. Without their voices, we cannot consider it an accurate representation of the past. Without their voices, o