Word is spreading that B. Carmon Hardy, one of the stalwarts of the Mormon History Association, passed away on December 21st. (Details are still forthcoming; I will provide a link to an obituary when one becomes available.) This caps off a rough year for the world of Mormon history, as we’ve already lost Ronald Walker, Milton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. Professor Hardy received his PhD in history from Wayne State University in Detroit and, after a brief stint at Brigham Young University, spent a productive career at California State University, Fullerton. Like most Mormon historians of his generation, Hardy built his reputation on non-Mormon topics—including co-authoring a well-received textbook on world history—before turning his attention to Mormonism later in his career. While his earliest work was on Mormon colonies in Mexico (see this overlooked Pacific History Review article on the topic), he made his biggest mark on the history of Mormon polygamy.
Hardy is best known for his two books, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (University of Illinois Press, 1992) and Doing the Works of Abraham, Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007), the latter being part of the Kingdom in the West Series. Solemn Covenant explored how Mormons handled the end of polygamy, and he used historical, social, and psychological tools to do so; it was multi-disciplinary before multi-disciplinary became the buzzword of Mormon studies. Two decades later, Solemn Covenant has yet to be surpassed in covering post-manifesto polygamy. His other major work, Doing the Works of Abraham, is an excellent example of a documentary history that blends helpful primary sources with incisive analysis; the wide-sweeping book is a blend of a monograph and a document collection. Historians who deal with Mormon polygamy would be foolish not to engage its contents. It remains not only the best documentary history of the topic, but also one of the five most important books on polygamy overall.
If you do not have the time or resources to dig into either books, there are plenty of articles that capture his arguments. His 1980 Utah Historical Quarterly article on John Taylor Jr. and Matthias Cowley (co-authored with Victor Jorgensen), “The Taylor-Cowley Affair and the Watershed of Mormon History,” shares some of the historical arguments of Solemn Covenant, while his 1991 Dialogue essay, “Self Blame and the Manifesto,” demonstrates his careful psychological considerations. For the earlier historical period, Hardy’s 1994 Journal of Mormon History article, “Lords of Creation: Polygamy, the Abrahamic Household, and Mormon Patriarchy,” is a very powerful and exhaustive engagement with Mormonism’s polygamous and patriarchal theology and its cultural implications. It is one of the first articles I recommend to people who are interested in a deeper examination of the topic. And in his Dialogue personal essay, “Polygamy, Mormonism, and Me,” Hardy confesses his personal struggle with studying polygamy and how it fit into his own faith journey.
I never had the privilege to meet Carmon Hardy, which I regret. But his work has been very influential for a generation of scholars. I don’t agree with a lot of his conclusions, but I constantly find myself engaging with his ideas. For instance, his essay “Lying for the Lord,” which appears as an appendix in Solemn Covenant and mixes ethical and historical analyses, is one that I still struggle with. (We dissected it in a graduate-level Mormon history course at BYU, and I am still haunted by its arguments.) He wasn’t provocative for the sake of provocation, but provocative for the cause of further dialogue. He was an exhaustive researcher, careful thinker, and forceful writer. The Mormon history community was blessed by his contributions.