As many readers know, the Mormon History Association recently conducted a search for a new executive director. A few weeks ago they chose Rob Racker, a long-time MHA attendee and Utah-area business consultant for the job. I was fortunate to spend a bit of time with Rob this last weekend at JWHA and he seems like an excellent choice. Below is a brief exchange for JI’s readers to get to know Rob a little better.
[Also, consider this your urgent reminder that MHA conference submissions are due in two days!]
What is your own background, especially your intersections with the Mormon history community?
My interest in Mormon History and studies/culture has spanned over my entire adult life, but especially over the last 20+ years. I have a business/consulting professional background mostly helping companies with financial management and systems issues, so the interest and passion in Mormon History is mostly been from an amateur perspective. I remember reading Sillitoe and Roberts? Salamander and Naifeh and Smith?s The Mormon Murders shortly after the Mark Hofmann episode and later Juanita Brooks? Mountain Meadows Massacre. After these and a few other books I couldn?t get enough of the ?warts-and-all? kind of church history vs. the purely devotional perspectives learned earlier in my life. My first MHA Conference was in 1996 at Snowbird and I have been hooked ever since. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie of the diverse personalities, opinions and approaches found within MHA.
What are your immediate goals as executive director?
My immediate goals are to build and improve MHA?s membership systems, processes, and operations up to the level of our scholarly excellence and the quality of conferences we have had. The business side of MHA needs to be efficient, well-executed, and scalable to meet the needs of a growing membership. Membership expansion and growth at a time of unprecedented visibility (Gospel Topics essays) and widespread interest in Mormon History is very important and I am excited to see the ranks of Mormon history buffs grow as well as the core of academic/scholar constituencies. I am convinced that MHA conferences can attract many more younger scholars and amateur historians alike. The buzz and excitement at our June conferences and the pre- and post-conference tours are a blast, and, in my opinion a well-kept secret. I?d like to see more new members experience their first MHA conference and more younger MHA member participation in and on the tours.
How do you see the Mormon history community evolving, and where should it evolve from here?
The balance that MHA has nurtured and achieved of institutional independence vs. support and encouragement from its underlying faith and cultural traditions, and the diversity of members is truly remarkable. I have observed this respectful dialogue and mutual understanding between orthodox and heterodox, apologetic and critical, conservative and liberal, faithful and secular elements sharing a mutual passion for high-quality Mormon history and scholarship extending another 50+ years into the future. As the newer generations of scholars and MHA members move into leadership and build upon the foundation laid, I hope that its remarkable achievements and culture will pave the way for even more civil dialogue and understanding among Mormons and their observers of all stripes.
What do you think are the long-term goals MHA should work toward?
MHA?s relationships with The John Whitmer Historical Association, BYU Studies, Maxwell Institute, Mormon Historical Studies and Sites, Dialogue, Sunstone, FairMormon and other groups, sponsors and forums too numerous to mention should be continued, strengthened and expanded where appropriate.