Mormon History Books for Comprehensive Exams?

By November 1, 2017

Welcome to a new series at Juvenile Instructor entitled ?The Gathering.? In this series of posts, several JI-ers will respond to a single question posed by another JI blogger. If you have a question you?d like to submit, please post it as a comment at the bottom of this post. 

If you could assign two books on Mormonism to be read for a US History comprehensive exam, what would they be?

David G.: There are several that I think would work well here, but I’m going to choose J. Spencer Fluhman’s A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America and Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Both of these works exemplify recent efforts to use Mormon history to illuminate and speak to broader fields. In Fluhman’s case, he engages American religious history, using Mormonism to understand how Protestants defined legitimate and illegitimate manifestations of “religion.” Farmer, on the other hand, uses Mormonism to understand the American West, asking how religion can inform themes that are important to Western history, such as indigenous displacement, settler replacement, and place-making in the region.

Jeff T: So many books to choose from. I keep going back to Sarah Barringer Gordon?s The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America because of its national scope and meticulous research. There are so many projects that can come from that one, and so many topics that it can speak to. It?s the best one-stop shop for all things federally legislative against Mormon polygamy (and whether federal law can regulate religious belief and practice). I also think Patrick Mason?s The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South is undervalued. It?s a great intellectual/cultural study that gets at the logics and experiences of conflict. What?s not to love about religion and violence? The things that these books do well, as with many on this list, is that they use Mormonism as a case-study to speak to broader historiographies in creative ways. They balance advancing Mormon history as well as American history more broadly.

J Stuart: I agree with David and Jeff–there are several that would be excellent candidates! In fact, I wish the question asked about an American Religious History exam in a religious studies department (where I would choose Flake and Fluhman). But because, it’s US History, I would first suggest Farmer, because it’s environmental and Native history that also speaks to religion and politics. My second choice would be Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Reeve’s analysis gets into racialization, as well as the ways in which whiteness could change and be appealed from 1830-1910. In this way he speaks to the uses of Whiteness Studies beyond the working class.



Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. What about Arrington?s, “Great Basin Kingdom”.
    Seems like a good choice if you want something that explores Mormon economic parallels with US financial growth.

    Comment by PDLM — November 1, 2017 @ 5:28 pm

  2. I love Great Basin Kingdom, and I’ve heard some scholars say that the only Mormon books they read for their exams were Arrington’s GBK and Jan Shipps. I’m not sure those are the two top options anymore, but they once were

    Comment by Jeff T — November 2, 2017 @ 10:15 am

  3. Congrats, you have an all male panel! And wow, only one of the five books recommended (two of six, if you count J Stuart’s American Religion slate) is by a woman.

    Reading lists are much like syllabi. To quote Historiann ( ‘Don?t give me any crap about ?I?m not just going to look for tokens to include on my syllabus when I don?t think their contributions/scholarship merit it/fit with my course design/etc.,? or ?I don?t just assign what might be hot, or fashionable, or sexy, or politically correct.? You don?t assign it because you don?t think women are important.’

    I quite like Angela Pulley Hudson’s REAL NATIVE GENIUS (UNC Press, 2015), which traces the life of Lucy Stanton. Hudson deals adroitly with questions of racial identity and performance, gender, healing, and all sorts of other things–it’s a great book and should be more widely known in Mormon Studies, imo.

    Comment by Quincy D. Newell — November 2, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

  4. Hi Quincy,

    What would you recommend as your second book?

    This is a fair critique, and something that I think we actively keep in the front of our minds as a blog. Thank you for calling us out.

    The all male panel were simply the people who responded to this week’s question out of a total group that, I think, is fairly gender balanced. That’s not to say that men should rely on women to bring up women scholars. It’s also not to say that representation doesn’t matter. It is to say that this week’s representation was fairly random and could have been otherwise.

    I also wonder, if we were to come up with a more comprehensive list of Mormon history books we’d suggest for exams (that is to say, more than two), whether the gender of scholars and topics of manuscripts would break down as it did in this blog post. We all thought of very political books, which I think is interesting. Maybe a more accurate representation of our gender bias would be to ask for five or ten books to recommend for exams. Just a thought.

    Comment by Jeff T — November 2, 2017 @ 4:03 pm

  5. I’d go with the Oxford Handbook of Mormonism (See my JMH review for more). That opens up a wide variety of viewpoints. The second essay by Daniel Walker Howe sets the Mormons in US history extremely well.

    Then I’d go with Sarah Gordon as well. That period sums up what most people know as the Mormon dealings in US History.

    Comment by Terry H — November 3, 2017 @ 3:08 pm

  6. Hi Jeff T?

    The thing is, if you ?actively keep [gender balance] in the front of [y]our minds as a blog,? you shouldn?t need calling out. I get it: these things happen. Sometimes people are busy and they don?t respond. But when you end up with an all male panel, even if that?s not on purpose, perhaps it?s worth stopping to consider whether the goal of getting a post up is more worthy than the goal of including a diversity of voices. Yes, as you wrote, ?this week?s representation was fairly random and could have been otherwise.? But it wasn?t otherwise. Shouldn?t you be calling yourselves out before you get to the point of posting all male panels and almost-all male reading lists (however short)?

    You may be right that longer lists would include more female authors. But it?s worth noticing and thinking about the fact that together, you *did* recommend five books, and only one of them was by a woman. There are other books by women that address politics and race (two of the main themes of your list)?Hokulani Aikau?s A CHOSEN PEOPLE, A PROMISED LAND and Martha S. Bradley-Evans?s PEDESTALS AND PODIUMS come to mind.

    I thought about including a list of other Mormon studies books by women here; I solicited suggestions from some friends. (Thanks, friends!) But you?re right?men should not ?rely on women to bring up women scholars.? So YOU do the research. There are so many great books by women out there?if you pay attention, you?ll realize you?ve known about many of them for a long time, and you?ll wonder why you never noticed others of them before.

    Comment by Quincy D. Newell — November 4, 2017 @ 11:19 am


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