Q&A with Harvard Heath

By January 29, 2019

On January 18, Matt B. posted a review of Harvard Heath’s book Confidence Amid Change: The Presidential Diaries of David O. McKay, 1951-1970. Kurt Manwaring has published an interview with Heath over on his site, From the Desk. An excerpt is posted below; click over to From the Desk to read the rest!

What is the most breathtaking manuscript you have personally handled at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU?

There have been literally hundreds.  If I had to select just one collection, it would probably be manuscripts from the Whitney collection containing some of the original revelations of Joseph Smith.

What is the backstory for how “Confidence Amid Change” came to be and what has been the availability history of the diaries?

The McKay diaries have a long history with me.  They were, among many collections, restricted for research at the Church Archives in the early 1970s.  We had sought through channels to receive access as part of the BYU centennial project research but were denied. Through some serendipitous circumstances, conditions changed and access was approved.  During this period, the “Age of Camelot” was dawning and the assumption was that others would see them during this new era. I went through the diaries quickly looking for BYU related material, assuming I would come back at a later date and give them closer scrutiny. That day never came as the “Ice Age” set in at the Church Archives thereafter.

My interest in them never waned but prospects looked hopeless until a set of fortuitous circumstances occurred with Greg Prince’s administrative history of President David O. McKay.  He had been given access to a copy of the diaries by the nephew of Clare Middlemiss, the late Wm. Robert Wright. They combined to publish David O. McKay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism. I was allowed to use them for my project and later, working with Greg Thompson of the University of Utah Special Collections, persuaded the Wrights to donate the diaries and other papers to the University of Utah to augment their current McKay holdings. They are currently available for research there.

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