Signs of the Times

By January 30, 2017

I had a different post planned for this week, but I’ll save it for a time that feels less urgent.

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I’m going to speak candidly and personally, as a historian, a unionized public-sector educator, a woman, a Mormon, a white Eastern liberal elite, and a born-American citizen. (Just so you know where my intersectionalities lie). It’s abundantly clear that the election results and Trump’s inauguration have abruptly ushered us all into a new political and cultural landscape. This was not a garden-variety transfer of power from one robust and healthy party to another. This is not a normal situation in America. I and many others have felt suddenly called/thrust/invited into (what was for me) an unfamiliar activist role, stepping up to provide historical context on our own time, and joining collective efforts to preserve and strengthen fundamental values of equality, justice, basic human dignity and freedom. Last Saturday I was part of a crowd of over 125,000 people along with my family at the Boston Women’s March, and honestly it was exhilarating and wonderful and long overdue.

Meanwhile: life rolls fast = daily routines, family life, cooking, eating/sleeping, mental health/basic self-care, responsibilities to pets, people, church callings, commitments at work as a department chair and on various academic and hiring committees, and occasionally coming up for air from a near-constant rubbernecking of the news to watch or read anything else.

And, teaching, too. This semester I’ve got a night course on historical methods, a seminar on the history of health and health care in America (the final unit, on national health care policy, I imagine will have some new material in it by April), and at the last minute I took on one additional section of the standard US History II survey, which I hadn’t taught in a few semesters.

And for that one, everything–EVERYTHING–feels relevant and raw. Like a fresh wound off which you’ve just ripped the bandage. Start the semester with a lesson on Reconstruction and contested meanings of freedom and the rise of white supremacy and racist institutional structures designed to disenfranchise non-white men and all women. The very next class: proceed directly to the Gilded Age and growing economic inequality, corporate power, and political corruption, leaders governing the nation through back-room deals among wealthy elites, struggles by Native Americans to preserve life and treaty rights, attempts of the working class to secure a pathway out of poverty through labor organizing and strikes, and divisive fears about whether a more polyglot, multi-ethnic nation of immigrants would help or hinder American progress. This afternoon: debates about the proper role of government in industry and regulation, decades of campaigning for women’s rights, the nadir of black civil rights under Jim Crow laws and a reign of terror by lynch mob vigilantism, and American imperialist and military intervention abroad while flourishing the pious banner of a “Christian nation.” And we haven’t even gotten to 1900 yet. Or, in the current presidency, to the 2-week mark.

As yesterday’s post round-up hinted at, lots of lots of smart and caring people are adding their voices to the public sphere where needed. (and it’s needed). Applied theory, applied religion, and applied history are part of our identity as historians and an outgrowth of our historically-informed scholarship. THIS IS WHAT WE TRAINED FOR. Juvenile Instructor, as a blog committed to “situating the study of Mormonism within wider frameworks,” has an opportunity to be part of that dialogue and to help document this unique historical moment.

So: we’re asking for your help and generosity.

1) If you’re an academic in any capacity and you disagree with Friday’s Executive Order suspending entry into the US from 7 Muslim-majority countries, consider adding your name to the petition Academics Against Immigration Executive Order.

2) 2017’s signs are pretty fascinating in terms of their material and popular culture. Many are in ironic conversation with social media and adopt the spirit of internet memes. They’re both like–and unlike–protest signs of earlier eras. They are rich historical sources in themselves.

If you’ve gathered (or will gather) with others anywhere to protest or rally against, or in support of, events in 2017, please send us pictures or digital video of you and/or the signs you made or carried on those occasions. We’d like to archive them and make them available in a simple digital archive (eg an Omeka site). I know Exponent II has collected a 100+ image slide show of LDS women’s participation and if you know of other places archiving images online, add them in the comments. If you email us images, please be kind to future historians and send us the metadata too (names, places, dates).

Our email is juvenileinstructor at

I’ll start:


JI editor Tona Hangen and family, Boston Women’s March, Saturday Jan 21, 2017, on the Boston Common.

And this:

JI editor Andrea Radke-Moss (in the knitted pink hat) and friends at the Women's March, Washington DC, January 21, 2017

JI editor Andrea Radke-Moss (in the knitted pink hat) and friends at the Women’s March, Washington DC, January 21, 2017

And this:

JI editor Benjamin Park and family, Houston Airport (IAH), January 29, 2017

JI editor Benjamin Park and family, Houston Airport (IAH), January 29, 2017

3) If you’re interested in having your signs physically archived as ephemera, several museums and libraries are collecting them, including Chicago’s Newberry Library, Indianapolis State Library, Bishopsgate in London, Royal Alberta Museum, and the University of Southern California. If you know of other places to donate signs, please add them in the comments.

4) Keep making signs. Keep holding them up. Do what you can, within your circumstances. Keep standing with others and finding productive ways to engage. And write your thoughts down on this time for posterity and future historians. This anthem’s been part of my current soundtrack, “Write This Number Down,” by Dar Williams. It gives me courage, hope it does for you too.

Article filed under Current Events Pedagogy Politics Reflective Posts


  1. I always love your posts. Just disappointed that “Write this number down” seems to have been taken down. It’s nowhere on YouTube, although I did find it on Spotify, as well as lyrics in various places.

    Comment by Jon F. — January 30, 2017 @ 7:13 am

  2. Hi Jon, thanks! The embedded player and link still work for me… hmm. Boo. Maybe it’s a US vs. Europe browser thing?

    Comment by Tona H — January 30, 2017 @ 7:27 am

  3. This is wonderful, Tona. Thanks!

    Comment by J Stuart — January 30, 2017 @ 8:48 am

  4. Thanks for this, Tona.

    Comment by Ben P — January 30, 2017 @ 10:50 am

  5. I think this is an excellent historical project. Documenting political dissent is necessary. I too am a Mormon academic. Many of the practical concerns you listed are concerns I share with you. However, politically we are probably polar opposites. For this reason, your post encouraged me to “hold up my sign.” It is different from yours, but perhaps you will be willing to add it to your collection anyway.

    So here is my sign, in the form of a question. Mormonism presents itself as a restoration of ancient beliefs. Given that supposition, it would be reasonable to suggest that some Mormons believe their theology and thought come from an historical context apart from the modern era. Should Mormonism preserve and strengthen fundamental values of equality, justice, basic human dignity and freedom within the same cultural framework as the modern world? Or should it behave in a pre-modern framework?

    Sometimes I think Mormonism and American Democracy clash because they do not belong in the same cultural context, let alone the same era of human history. As an historical fact, Mormonism emerges in the modern era ? no question. But if its adherents believe that Mormonism is far older (a restoration), how does that affect their actions and behaviors concerning their obligations to modern society? I think there may be value in viewing Mormonism from a pre-modern perspective. Is individual freedom at the center of Mormonism, or is it more reminiscent of communal society and religion? Matthew Bowman?s encouragement for a Catholic history of Mormonism can be useful here in analyzing how Catholicism has been affected on its journey into modernity and then comparing it with Mormonism?s relationship with modernity. Are the concepts of equality, justice, and human freedom fundamental to Mormonism, or are they fundamental to the modern era? Or both? Or could it be that Mormonism might be founded on a set of fundamental principles different from those fundamental to modern society?

    I know for most JI readers, now is a time for solidarity around your shared political concerns. I understand that and mean no disrespect. I just don?t share those concerns or see some of those principles as fundamental to Mormonism and Mormon history, and I wonder if there is a way to make sense of Mormons like me and the variety of Mormonism on display in our current political climate.

    Comment by Alan J Clark — January 30, 2017 @ 11:32 am

  6. Couldn’t agree more with the OP – this order needs to die soon.

    Question for Ben (perhaps for another post as I don’t want to detract from this post – but I think it would be good for Ben to address this as it has several of us confused): How did your arrangement with the Washington Post work for your opinion piece on Friday? From what I can tell, the executive order was signed Friday, your piece (in which you decry the church’s silence on it) also appeared Friday, and the church did in fact issue a statement on Friday. I love your scholarship and from everything I know you are an upstanding person, so I imagine there is something I’m just not getting here. Would love your insight. Thanks!

    Comment by JT — January 30, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

  7. Apologies – meant to say that the piece and church response came out Saturday – the order was signed Friday evening at 6:42 MST.

    Comment by JT — January 31, 2017 @ 7:32 am


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