The 2009 Mormon History Association Annual Conference: Notes From Day 1

By May 23, 2009

We greet you from Springfield, Illinois, the Land of Lincoln.  It’s been a good conference so far.  We’ve here combined our notes from the respective sessions we attended. Our notes are fragmentary, but will give our readers a sense of the presentations.


Friday, May 22, 2009

“Introducing ‘The Book of Commandments and Revelations,’ A Major New Documentary Discovery”

Robert Woodford, Robin Jensen, Steven Harper, and Grant Underwood

The four presenters introduced the history, provenance, and significance of this major documentary discovery. To briefly summarize, the BCR is important for three primary reasons: (1) In many cases, it is now the earliest documentary source for a revelation; (2) It helps us better understand the publishing process of the earliest scripture publications of the Latter-day Saints; (3) It provides additional insight into early Mormon record keeping, including the expansive approach JS employed in revising revelations.

10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Concurrent Session I

1A. Nineteenth-Century Latter-day Saint Missiology

1. “A Mission to Danger: Edward Hunter Snow and the Southern States Mission, 1886-1888”

Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Snow’s mother did not want him to serve in the Southern states due to the violence the Klan and other hostile Southerners wrecked upon the Mormons.  The Mormons then attempted to avoid cultural conflict, preaching only the basics of the gospel and adapting some strategies, like music, to better fit Southern culture.

2. “Nineteenth-Century Missiology of the Bedfordshire Conference”

Ronald E. Bartholomew, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Bartholomew emphasized the distinctiveness of the Bedfordshire mission, a largely rural and less successful mission than the western, urban British missions.  Some 89% of the missionaries in the mission were British converts, either local or sent back to the island from Utah after emigrating.   As in the South, the missionaries here preached the basic principles of the gospel to non-Mormons, or “strangers,” and to members, the importance of emigrating to Utah.

3. “‘Closer to the Truth than All other Preachers’: Missiological Analyses of the Turkish Mission, 1884-1895”

Blair G. Van Dyke, Orem LDS Institute of Religion, Orem, UT

The Ottoman empire presented unique difficulties, as the LDS Church was officially discriminated against.

The first missionary, Jacob Spori, served alone for a full year, and found greatest success among German and Arminian Christian minorities.

Matt B, of this blog, responded, and argued that these papers demonstrated that the Mormons were not only perceived as a religious threat, but a cultural one as well, consistent with contemporary Protestant missiology which emphasized the close relationship between Western culture and Christianity.

1B. Formation and Transformation of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the RLDS

1. “The Historical and Geographical Beginnings of the Church in Christ (Temple Lot)”

Jean R. Addams

John Hedrick purchased portions of the Temple lot in 1867. In 1873, Eden purchased additional lots, purchased lot 15, the spot where JS and others had dedicated the lot in 1831, purchased for 200 dollars.  2.5 acres, 1906, the state sold a small strip of land, total property 2 ¾ acres, comprises what they own today.  Early history of the church is fascinating, founding in Illinois, baptized as a result of early efforts in ’31 and ’32, Creation of Bloomington, Eagle Creek and Crow Creek branches, isolated in Illinois, these amalgamated to new Crow Creek branch in 50s, revelation initiated the return to redeem Zion and repurchase temple lot, 142, years later, continues to be headquartered on the temple lot, William Sheldon said, The Church of Christ Temple Lot considers it their duty to be physical custodians of the property and wait until the Lord commands us to build the temple.

2. Bill Russell

“The RLDS Transformation, 1958-2008”

Bill Russell discussed the changes in the RLDS/Community of Christ’s doctrinal views over the last few decades.  The first century of the RLDS Church distinguished itself from the Utah Church by opposition to polygamy, godhood and secret temple rituals.  The RLDS Church began to recognize racial inequality in our scriptures, male chauvinism in priesthood matters.  Bill proposed three reasons for this change.  1) In the late 50s and 60s there were significant numbers of young graduate students. This graduate training significantly affected attitudes about traditional doctrines.  2) We became involved in world missions in big ways.  3) The upward mobility of the American membership.  Middle class people aren’t going to interrupt their dinner to talk about their church.

3. Jason R. Smith

“The Theology of confrontation: How the Identity of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) was Shaped by Its Responses to Other Latter Day Saints”

A common condemnation of Brigham Young and “Utah” Mormonism led the Saints to coalesce into a separate church.  The Temple Lot Church has used the idea of Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet to distinguish themselves from the RLDS and Brighamite Churches.  Several thousand RLDS members left the Reorganization to join the Temple Lot Church in the 1920s.  Their presence dramatically affected Temple Lot teachings.

1D. The Smith Family and Sacred Texts

1. “‘As Fire Shut Up in My Bones’: The Publication of the 1840 Edition of the Book of Mormon”

Kyle R. Walker, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Rexburg, ID

Kyle Walker outlines the involvement of Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith in the publication of the 1840 Book of Mormon.  Walker explains that Robinson, especially, successfully oversaw the production of the 1840 Book of Mormon and Walker labeled the event as a “major success.”  Walker also pointed some interesting differences between the 1830, 1837, and 1840 editions of the Book of Mormon.  His paper outlines the importance of book history in Mormonism.

2. “Mother Tongue: KJV Language in Smith Family Discourse”

Lavina Fielding Anderson, Editor, Journal of Mormon History, Salt Lake City, UT

Lavina Fielding Anderson evidenced the Smith families’ frequent and easy use of KJV rhetoric and further suggested their open and quick usage of the language found in the new canon Joseph Smith introduced. Anderson ultimately argued that the KJV language was the “mother tongue” of the Smith family as evidenced through Lucy Mack Smith’s defense of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith Sr. and Hyrum Smith’s patriarchal blessings.

Phillip Barlow responded to the above papers, and asked the “so what” question of both Walker’s and Anderson’s presentations.  Barlow offered possible answers, but both Walker and Anderson also responded to Barlow’s query.

2B. Red, White, and Brown: Race, Mormons, and Constructed Identities

1. “Believing Blood in the Borderlands: Early Mormon and Protestant Missionary Efforts on the U.S.-Mexico Border”

Jared T.amez, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

2. “Red, White, and Mormon: Race and the Making of a Mormon-Indian Body”

W. Paul Reeve, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

In the nineteenth century, many non-Mormons ascribed to Mormons various racial characteristics. One motif was the Mormon as Indian. Mormons were depicted as associating with Indians, dressed like Indians, acted savagely like the Indians, and acquired skin color like Indians. The Mountain Meadows Massacre cemented the idea in popular imagination, but the description predated the massacre. For example, he connects the “nits make lice” comment from the Haun’s Mill Massacre to references to Indians from the 15th through the 19th centuries.

3. “Gathering the Scattered Children of Lehi: Constructions of Whiteness and Israelite Lineage in the Pacific Islands Missions”

Stanley J. Thayne, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

2C. Converting Women in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism

1. “‘I Wanted with All My Heart to be Good’: Nancy Tracy’s Conversion Process”

Rachel Cope, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Cope argued that evangelical history has generally understood conversion incorrectly, as an event, described as the fire of the burned over district.  Cope preferred the metaphor of rain, describing conversion as an ongoing process, beginning with an interest in the offerings of religion, proceeding through conversion, and leading to an ongoing sense of sanctification.  David Patten converted the evangelical Nancy Tracy to Mormonism in 1834; for Cope, that conversion was consonant with rather than a break from her ongoing religious experience.

2. “Waiting for Her Children: Women’s Conceptions of the Mother in Heaven, 1870-1920”

Susanna Morrill, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR

Morrill discussed the concept of Mother in Heaven as revealed in LDS women’s public and private writings from 1870-1920.  For these women, Mother in Heaven was presented through her relationship with God the Father, embodied the notions of marriage and parenthood, and was generally experienced through the events of reunion and departure.  While men sometimes spoke of ‘Mothers’ in heaven, women generally spoke only of one.  “O My Father” was the paradigm these women relied upon; the extremely frequent performances of this song ritually inserted Mother in Heaven into all sorts of events; Morrill, unfortunately, did not have time to develop that point further.

3. “The Strange Case of the Browett Women: Four British Women on the Mormon Frontier”

Amy Harris, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

There are four Browett women.  Martha, converted to the LDS church in Britain in the early 1840s; Martha Rebecca, her daughter, briefly a plural wife of Orson Hyde in the 1840s before divorcing him; Elizabeth, the wife of Martha’s son Daniel, and Harriet, a plural wife of Daniel’s we know only through Elizabeth’s memoirs.  This was a fascinating presentation; Harris raised issues not only of plural marriage and private history, but also of family life.  Three of these women have no living descendants; none remain within Mormonism.  What did childlessness mean to the second generation of Browett women?   Harris only raised the question.

4. “Family Strugges are not Unique to our Generation: Polygamy in Latter-day Saint Magazines in the 1970s.”

Miriam Washburn, BYU

Washburn, recently graduated from BYU, noted that polygamy appears in more than fifty stories in the three official LDS magazines in the 1970s; that number drops to twenty for the 1980s and 1990s, and to less than 10 in the 2000s.  She argued, counterintuitively, that the presentation of polygamy in the seventies drew upon the New Mormon History’s willingness to discuss the hardships of polygamy frankly, but also presented Mormons struggling through its trials emerging with a stronger faith.  This meant that polygamy was faithpromoting; it also aided the church’s campaign against the ERA.

2D. The Prophet and Reformer: Correspondence of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane

1. “‘Your Second in an Affair of Honor’: The Relationship of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane”

Matthew J. Grow, University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, IN

Matthew Grow offered an analysis of Kane and Young’s relationship during their friendship of 31 years.  Grow noted that Kane was Young’s must trusted advisor outside of the Mormon community, and perhaps the most important non LDS figure in the Mormon story. Grow explained that no one, except his own family, influenced Kane more than Young.  Kane also explored the ways in which Kane and Young, somewhat an odd pair, possessed important similarities which perhaps led to their close and equally advantageous relationship.  Kane also suggested that their correspondence reveals the intersecting nature of the Mormon Question with national issues, such as sectional differences.  Interested readers must examine Grow’s recent biography of Thomas Kane.

2. “Forging a Relationship: Young and Kane in the American Midwest, 1846”

Ronald W. Walker, Salt Lake City, UT

Ron Walker detailed the meeting between Kane and Young and offered an entertaining narrative of the first two months of their relationship.  Through his narrative, Walker mentioned that the significant Mormon documents of this period do not suggest that Mormons wanted anything but a territorial government, which seems to contradict later claims that the Latter-day Saints originally desired to set up their own government in the Great Basin.  Walker’s narrative entertained, informed, and offered a glimpse of what is to come in his autobiography of Young.  Readers will also enjoy the co-authored work (with Matt Grow) on the correspondence between Kane and Young.

David Whittaker responded to both the papers by suggesting other avenues the authors could explore, and explicitly cited other sources they could explore in their work.  His response was very pointed and helpful.

3E. Mormon Architecture in the Nineteenth Century

1. “Constructing an Identity: Latter-day Saint Architecture in Nineteenth-Century Illinois”

Tiffany Taylor Bowles, Athens, IL

Bowles primarily explored the architecture of Nauvoo, noting that most Saints’ homes there adopted the styles of their homes – thus, the prevalence of New England federal style among the Mormons.  The appearance of such homes in the middle 1840s in Nauvoo indicated a sense of security and settlement.   The temple in Nauvoo indicated the centralization of Mormon urban planning around religion.

2. “‘According to the Pattern’: Expectations of Unified and Scriptural-Based Models in Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture”

Brad Westwood, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Westwood first debunked legends about occult ratios and the like in the Salt Lake temple; instead, he said, Truman Angell drew upon pretty typical Anglo-Gothic and Georgian types.   The interior of the temple is highly typical late nineteenth century Renaissance and baroque revivalism.  All of this is contrary to the early primitivist model of simple, pious Mormon architecture.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. What about the awards? Weren’t the awards made last night?

    Comment by Kent Larsen — May 23, 2009 @ 10:23 am

  2. Oops. I missed your other post.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — May 23, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  3. Thank you all very much for the wonderful synopsis of the sessions attended.

    I am curious about the Book of Commandments and Revelations session and the presentation of the “history (and) provenance” of the manuscript. Was anything said about how the Mormon (Utah) church came to own the manuscript book and how and by whom the book made its way to Utah? John Whitmer seems to have kept most of his records and those have been donated to to Community of Christ over the many years. This manuscript book took another path and it would be interesting to know why.

    Was there any discussion how the manuscript book came into the possession of the First Presidency? Was it always in their offices or was it once in the CHD? Finally, how did it make its way back to the CHD?

    Comment by Joe Geisner — May 23, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  4. Joe, apparently the BCR was transferred to the First Presidency’s papers with Joseph Fielding Smith, who had possession of the document during his time as Church Historian. During a search of the FP vault a few years ago during a search for any JS documents to include in the JSP, the BCR was discovered.

    Comment by Christopher — May 23, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

  5. Joe: Also, Rob mentioned that they are somewhat perplexed at how the Church kept possession of the book, since (as you mentioned) Whitmer took a lot of those types of things with him. Their best guess at this point is that Joseph Smith or one of his scribes kept it with them.

    Rob also went into where the book went from there, and concluded that the historians in the 1850s used it sporadically (referring to it for some things while ignoring others), but that B. H. Roberts probably did not know it even existed by the turn of the century.

    Comment by Ben — May 23, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  6. great notes, looking forward to tomorrow’s summary

    Comment by Dallas Robbins — May 23, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  7. Nice work guys. Both on the notes, and more importantly on all the presentations. Very nice.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  8. Thank you Christopher and Ben. There still seems to be many unanswered question about the history of the BCR. Thank you for being so kind in answering my questions. It appears Robin is doing a great job on researching the history of the BCR.

    Some musing on my part:

    I wonder why the BCR does not show up on lists church historians made of records? Why did someone like B.H. Roberts or Dean Jesse not know about the BCR? Why was it used by some and not used by others in the 1850s? Who had access to it in the 1850s? Did Orson Pratt use it when he worked on the D&C when he added the twenty six sections? Why did Joseph Fielding Smith take the BCR, but leave the Kirtland Revelations Book? Why was the BCR not known about when the McClellin collection was found in the 1980s?

    This is such an incredible book that seems to teach us so much about the revelatory process, I hope we are able to find out more about the BCR’s history.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — May 24, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  9. […] Instructor reporting on […]

    Pingback by Mormon History Association 2009 | Mormon Bloggers — May 25, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  10. Joe: those are some of the exact same questions both Rob and Bob Woodford said we still need to answer. Hopefully we will be able to find some answers.

    Comment by Ben — May 25, 2009 @ 12:31 am

  11. Thanks for the write up. I would be interested to hear a little more about Stan’s presentation. He was telling me a little bit about it and it sounds like it was a very interesting topic.

    Comment by Brett D. — May 26, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  12. […] For synopsis, see JI’s notes. American John Heckewelder reversed the roles in his 1819 treatise on Indians in Pennsylvania. […]

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  13. […] Jensen’s 2009 MHA presentation on the Book of Commandments and Revelations (brief summary here). Robin confirmed the basic details of my notes from his presentation regarding James Covill in a […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Making Sense of Doctrine and Covenants 39-40, or James Covill was a Methodist, not a Baptist — August 25, 2009 @ 11:16 pm


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