The Significance of Leonard Arrington’s Diaries

The legacy of Leonard Arrington is familiar to anyone who studies Mormon history. Author of the classic monograph Great Basin Kingdom, Arrington was the known as the founder of the New Mormon History movement as well as the first academic to be appointed the official historian for the LDS Church. His decade-long tenure in the Church Office Building, affectionally heralded as “Camelot” in Mormon history circles, was known for its attempts at archival access and prodigious publishing. He is also known as a martyr figure due to a series of clashes with ecclesiastical leaders that led to his quiet dismissal and reassignment to BYU. There are few more significant figures in the development of academic Mormon history than this short and jovial professor born in Twin Falls, Idaho. Read More

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Review: RoseAnn Benson, ALEXANDER CAMPBELL AND JOSEPH SMITH

Historians of early Mormonism have long noted the connection between Joseph Smith and a contemporary restorationist, Alexander Campbell. Both lived in antebellum America, both sought to restore a primitive form of Christianity, and both based their religion on (what they believed to be) a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. And unlike other theological figures sometimes theologically linked to Smith, Campbell actually encountered Mormonism and had a lot to say about the faith: many of the first LDS converts came from congregations loosely affiliated with Campbell’s movement, and Campbell wrote one of the first anti-Mormon books attacking Smith’s new scriptures. The two religious leaders not only had some intellectual similarities, but they also were fighting over the same circles of believers. Read More

Review: James Lewis, THE BURR CONSPIRACY

The Broadway musical Hamilton did a lot for the protagonist Alexander Hamilton, but little for his nemesis Aaron Burr. Despite the valiant effort of historians like Nancy Isenberg, the victor of the 1804 duel was now seen as the villain of one of America’s greatest rivalries. But what’s fascinating is that one of the most intriguing elements of an overall intriguing life took place in the years immediately following that storied morning at Weehawken: rumors quickly spread that Burr was canvassing the nation’s westward territory, possibly plotting an insurrection or even the establishment of a new empire. Now that would be a great plot for the theater. Read More

Classes and Syllabi, Spring 2018

Things have been quiet around here as the last few weeks have been a blur. But now that the semester has commenced I hope to return to a more standard schedule, including my Wednesday book reviews.

I’m excited for the Spring semester to finally start, although it was postponed again this week as a surprise freeze gripped the region. For those interested, here are the three classes I’m teaching this semester. As you can tell, I’m all Revolution, all the time. The Hamilton musical is coming to Houston in a few months, so I’m taking advantage of the cultural excitement that comes with it. (The titles link to the syllabus for the course.)

And by the way, in case you missed the news, my book is out! I’ll have more info next week.

New Article: “Kings and Queens of the Kingdom: Gendering the Mormon Theological Narrative”

A few days before I left Texas for the holiday break, I received a copy of a new edited volume: Mormon Women’s History: Beyond Biography, edited by Rachel Cope, Amy Easton-Flake, Keith Erekson, and Lisa Olsen Tait. The volume began with a conference held at BYU and Salt Lake City a couple years ago that tried to explore what happens when Mormon women’s history left the safe confines of biography—a methodological safeguard that had been common in the field. There are a lot of great gems in the collection. Here is the table of contents:

Introduction vii
Rachel Cope
1 Charting the Past and Future of Mormon Women’s History
Keith A. Erekson
2 Sifting Truth from Legend: Evaluating Sources for American Indian Biography through the Life of Sally Exervier Ward
Jenny Hale Pulsipher
3 Silent Memories of Missouri: Mormon Women and Men and Sexual Assault in Group Memory and Religious Identity
Andrea G. Radke-Moss
4 Early Mormonism’s Expansive Family and the Browett Women
Amy Harris
5 Poetry in the Woman’s Exponent: Constructing Self and Society
Amy Easton-Flake
6 Aesthetic Evangelism, Artistic Sisterhood, and the Gospel of Beauty: Mormon Women Artists at Home and Abroad, circa 1890–1920
Heather Belnap Jensen
7 Leah Dunford Witdsoe, Alice Merrill Horne, and the Sacralization of Artistic Taste in Mormon Homes, circa 1900
Josh E. Probert
8 Double Jeopardy in Pleasant Grove: The Gendered and Cultural Challenges of Being a Danish Mormon Missionary Grass Widow in Territorial Utah
Julie K. Allen
9 Kings and Queens of the Kingdom: Gendering the Mormon Theological Narrative
Benjamin E. Park
10 Individual Lives, Broader Contexts: Mormon Women’s Studies and the Refashioning of American History and Historiography
R. Marie Griffith

While each of these are worth a read, I particularly loved Andrea Radke-Moss’s careful meditation on the use of historical sources in order to engage rape accounts from the Mormon-Missouri War. It’s an article that should make waves in the Mormon history field.

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My chapter is part-extension of my Nauvoo project and part-exploration of gendered methodologies. I argue that the historiography on Mormon thought has been divided into two spheres: “Mormon theology,” which is primarily men, and “Mormon women’s theology,” which is sequestered into its own space. Here are two paragraphs from the introduction:

This compartmentalization is representative not only of the field of Mormon history but also the general approach to historical theology. That is, even while the subfield of women’s history is encouraged, it is often compartmentalized from broader Mormon narratives and frameworks. What Paul Harvey and Kevin Schultz said about religion within twentieth-century American history can similarly be said about women in Mormon history, and especially Mormon historical theology: it is “everywhere” in that specialized work in the field has proliferated at an astounding rate, but it is still “nowhere” in that it has been relegated as marginal and contained.5 Women’s history becomes a methodological ghetto, unable to make any real revision to synthetic narratives. Only through the integration into broader synthetic stories can our historical narratives become less exclusive and more representative. Otherwise, only those specifically interested in women’s history will encounter the lessons of the subfield.

This chapter is both historiographical and provocative in nature and seeks to point to future roads for historians to traverse and questions for scholars to answer. Following a general overview of how historians of Mormon thought have dealt with—or, in many cases, avoided dealing with—theology produced by women, it will posit reasons for this androcentric framing as well as point toward potential methodological avenues for more integrative synthetic approaches. Rather than merely carving space for the history of women in Mormon thought, we must conceive of ways in which female voices both constructed and transformed the history itself. And finally, this chapter will offer one example of such a study that seeks to blend both male and female voices into a Mormon theological narrative of the Nauvoo period. Throughout, this chapter also attempts to demonstrate how this Mormon example provides important lessons for theological, intellectual, and religious history more broadly, as it identifies how to integrate a broader array of voices and frameworks into broader synthetic narratives.

Sadly, Farleigh Dickinson University Press’s pricing model makes the volume cost prohibitive. I wish it were otherwise. But pester your local library to purchase a copy, because there are several great chapters in this volume.

Things I wrote in 2017

Continuing a tradition from last year, this is my attempt to categorize everything I wrote in the last twelve months. It’s been a good year!

Articles:

  • “The Bonds of Union: Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Defining the Nation in the Early Republic,” Early American Studies 15:2 (Spring 2017): 382-408.
  • “The Angel of Nullification: Imagining Disunion in an Era Before Secession,” Journal of the Early Republic 37:3 (Fall 2017): 507-536.

Chapters/Essays:

Op-Eds

  • “Mormon Tabernacle Choir Will Usher in the Trump Era,” Religion Dispatches (January 20, 2017).
  • “Where is the Mormon Church on Trump? History Demands their Leadership,” Washington Post (January 28, 2017).
  • “The Democratic Lineage of Trump’s Ethnic Nationalism,” Starting Points (April 13, 2017).
  • “Why It’s Time for the Mormon Church to Revisit its Diverse Past,” The Conversation/Newsweek (April 22, 2017).
  • “How Funding for the Humanities Helps Public College Students Become Better Texans,” Dallas Morning News (August 3, 2017).
  • “Mormons and the Boy Scouts: Heading Down Different Trails,” Religion News Service/Salt Lake Tribune (October 17, 2017).

Published Book Reviews

  • Review of Mark A. Lause, Free Spirits: Spiritualism, Republicanism, and Radicalism in the Civil War Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), Civil War Monitor (2017).
  • Review of John Bicknell, America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election that Transformed the Nation (Chicago: Chicago Review Press), BYU Studies Quarterly (2017).
  • Review of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (New York: Knopf), Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (2017).

Media Interviews/Quotes

  • Max Mueller, “Not My Choir: By Agreeing to Sing at Trump’s Inauguration, The Mormon Tabernacle Choic has Enraged Many Mormons and Forced a Reckoning Over the LDS Church’s Values,” Slate (January 19).
  • Claire Provost, “Building Zion: The Controversial Plan for a Mormon-Inspired City in Vermont,” The Guardian (January 31).
  • Noémie Taylor-Rosner, “Fausses nouvelles, un phénomène aux ancrages chrétiens,” Presence (March 8).
  • Sadie Bergen, “From Personal to Professional: Collaborative History Blogs Go Mainstream,” Perspectives on History (April).

Consultant on Public History Projects

  1. Amici curie filed with the Supreme Court opposing President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. The brief was covered in CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and several other newspapers.
  2. Reference booklet, “Shoulder to the Wheel: Latter-day Saints Working to End Racism and Become a Zion People.” Has been downloaded more than 1000 times.

Commentary Blog Posts

Historical Blog Posts Based on Nauvoo Project

Blog Post Book Reviews

Historiographical Posts

Year-in-Review Lists