2016 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Books and Articles in Mormon History

December 6, 2016

2016-retrospect-768x576Cross posted at Juvenile Instructor
Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found hereherehere, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevent. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.
I think it’s safe to say it was another solid year for the field.
Significant Monographs

If it seemed like it was only yesterday that Turner churned out a fantastic biography of Brigham Young, you’re basically right. He put together this new book remarkably fast, and yet retains high quality. That should be unfair. Matt Bowman reviewed the book for JI here. I’ve planned to do a review of the book for a while, and perhaps I still will at some point, but in the meantime just take my word for it when I say it’s an excellent volume. (The final three chapters of the book are worth the price of the entire volume; the Dialogue essay is Turner’s lecture from last summer’s Sunstone conference, and it features a number of the themes from the whole book.) Mary Campbell’s book on Charles Ellis Johnson is fresh from the printers, and it caught much of the field by surprise. I’ll have a review up soon, but I think it’s a significant volume that deserves attention. Recommended. And Tom Simpson, a friend of JI, produced a fabulous look that nuances the Americanization thesis of Mormonism during the progressive era. You can read Bradley Kime’s JI review here, a Q&A here, and my personal review here.
UofU Press Sets a New Standard

These books also deserve the title “Significant Monographs,” but I wanted to separate them here to highlight the excellent year by University of Utah Press. We are in a great situation where a number of academic presses are producing quality volumes. But this year, the UofU press deserves the award for both quality and quantity. All four volumes were fantastic books on significant topics, and they also produced two of the edited volumes in the next category. At least for 2016, UofU Press stands supreme. (You can read my review of Prince’s important biography here.)
Edited Collections

I wrote about Mormon history’s penchant for edited volumes of essays a few months ago. These three volumes are amongst the most important, for different reasons. The Mason/Turner collection help plow the road for the still-nascent field of contemporary Mormonism. Mason’s Directions offers a smorgasbord of topics and methodologies that demonstrate the breadth and depth for the field. (I reviewed it here.) And as I wrote yesterday at my blog, the Holbrook/Bowman volume is the most important edited collection on Mormon women in at least two decades. You can also read our own Hannah Jung’s review here. I could highlight a dozen of essays in each of these volumes that deserve recognition. Just quality, top-notch scholarship.
Important Perspectives on Mormon Gender

(Yes, I know, the first book came out in November 2015, but I’m plugging it here because it fits.) Mormon Feminism and Relief Society are two of the most important primary source compilations in a long, long time. Brooks, Steenblik, and Wheelwright did a phenomenal job bringing together a batch of writings from the past half-century that chart how far we have come–and how far we still have to go. The CHL’s publication of essential Relief Society documents is a significant contribution not only to Mormon women’s history, not only to Mormon history in general, but to American religious and gender history; the documents contained in those pages are absolute gems. Matt Grow offered an overview here. You can read roundtables on each of those two volumes, including reviews from non-Mormon academic experts, in the most recent issue of Mormon Studies Review. Petrey’s article is one of the most thoughtful and provocative takes on a significant Mormon gendered and cultural problem to appear in over a decade—and it appeared in one of the most important journals in the field, no less.
Joseph Smith Papers Goodness

We’ve come to expect excellence from the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and this year only brought more. Documents 4 covers the important Zion’s Camp years of mid-Kirtland. And, of course, everyone was rightly excited for the Council of Fifty minutes, one of the most important volumes ever produced. (I’d argue that, coupled with the Relief Society Minutes, this is the most important year for the Church History Department’s publishing career.) Ron Esplin’s BYUSQ article gives an overview of the C50 minutes, and I tried to contextualize them in my essay for Religion and Politics.
Published Primary Sources

There were other significant publications in Mormon documentary history. (This always seems to be a predominant space within the field.) Signature Books can always be relied upon to produce a number of worthwhile volumes, and they came through in 2016. I particularly enjoyed the Amasa Lyman diaries, which I highlighted in this post. And historians of Mormonism are well aware of the importance of George Q. Cannon’s diaries, so we were all thrilled when the CHL decided to publish an e-version of their contents. Rust’s BYUSQ article is a useful overview, and I did a quick introduction here at JI.
Conflicts in Territorial Utah

Ever since Part 1 of William Mackinnon’s documentary history of the Utah War appeared in 2008, historians have been anticipating is sequel. Part of the acclaimed Kingdom of the Westseries, it is a careful blend of documents and analysis. If you have any interest in territorial Utah, frontier American politics, and the sectional conflict on the eve of the Civil War, this book is for you. The biographies of Wells and Stout cover the lives of two significant nineteenth century figures, and it is great to see USU Press turn out move volumes. And Maxwell’s history of Utah’s (un)involvement in the Civil War is bound to prompt discussion. (See, for instance, this review.)
Interdisciplinary Takes on Mormon Thought and Culture

  • Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths(Princeton University Press).
  • Christopher James Blythe, “Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage, and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa,” Material Religion 12, no. 4 (October 2016): 405-432.
  • Mason Kamana Allred, “Circulating Specters: Mormon Reading Networks, Vision, and Optical Media,” Journal of the American Academy of Religious (first view; official publication next year).
  • John Durham Peters, “Recording Beyond the Grave: Joseph Smith’s Celestial Bookkeeping,” Critical Inquiry 42, no. 4 (Summer 2016): 842-864.
  • Reid J. Leamaster and Mangala Subramaniam, “Career and/or Motherhood? Gender and the LDS Church,” Sociological Perspectives 59, no. 4 (December 2016): 776-797.

Ann Taves is one of the leading scholars of American religious history, and her new book focuses on Mormonism’s origins as one of her three case studies. And then there are the articles. It is a testament to the development of Mormon studies that a lot of its best articles are appearing outside of Mormon-centric journals. These five articles are all worth reading, bookmarking, and engaging. You can read overviews of Peters’ and Allred’s articles here. And while the Leamaster/Subramaniam article is not explicitly historical, it gives some interdisciplinary context to a lot of popular issues in the historical field.
Early Mormonism and its Culture(s)

  • Seth Perry, “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Print Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion84, no. 3 (December 2016): 750-775.
  • Kathleen Flake, “Ordering Antinomy: An Analysis of Early Mormonism’s Priestly Offices, Councils, and Kinship,” Religion and American Culture 26, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 139-183.
  • Christopher Allison, “Layered Lives: Boston Mormons and the Spatial Contexts of Conversion,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 2 (April 2016): 168-213.

The articles in the previous category were far from the only excellent contributions in 2016. Perry’s and Flake’s essays are smart, theoretical, and deeply contextualized; they are as important to scholars of American religious history as they are to Mormon history. Bradley Kime highlighted Flake’s article here. And Allison’s JMH article is a fabulous look at 1840s Mormonism outside of Nauvoo–a necessary story that requires more attention.
Revisiting Joseph Smith

Turns out there are still new things to be said about Joseph Smith. The MHA community is especially exciting to see the fruits from Signature Books’ long-anticipated Joseph Smith trilogy. You can read my review of the Bradley-Evans biography here. McKay and Frederick’s book, as I outlined here, is a blend of academic and devotional history. And Staker’s article is Staker-ish in its exhaustive and provocative approach.
International Mormonism

  • Frode Ulvund, “Travelling Images and Projected Representations: Perceptions of Mormonism in Norway, c. 1840-1860,” Scandinavian journal of History 41, no. 2 (February 2016): 208-230.
  • Shinji Takagi, The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901-1968 (Kofford Books).
  • Various authors and articles, Mormon Historical Studies 17, no. 1/2 (Spring/Fall 2016).

Studies on the global church continue to (slowly) move along. But it is especially exciting to see an article on the topic appear in a significant non-Mormon journal. I have heard great things about Takagi’s volume, which will soon be reviewed here at JI, and you’ll want to get ahold of the double-issue of MHS which is dedicated to a broad range of international topics. (Seriously, there are like 20 articles in the volume—way too many to highlight specifics.)
Articles on Race and Mormonism

  • Joseph R. Stuart, “‘Our Religion Is Not Hostile to Real Science’: Evolution, Eugenics, and Race/Religion-Making in Mormonism’s First Century,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 1 (January 2016): 1-43.
  • Cassandra L. Clark, “‘No True Religion without True Science’: Science and theConstruction of Mormon Whiteness,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 1 (January 2016): 44-72.

These articles, among those originally solicited for a special issue of graduate students arranged by our own Christopher Jones and Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, are examples of the cutting-edge approaches that will revolutionize the MHA community.
Reconsidering the Mormon Family and Mormon Relationships

  • Natalie Kaye Rose, “Courtship, Marriage, and Romantic Monogamy: Young Mormon Women’s Diaries at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 1 (January 2016): 166-198.
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Runaway Wives, 1830-1860,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 2 (April 2016): 1-26.
  • Margaret D. Jacobs, “Entangled Histories: The Mormon Church and Indigenous Child Removal from 1850 to 2000,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 2 (April 2016): 27-60.

Mormonism’s focus on the family is not a modern creation. These articles dig into the complex and important legacy of Mormonism’s nebulous familial past.
Final Remarks from a Mentor

  • Ronald W. Walker, “Proud as a Peacock and Ignorant as a Jackass”’ William W. Drummond’s Unusual Career with the Mormons,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 3 (July 2016): 1-34.
  • Ronald W. Walker, “The Tintic War of 1856: A Study of Several Conflicts,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 3 (July 2016): 35-68.

We lost one of the monumental figures of our field this year. I wrote this tribute when Ron passed away in May, and we also had a compilation of reflections. These two articles came from his final project, on Brigham Young and the Utah War. He will be missed.
Engaging the Mormon Image

Austin and Parshall are offering a serious contribution to Mormon history with their series, with Kofford, of the most important novels that flesh out Mormonism’s evolving and complex image. The Mormon Moment is far from new.
Fleshing Out the World of Nauvoo

  • Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 85, no. 1 (March 2016): 150-158.
  • Steven C. Dinger, “The Doctors in This Region Don’t Know Much’: Medicine and Obstetrics in Mormon Nauvoo,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 4 (October 2016): 51-68.
  • John S. Dinger, “Judge Joseph Smith and the Expansion of the Legal Rights of Women: The Dana v. Brink Trial,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 4 (October 2016): 69-96.
  • Gerrit Dirkmaat, “Searching for ‘Happiness’: Joseph Smith’s Alleged Authorship of the 1842 Letter to Nancy Rigdon,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 3 (July 2016): 94-119.
  • Andrew H. Hedges, “Thomas Ford and Joseph Smith, 1842-1844,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 4 (October 2016): 97-124.
  • Andrew H. Hedges, “Extradition, the Mormons, and the Election of 1843,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 109, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 127-147.
  • Brent M. Rogers, “‘Armed Men are Coming from the State of Missouri’: Federalism, Interstate Affairs, and Joseph Smith’s Final Attempt to Secure Federal Intervention in Nauvoo,”ournal of the Illinois State Historical Society 109, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 148-179.
  • Joseph I. Bentley, “Road to Martyrdom: Joseph Smith’s Last Legal Cases,” Brigham Young University Studies Quarterly 55, no. 2 (2016): 8-73.

I’m biased since I’m currently working on Nauvoo, but gee wiz there’s some excellent work on Nauvoo right now! (This is really me just building my bibliography for later use.) Together, all of this work is providing a more nuanced picture of such a captivating period in Mormon history. I’m especially excited to see such sophisticated revisionist takes on long-disputed legal and political issues. Our own Ryan T. highlighted McBride’s brief article here.

  • Samuel Spencer Wells, “Muslims Under the Mormon Eye: Theology, Rhetoric, and Personal Contacts, 1830-1910,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 2 (April 2016): 61-94.
  • John P. Hatch, “From Prayer to Visitation: Reexamining Lorenzo Snow’s Vision of Jesus Christ in the Salt Lake Temple,” Journal of Mormon History 42, no. 3 (July 2016): 155-182.
  • Gregory A. Prince, Lester E. Bush, Jr., Brent N. Rushforth, “Gerontocracy and the Future of Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 49, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 89-108.
  • Molly Worthen, “The Peculiar Mormon Paradox,” The Mormon Studies Review 4 (2017): 41-55.
  • Diane Mutti Burke, “A Contested Promised Land: Mormons, Slaveholders, and the Disputed Vision for the Settlement of Western Missouri,” Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association 36, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2016): 13-34.

All excellent articles, all worthy of your attention. Wells and Hatch dive into fascinating topics, one broad and one deep. The Prince/Bush/Rushforth article is an important look at the problem of an aging leadership, especially over the past few decades. (Listen to an interview here.) Worthen’s review essay covers a number of important books on Mormonism and contemporary American politics. And Burke, a leading scholar on slavery in the frontier west, delivered this paper as a keynote address at JWHA’s conference last year.
2016 was not without its losses. Besides Ronald Walker, whom I highlighted above, we lost a number of other important practitioners of Mormon history: Milton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. They certainly built the foundation upon which we now stand.
What a year. As ridiculous, horrible, and nightmarish 2016 was in many ways, it was a strong year for the field of Mormon history. Onward and upwards.