Historians don’t just catalog events, they assemble events into stories or “historical narratives.” But to really be relevant or worth reading, a given historical narrative has to tap into a bigger theme or “grand narrative” (using the term rather loosely). I’m going to flesh out that concept a bit, then float some observations on the emerging grand narrative that might frame Mormon history in the 21st century.
Joseph Smith, it’s fair to say, was a rebel and a runner and a restless young man. That, plus his many religious accomplishments, makes him an attractive subject for biographers both in and out of the Church, who have responded by writing dozens of Joseph Smith biographies. In fact, I think that when it comes to history, Mormons are spoiled without generally knowing it. Pull down a denominational history or the biography of any other 19th-century religious figure from the shelf of your local library and you’re likely to get a snoozer. By comparison, early LDS history and the adventures of Joseph Smith are religious thrillers. Yet I would say that many, even most, Mormons have not yet read their first book-length biography of Joseph Smith. Why not? And if a Latter-day Saint does decide to buy and read her first biography of Joseph, which of the many available titles should she choose (or avoid)?
What does todayâ€™s Deseret Morning News editorial have in common with my 1941 copper medal bearing the legend â€œOur Standard Bearerâ€ over the likeness of President Heber J. Grant?
Recently my husband and I came across a set of rather old LDS song books. As my ward’s primary chorister my favorite was The Primary Song Book: Including Marches and Voluntaries. The edition is missing the title page and so I’m not sure when it was published (and am at a loss as to how I would find out). Let’s just say that it’s really old. Among the very few songs that have survived from this edition to the current one are, “Give said the little Stream”, “I Thank Thee Dear Father”, “Can a Little Child Like Me”, and “Tell Me Dear Lord.” The most interesting songs, though, are the ones that didn’t make the cut. My personal favorite among these songs is #148 Tooth Bugs, by Ivy W. Stone and N. Lorenzo Mitchell:
Venus Rossiter, serving in Tahiti with her husband, Mission President Ernest C. Rossiter, wrote to the Relief Society General Board early in 1919 with her report for 1918.
Hooper Young was arrested in Connecticut three days after the discovery of Mrs. Pulitzerâ€™s body.
William Hooper Young, known as Hooper, was born in 1871 in Philadelphia, where his mother, Libbie Canfield, was visiting, while his father, John W. Young, was in Utah.
As the ebbing tide of September 18, 1902, lowered the level of the barge canals near Jersey City, New Jersey, a passing trolley engineer spotted the nude and mutilated body of a woman lying in the mud.
In the fall of 1983, Dialogue published Davis Bittonâ€™s personal memoir of Leonard Arringtonâ€™s tenure as Church Historian, â€œTen Years in Camelot.â€? That essay conveyed the excitement of discovering, writing, and publishing Mormon history on a scale never before known. The essay also records disappointment with changes then underway, betraying the uncertainty, even fearfulness, that comes with change.
Much of the attention of the Relief Society Conference of October, 1945, was devoted to efforts to assist surviving members of the Church in the former war zones of Europe. Contact had been reestablished with some of the European branches, and reports of their experiences and especially of their needs were read to the sisters assembled in Salt Lake City:
My Utah history columns for the Salt Lake Tribune have a limit of 650 words; the Relief Society articles need to fit a single page. The brevity of these accounts may mask the complexity of the work behind them, so put on your deerstalker caps and Iâ€™ll recreate the process, using Frances Swan Clark as the example.
Two years ago I wrote an article entitled â€œâ€˜Pursue, Retake & Punishâ€™: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush.â€? You can read it here if this essay triggers your interest; the short version is this:
Does God control who is Church President by ending life (using the â€œdeath card”)? Or does he control who is President by controlling the order in which Apostles are called? Of course, both can be true (or neither depending on your theological persuasion), but letâ€™s examine these questions systematically.
The common answer heard today in the Church is no. A variety of reasons are usually given:
Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons (1957) is a classic text in Mormon studies. So much that the Mormon Social Science Association is currently putting together an edited volume
Twelve years ago my family piled in a rented RV and drove cross-country to attend a wedding reception for my older brother and his wife in Minnesota. On the way we stopped at the church history sites in Missouri, including Independence, Liberty Jail, and Far West.
Not too long ago, I stumbled across the PBS presentation of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel (2d ed. 1999). It reminded me of dealing with the book at college and enjoying the ideas presented and the sweeping take of world history that it offered. But while watching the presentation and contemplating the message of the book itself, I was reminded about how much Diamond’s whole analysis depends solely on inference from extremely scant historical evidence.
DESERET EVENING NEWS Monday, March 5, 1888 ANOTHER MARTYR Elder John B. Johnson departed this life at the Utah Penitentiary at an early hour this morning (March 5th).
[This review has been provided by special arrangement to Times and Seasons by Walter E. A. van Beek, an anthropologist and scholar of religion and culture at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.] O Lord; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed; I am in derison daily, everyone mocketh me. Jeremiah 20:7.
For many good reasons, Joseph Smith has always been the least known and the most speculated about of all the prophets of this dispensation.
Last week Janice and I spent several days in Cornwall, Great Britain, with the BYU students doing London Study Abroad.
David O. McKay presented a dramatic contrast to his predecessors: an athletic, movie-star-handsome, clean-shaven figure who often wore a white double-breasted suit; contrasted to the dark-suited, bearded polygamists (or, in the case of George Albert Smith, son of a polygamist) who preceded him as Church President ever since Joseph Smith. In an age prior to professional image-makers, he instinctively grasped the importance of appearance, and coupled it to the substance of a professional educator to become an icon of Mormonism whose persona did much to change the negative image of the Church in much of the world.
I had just completed the oral defense of my admission-to-PhD-candidacy exams, which emphasized the writings of medieval visionaries and mystics. My advisor extended his hand, and with his typical wry smile, said: “Congratulations. You passed. Now, go home and have a vision!” We all had a good laugh, but for different reasons. They all laughed because they don’t believe visions are possible. I laughed because I knew how much it would unsettle them to know that I do.
So let’s think about Zion as a prisoner’s dilemma (PD).
Which should we be more strenuously avoiding, and how? Clark Goble suggests that the Church in “the last decade and a half has focused on building on common ground. But that has also (IMO) had unfortunate doctrinal consequences on the population as well as I believe leading to the decrease in conversions the last 5 – 8 years.”
One the bed-rock doctrines of Mormonism (to the extent that we have any bed-rock doctrines) is that the church set up by Christ fell away from the true gospel, lost its priesthood authority, and slipped into apostasy. It seems to me that we have two fundamental problems with the doctrine of the Great Apostasy.
I have been reading Kathleen Flake’s excellent book on the Reed Smoot hearings, and it has me thinking Smootish thoughts.
Most members of the Church are probably familiar with the estimate made by (nonLDS) sociologist Rodney Stark that, if current growth patterns hold, there will be 268 million members of the Church by the year 2080.
It is time for the post that you have all been waiting for, the one of the place of Mormonism in habeas corpus jurisprudence.
On Sunday I received this year’s course curriculum for RS and Priesthood: a diminutive paperback with a striking portrait on the cover, entitled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay.