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Writing Mormon History: Historians and Their Books


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Looks like I touched a nerve. To clarify, I was only questioning the marketing hype around the book and noting the somewhat Sunstone-y makeup of the contributors. I own books by 11 of them. Some of those I would even say wrote "great books" (John Turner is my intellectual crush right now). With the exception of Craig Smith, I was aware of the others as well but just hadn't sought out their books since I'm not that interested in microhistories of Mormon splinter groups. But they're probably fine historians too.

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I found interesting the paper by Linda Newell and the drama for her and her co-author Vale Avery in their writing of their book on Emma Smith. One stake president  told one author 's husband "You must control your wife. She needs to stay at home with her family where she belongs"  Another interesting quote was one by Oaks about his thoughts on their book "your book represents a nontraditional view of Joseph smith.The Brethren believe the image of Joseph portrayed in your book undermines members faith in his prophetic mission"

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How to evaluate a [good] History Writer:

  • Does the author know the difference between popular and scholarly sources?
  • Does the author use as much as possible primary sources?
  • Does the author evaluate thoroughly the reliability of those sources?
  • When were the sources composed?
  • What are the purpose of the sources?
  • How do contemporary sources compare to the ones used?
  • What role did the political issues play at the time?
  • Does the author know what other theories were current at the time and what were their influence?
  • Did the author thoroughly examine causes of events during the history he/she is writing about?
  • Who is the author (in this case who is the Historian)?
  • Does the Historian have any biases, (e.g., Lucy Mack Smith wrote; A History of Joseph Smith by His Mother)?
  • Who is the intended audience?

 

 

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In the official account of Smith's First Vision it is recorded that members of the Smith family joined the Presbyterian church as the result of a revival in 1820. Richard Bushman in Rough Stone Rolling argues "It is possible to argue plausibly that she (Lucy) did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. (page 570, fn 30)  William Smith later on reported that their father Joseph Smith Snr refused to join because the preacher said his son Alvin who died in 1823 had gone to hell. Backman in a letter to Bushman January 29 1969 wrote " "William Smith's memory failed him as he attempted to relate what took place after a lapse of many years. Possibly a report also inaccurately recorded the impression of William but this is a weak argument" William mentioned a  Rev Mr Lane preached a sermon on "what church shall I join" Lane was appointed presiding elder in July 1824. There were revivals then.   So Williams "failed' memory got it right, Perhaps Smith was according to Marvin Hill Church History, March, 1974 was conflating the revivals. According to Jan Shipps who had examined the original Lucy Mack Smith manuscript, it did not contain the FV account and the impression was that after Alvin's death she had not yet joined the Presbyterian church.

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5 hours ago, aussieguy55 said:

In the official account of Smith's First Vision it is recorded that members of the Smith family joined the Presbyterian church as the result of a revival in 1820.

Careful now, Joseph didn't specifically say that his mother joined the Presbyterian church "as the result of a revival in 1820", he simply indicates that some of his family joined the Presbyterian church, and he doesn't exactly say when.  Joseph was recounting events of his early life, some of which led up to the first vision, and it need not all be taken sequentially, and several historians have pointed this out (further explanation below).

5 hours ago, aussieguy55 said:

Richard Bushman in Rough Stone Rolling argues "It is possible to argue plausibly that she (Lucy) did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. (page 570, fn 30)  William Smith later on reported that their father Joseph Smith Snr refused to join because the preacher said his son Alvin who died in 1823 had gone to hell. Backman in a letter to Bushman January 29 1969 wrote " "William Smith's memory failed him as he attempted to relate what took place after a lapse of many years. Possibly a report also inaccurately recorded the impression of William but this is a weak argument" William mentioned a  Rev Mr Lane preached a sermon on "what church shall I join" Lane was appointed presiding elder in July 1824. There were revivals then.   So Williams "failed' memory got it right, Perhaps Smith was according to Marvin Hill Church History, March, 1974 was conflating the revivals. According to Jan Shipps who had examined the original Lucy Mack Smith manuscript, it did not contain the FV account and the impression was that after Alvin's death she had not yet joined the Presbyterian church.

Elden J. Watson has an article on the web that provides a likely explanation for the issues with the William Smith Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision located here.  He argues that Joseph didn't tell his family much of anything (if anything at all) about his first vision in 1820, and didn't give them any details about it until after the first visit of the angel Moroni to Joseph in September 1823, after Moroni told Joseph to tell his father about his visit from the angel.  William would have been twelve years old in 1823 (he would have been nine at the time of Joseph's first vision), and September 1823 is when he first learned of Joseph's first vision and the visit from Moroni, and he confused the two events when retelling them years later.   Take a look at Eldon Watson's arguments and judge for yourself.

As for Lucy's history she states, in the 1845 manuscript: 

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at last I heard that one noted for his piety would would preach the ensuing Sabbath in the presbyterian chair church thither also I went in expectation of obtaining that which alone could satisfy my soul the bread of eternal life when the minister I commenced I fixed my mind with br[e]athless attention upon the spirit and matter of the discourse but all was emptiness vanity vexation of spirit and palled upon my heart like the chill night air <untimely blast upon the starting blade ear that else had ripened in a summer sun> upon on the feverish brow of the youthful warrior but it did not fill the aching void within nor satisfy the craving hunger of the soul I was almost in total despair and with a load of grief greaved and troubled spirit   I returned saying in my heart there is not on Earth the religion which I seek I must again turn to my bible and take<ing> the Jesus and his deciples for an ensample I will try to obtain from God that which man cannot give nor take away And thus I said in my heart I will settle myself down to this I will hear all that can be said read all that is writen but particularly the [p. [5], bk. 2] word of God shall be my guide to life and salvation which I will endeavor to obtain if it is to <be> had by diligence in prayer This course I pursued for many years till at last I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from any membership in any church after which I pursued the same course untill the a my oldest son attained his 22nd year  (See:  Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, Page [5], bk. 2, and Page [6], bk. 2)

Lucy's oldest son, Alvin, turned 22 on February 11, 1820.  Dan Vogel, in a footnote to this statement in his Early Mormon Documents Volume I, p. 242-43 argues that Lucy, in a different account, "misdates Alvin's birth to 1799, rather than 1798, and his death to 1824 instead of 1823 (L. Smith 1853, 40)", suggesting that she is off by a year.  But remembering dates correctly in one account is different than remembering how old someone was at a particular point in time, especially if something about the age is related to the event.  But the important thing to recognize is that what you say is not as simple as it sounds.

Back to your claim that the 1838 account says that Lucy joined the Presbyterian church in 1820, this is what Eldon Watson, in the website I linked above, has to say about the sequence of events in footnote 33:

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 If taken to be strictly sequential, the context of Joseph Smith's 1838 account would indicate that four of his family joined the Presbyterian church prior to his first vision (see Joseph Smith History 1:7). There are, however, several indications that the 1838 account should not be interpreted as historically sequential. For example, in Joseph Smith History 1:3-4 in listing members of the Joseph Smith Sr. family who moved to Palmyra about 1814 and then to Manchester about 1818, Joseph includes his youngest sister Lucy, who was not born until 1821. LDS historians have cautioned against reading too much into the historical sequence of the 1838 account, and have suggested that it represents more of an overall feeling for pre 1838 events than it does a historical sequence. See Backman, pp 196-205, and Anderson, pp 374-376. It is significant that Joseph's 1838 account is the only one of his first vision accounts which mentions revivals.

The Backman reference above is to Joseph Smith's First Vision, Milton V. Backman, Jr, Bookcraft, 1971, 1980.  The chapter heading to pages 195-210 of that book is "A Reply to the Critics", where he addresses many of the arguments made against the first vision accounts.  He doesn't mention Wesley Walters by name, but he handles the arguments. 

Edited by InCognitus
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Backman's book contains a lot of sloppy scholarship in regard to the revival. Backman does not reference the Dialogue Spring 1969  round table. Bushman references the abbreviated paper published as a pamphlet in RSR but not the round table in Dialogue. Walters wrote to Backman questioning one of his footnotes & Backman did not respond. I wrote years ago to James Allen asking him why Backman did not cite Walters. He forwarded my inquiry to Backman and he responded to my inquiry. I sent a copy to Walters and he gave a detail response.  Walters felt Backman was being dishonest. I provided copies of the letters to someone  more skilled than me who is possibly  going to write something. I still think from the historical details and Smith's behavior later on in his life that he made the story up. 

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5 minutes ago, aussieguy55 said:

Backman's book contains a lot of sloppy scholarship in regard to the revival. Backman does not reference the Dialogue Spring 1969  round table. Bushman references the abbreviated paper published as a pamphlet in RSR but not the round table in Dialogue.

You keep mentioning the Dialogue Spring 1969 round table article like it needs some attention.  What is it about the response from Walters in that article that you think hasn't been addressed elsewhere?  

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I don not see how you can interpret Joseph  Smith 1:7-8. He was 14 years old then talks about his family joining the Presbyterian church  and then talks about the revival taking place that motivated him to go and pray. Verses 21-22 seem to indicate they he did tell people which "excited a great deal of prejudice against me" 

I had a conversation with an American couple who I asked the question as to what the GAs thought of Dialogue. They told me that they were not happy with the response by the LDS historian to a paper by a Presbyterian pastor. (Bushman & Walters).  The fact the both Bushman and Backman fail to mention the round table is that they did not want to draw attention to it. Walters did his homework. They held onto his paper for  long time. 

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Anyway I am going to cease responding not because I think you have made a case but my energy at my age I would rather  use  for other things. Any material I have I supply to those who are younger and have better skills at writing than me. It is IMO a waste of time spending my time in lock down arguing on the MAD board. If you think I am retreating in the face of your arguments knock yourself out.

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1XiUMbe-xIdsLWx3Mv7jACDxZuDMnQe320VsyoJukq8c/edit?ths=true

Edited by aussieguy55
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37 minutes ago, aussieguy55 said:

had a conversation with an American couple who I asked the question as to what the GAs thought of Dialogue.

And why should we consider this American couple an authority on what the GAs thought?  Not a challenge, but as written it sounds random so it seems you have unintentionally left something crucial out. 

Edited by Calm
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In Saints volume 1 there is no mentions of Backman's book on the FV on the bibliography. The same no list of Stephen Harper's work who I though was the go to guy for the FV since Backman has passed away.

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37 minutes ago, aussieguy55 said:

In Saints volume 1 there is no mentions of Backman's book on the FV on the bibliography. The same no list of Stephen Harper's work who I though was the go to guy for the FV since Backman has passed away.

You forgot to also point out that none of the speakers at the April General Conference quoted Richard Bushman.  And no mention of Dialogue either.  (Something must be up).   

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Has anyone actually read the book or are we just arguing about who is important in Mormon History and who isn't?

 

I plan on buying the book when paper copies become available. In my experience, gathering information about the back stories of the historians who write about an area of interest make it easier to understand not only the point of view of that historian, but also those who built upon his/her work. For example I do not think one can fully understand Bushman, Vogel, and others who have written biographies about Joseph Smith without having read Brodie. You can agree with Brodie or disagree with her or be somewhere in between,  but so much of what we know know about Joseph Smith has been built upon her book and much of her work was built upon correspondence with a historian named Dale Morgan.  Perhaps some here may be unfamiliar with his name since he died before he was actually able to publish his research on Mormon history but he has had an enormous impact on the field, especially on people like Junita Brooks, and Stanley Ivins, authors who were/are the bedrock of what Mormon history today. 

For a very interesting view into Mormon history in the early 20th century, I highly recommend Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History.  Available for very cheap on Amazon.

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LOL i wondered how long it would take for you to comment.  Saints is a history book.  I made my way to the distribution center to get a copy. I want to get volume 2 but because of the lock down that will have to wait. Among the videos accompanying Vol 2 is a corny one on plural marriage (polygamy). I have to say the woman talking sounds quite corny.  I have not finished it as yet but would like to know if she mentions polyandry. There is a possibility that Smith was married to a woman who was living with her legal husband and she told her daughter that Joseph was her father. DNA evidence seems to have put the claim to bed. 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/listen/series/saints/30-plural-marriage-in-nauvoo?lang=eng&fbclid=IwAR0Sd_kPjgnN0hAqO5JRFnCq33m8PNHJWCrZgaAvVkKeKd6WvqMR6P6_2c4

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1 hour ago, aussieguy55 said:

LOL i wondered how long it would take for you to comment.  Saints is a history book.  I made my way to the distribution center to get a copy. I want to get volume 2 but because of the lock down that will have to wait. Among the videos accompanying Vol 2 is a corny one on plural marriage (polygamy). I have to say the woman talking sounds quite corny.  I have not finished it as yet but would like to know if she mentions polyandry. There is a possibility that Smith was married to a woman who was living with her legal husband and she told her daughter that Joseph was her father. DNA evidence seems to have put the claim to bed. 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/inspiration/latter-day-saints-channel/listen/series/saints/30-plural-marriage-in-nauvoo?lang=eng&fbclid=IwAR0Sd_kPjgnN0hAqO5JRFnCq33m8PNHJWCrZgaAvVkKeKd6WvqMR6P6_2c4

Would you please quote who you are responding to so as to make it easier to follow the conversation, please. If not that, then their name and we can assume it is their last post you are responding to. 

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1 hour ago, aussieguy55 said:

Saints is a history book.

Just to be clear, it is not a history text but a history narrative. Its purpose is to give a foundational understanding the history of the Church, not an advanced, in-depth, or analytical understanding.
 

Quote

Throughout the scriptures the Lord asks us to remember. Remembering our shared legacy of faith, devotion, and perseverance gives us perspective and strength as we face the challenges of our day.

It is with this desire to remember “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men” (Moroni 10:3) that we present Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. This is the first volume of a four-volume series. It is a narrative history that includes stories of faithful Latter-day Saints of the past. We encourage all to read the book and make use of the supplementary material available online.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v1/foreword?lang=eng

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True stories well told can inspire, caution, entertain, and instruct. Brigham Young understood the power of a good story when he counseled Church historians to do more than simply record the dry facts of the past. “Write in a narrative style,” he advised them, and “write only about one tenth part as much.”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v1/preface?lang=eng

Edited by Calm
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1 hour ago, CA Steve said:

Has anyone actually read the book or are we just arguing about who is important in Mormon History and who isn't?

 

I plan on buying the book when paper copies become available. In my experience, gathering information about the back stories of the historians who write about an area of interest make it easier to understand not only the point of view of that historian, but also those who built upon his/her work. For example I do not think one can fully understand Bushman, Vogel, and others who have written biographies about Joseph Smith without having read Brodie. You can agree with Brodie or disagree with her or be somewhere in between,  but so much of what we know know about Joseph Smith has been built upon her book and much of her work was built upon correspondence with a historian named Dale Morgan.  Perhaps some here may be unfamiliar with his name since he died before he was actually able to publish his research on Mormon history but he has had an enormous impact on the field, especially on people like Junita Brooks, and Stanley Ivins, authors who were/are the bedrock of what Mormon history today. 

For a very interesting view into Mormon history in the early 20th century, I highly recommend Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History.  Available for very cheap on Amazon.

While Brodie is fine to read another is Ronald Numbers book Prophetess of Health :A study of Ellen G White. The SDAs have gone through some difficulties in revelations  that some of her writings were plagiarized  from material available in her library. Jonatham Butler in an Introduction The Historian as Heretic  discusses the problem historians find the story presented by the church is not always accurate. Saints then is really devotional literature. Unless they are interested they are not going to delve the thorny areas. The benefits of community are more valuable then historical issues. 

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On 4/20/2020 at 7:22 PM, Calm said:

From Amazon

I am not more than a very casual student of history, it is not really grabbing my interest.  I have a couple of favorite historians I wouldn’t mind reading, but they aren’t included. However, for people who are interested in the subject, there are noteworthy contributors that had major impacts with their work. 

I've read and own many of these authors' books, the ones I've not read are;  Polly Aird, Melvin Johnson, William Mackinnon, Vickie Cleverly Speek, Susan Staker, Daniel Stone and John Turner.  I love LDS history, but I'm not interested in reading this book, as I'm not usually interested in compilations or essays and I'd rather read the actual history books.  I'm pretty picky about the books I read, which is why I've never joined any book clubs.  I'm usually not interested in Best Sellers, or what is popular at the time.  It's just a matter of taste, and my taste goes more toward books which likely don't interest other people. I really think books are a personal thing.  As for this book, If I was interested in reading it, I'd wait until I saw some reviews to decide.  That's what I do if I'm unsure if a book is worth reading.

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On 4/24/2020 at 1:05 PM, Valentinus said:

No one should ever want to be or be like Lund.

Isn't that a matter of taste?  I believe Gerald Lund writes fiction?  If so, he's not going to appeal to everyone, but that  doesn't mean he isn't a worthwhile read for someone who likes LDS historical fiction.  I've read a handful of those types of books and prefer the non-fiction history narratives, but that's just my own personal preference.

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I listened to this podcast today with Richard Turley where he discusses a little on the book he and my former stake president of years gone by, Glen Leonard wrote. He mentions a second volume coming out, not sure when, that contains the aftermath of the massacre and continues up until the death John D. Lee by firing squad. Thought it might be of interest to someone. https://www.sltrib.com/podcasts/mormonland/

Edited by Tacenda
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Rick has been saying that for years, and all interested in the history of MMM will hope it will come to pass sooner than later.

Barbara Jones Brown, the Executive Director of MHA, is the lead voice in the project.  Best fortune to here and the early publication of the work.

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6 hours ago, alter idem said:

Isn't that a matter of taste?  I believe Gerald Lund writes fiction?  If so, he's not going to appeal to everyone, but that  doesn't mean he isn't a worthwhile read for someone who likes LDS historical fiction.  I've read a handful of those types of books and prefer the non-fiction history narratives, but that's just my own personal preference.

True. However, people who still read the awful "The Work and the Glory" series make teaching church history difficult for many of my S&I friends. There should be a huge disclaimer at the beginning of books like those to the effect that they should only be seen as historical fiction with very few literal historical elements.

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On 4/29/2020 at 5:36 PM, Tacenda said:

I listened to this podcast today with Richard Turley where he discusses a little on the book he and my former stake president of years gone by, Glen Leonard wrote. He mentions a second volume coming out, not sure when, that contains the aftermath of the massacre and continues up until the death John D. Lee by firing squad. Thought it might be of interest to someone. https://www.sltrib.com/podcasts/mormonland/

I recommend it too. I really enjoyed this book, I  own a small collection of all the books I've found on Mountain Meadows massacre. I was looking forward to the second volume,   but gave up on it ever coming out. Some books are better than others, and some have a lot of unsubstantiated rumor offered as fact. This book was well worth reading because he had access to all the church records that were not available to other writers over the years. 

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