Mormon History (2010 Printing)
James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker
University of Illinois Press, 2010 (reprint of 2001 hardcover)
Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak for the Association for Mormon Letters
This book was originally published in 2001, then spent some time online
in the University of Illinois Press free electronic library between 2001
and 2006, and has now been reprinted. It was meant as a companion to the
1,168 page bibliographic Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997,
published in 2000 and apparently still available. The intention of the
book "is to provide a handbook for those starting a study in Mormon
history" (page ix).
Chapter One introduces us to 19th century writing, beginning with Eber
D. Howe's anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed. It then continues with
LDS pamphleteers, manuscript histories, and newspapers. The History of
the Church is described as being "unsurpassed as a nineteenth-century
LDS work...[that] remains a basic research tool for beginning students
of the early Mormon experience" (page 9).
It goes on to talk about "middle way" books, which were written by
non-members, and fit somewhere between Mormonism Unvailed and The
History of the Church, before continuing with LDS authors such as
Andrew Jensen and George Q. Cannon, and the establishment of the George
Q. Cannon and Sons printing press.
In Chapter Two, the first half of the 20th century is looked at. Here
the work of Nephi Anderson and B. H. Roberts is gone into, along with
The Improvement Era and Essentials in Church History. Academic and
professional historians also did some important work during this time,
such as Richard T. Ely, Lowry Nelson, and Levi Edgar Young. Fawn Brodie,
Dale Morgan, and Juanita Brooks are given a couple of pages each,
referred to as "the three leading historians of Mormonism at
midcentury" (page 51).
Chapter three discusses what Moses Rischin called the "new Mormon
history." Leonard J. Arrington is credited with capturing the spirit of
this writing: "investigating the Mormon past in human or naturalistic
terms without rejecting its divinity." Shortly after this book was
originally published, Louis Midgley showed that Arrington was not
actually the author of that idea, and that he had spent many years
coming up with what it actually meant after he had been credited with
it, since it is an apparent contradiction. (See
Arrington's work and that of others with him in the the LDS Historical
Department is discussed, along with reactions by leaders such as Boyd K.
Packer and Ezra Taft Benson. After the office was moved to BYU, many
other books and articles were produced, by authors such as Dean C.
Jessee and Thomas Alexander.
The BYU Department of History also made many contributions, as did the
Church Educational System and the College of Religious Education.
Scholars from the RLDS church (this book was written before it was
renamed to "Community of Christ") such as Robert B. Flanders and Richard
P. Howard did some important writing as well.
Space is also given to the work of people such as Jan Shipps, Lowell
Bennion, Lawrence Foster, Richard L. Bushman, and D. Michael Quinn, and
publications such as Utah History Encyclopedia, as well as
computer-based databases. The beginnings of the Mormon History
Association are related, along with periodicals such BYU Studies,
Dialogue, The John Whitmer Historical Journal, The Improvement Era and
Ensign, and Sunstone.
Chapter Four discusses the challenges of Mormon biography. It gives a
history of LDS biographies, especially those of Joseph Smith and Brigham
Young. It talks about how biographies have changed over the centuries.
It touches on biographies of women, dissenters, and schismatics, as well
as autobiographies. It then outlines what the authors feel is still left
to be done: "the lives of the rank and file," women, and more LDS
leaders. And "the writing of LDS autobiographies is just getting
started" (page 140).
Chapter five was written by Armand L. Mauss. It talks about social
science literature. He points out that the studies on Mormons that have
been done outside the church have not yielded reliable data, having
either come from flawed samples or shortcomings in research methods, and
that Utah cannot be used to represent the church.
He talks about the church's Research Information Division, which does
produce reliable research, but is used internally by church leaders, and
very little information that has been produced has been made available
publicly. It has made contributions, however, by training young social
scientists and giving "a degree of legitimacy to the social scientific
perspective on religion, always suspect in the minds of conservative
church leaders and members" (page 163).
Mauss also covers continuing as well as newly developing directions in
LDS social science, such as family life, values, politics, racial and
ethnic relationships, and the roles of modern women. He then discusses
neglected topics: Mormon missiology; consequences of the exportation of
the Mormon religion; social stratification; organizational studies; and
deviance, discipline, and self control.
He ends his chapter with a statement that I wonder if he would still
agree with today: "All things considered, it seems unlikely that the
first decades of the twenty-first century will see the same rate of
growth in social science literature on the Mormons that occurred in the
final decades of the twentieth century" (page 182).
Appendix A and Appendix B go back over some of the same ground covered
earlier in the book, listing books and other sources of value to
historians. Appendix A evaluates "Mormon imprints" (although it also
talks about some anti-Mormon titles and other works published by non-LDS
publishers). It gives a history of publishing by the LDS church,
including scriptures, periodicals, hymnals, and almanacs. Appendix B
lists reference works, bibliographies, indexes, and even the
familysearch.org web site as places to help find things to aid in
research. A statement by Bernard De Voto that "a complete bibliography
of articles on Mormonism by qualified scholars would hardly fill one
page" (page 250) is indeed proven wrong.
In all, this book is a thorough (in some cases, perhaps too thorough)
walk through the writing of the history of the church up through the
close of the twentieth century. I found it to be very interesting and I
learned many things from it. However, it is rather unfortunate that it
was not updated when it was reprinted. Not only are the same
typographical errors still intact from the first printing ten years ago
(as verified by the archived e-book version at archive.org), but a great
deal has changed in the last ten years, and I believe the changes have
definitely been significant enough to warrant at least an additional
appendix, if not an actual revision to the text.
Although the book is very useful for an amateur historian (such as
myself) - or even still for a student, as was intended - to get up to
speed on what has gone on before us, I'm afraid the book's own
description of some outdated bibliographies now applies to itself: a
"useful signpost... to the past journey of Mormon scholarship, telling of
its quantity and quality when... [it] was produced." Still, I highly
recommend this book for anyone interested in Mormon history or Mormon
book collecting who wants to know more about the context in which the
literature was produced.