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Highlights of Day 2 at MHA: Trouble in Zion, Bushman, Gordon, and Bringhurst and the Awards

It’s the pits when you have to choose between sessions, and I made a difficult choice in the morning.  I had wanted to attend Kathleen Flake’s session on LDS Adoption Theology, but instead attended Ken Ballentine’s documentary, Trouble in Zion. (Saints Herald has already blogged about it, and there is a Facebook page.  I also mentioned that I wanted to see it from the LDS Film Festival earlier this year.)

I thought it was very well done.  After the session, I was sitting on the floor next to a Wi-Fi hotspot when Ken walked by.  I told him I admired the film and asked him a few questions about film-making.  (I have wanted to create my own documentary on church history.)  When he learned that I was a blogger, he offered me an advance copy of the film and soundtrack!!!!  I told him I would love to blog about it!  He hasn’t finished the film yet (but he said it is more finished than it was in January), and hopes to distribute it on public television and further distribution in the future.  So, I’ll give a more detailed review in the next few weeks, but my brief summary is a definite thumbs up!

In the audience was Community of Christ Apostle Andrew Bolton, and some other professional historians.  It was interesting to hear their perspectives on the film, and they gave Ken some interesting advice.  The film covers the 1838 Missouri War between the Mormons and the Missourians.  I’m familiar with the conflict from Richard Bushman’s book Rough Stone Rolling, but I often get events confused.  Ballentine put together this film, and I think it will be an excellent reference.  (I was also surprised when he said he had heard of my blog— I get amazed to learn of all the people that read without commenting.)

I also bought a couple new books and had them autographed.  John Hamer autographed my copy of Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism.  Brother Rick Turley, assistant LDS Church Historian autographed his book Massacre at Mountain Meadows.  He has a new book called sdfhksjh with material unavailable to Jaunita Brooks (she wrote The Mountain Meadows Massacre, that I blogged about previously).

The morning plenary session was from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  She is a 5th generation Mormon that teaches at Harvard.  She gave an interesting presentation on the Wilford Woodruff diaries.  The afternoon session included a great session about polygamy.  Newell Bringhurst was great!  Following the session, I asked him if he agreed with Michael Quinn’s assertion that theocracy was a bigger problem than polygamy from the Nauvoo Expositor.  He disagreed with Quinn.  He felt that polygamy was an explosive topic.  He agreed that theocracy was a potential problem, but believed the polygamy was the bigger problem.  (I blogged about this previously–The Nauvoo Expositor, a Different Perspective.)

The evening session was a real treat.  Sally Gordon, Jan Shipps, and Richard Bushman put together a great presentation on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Gordon called the 1999 dedication of the marker by President Hinckley a “political disaster.”  She also said that Richard Turley’s new book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows was not considered a “definitive history” of the event because of the sponsorship of the LDS church.  She said that it has not resolved the issue, not because of scholarship–which she implied was good, and noted they had studied some previously undiscussed documents, but simply because of sponsorship.

She also reviewed many books on Mormonism.  She said that Jan Shipps 1985 book on Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition was the first cross-over book for both Mormons and non-Mormons since Great Basin Kingdom, by LDS Church Historian Leonard Arrington.

She also referred to books hostile to religion, such as Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets.  She even quoted Bagley as saying religion in frightening: “God save us all from men doing God’s work.”  She also referred to Da Vinci Code:  Dan Brown said that everything was “accurate.”  John Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven linked the MMM and the Lafferty murders.  In reality, she said that both books made leaps and were fast and loose with the facts.  Gordon and Shipps felt that most histories of the MMM were incomplete because they felt the event was best understood in a religious context.

Richard Bushman responded that he agreed with Shipps and Gordon that this event should be interpreted in a religious context.  He also agreed that we are currently living in an anti-fanatical movement, in light of the 9/11 terrorist attack.  He said that it is a sad commentary that Walker and Turley’s book was doomed from the start because of the LDS church’s support.  However, he believes the book will have influence over time because the battle will turn to documents and evidence–the realm that historians are comfortable discussing.

Bushman said he was attracted to Shipps and Gordon’s point of view, but he hopes that Mormon problems are not unique.  He concluded that it is better to be chastened by the past, rather than to sanitize the past.  I was able to speak with Richard Bushman following the lecture, and I told him I appreciated his book Rough Stone Rolling.

I told him that I had heard him say to another, “I think I got into trouble because I was too candid”, and I wondered what he was talking about.  He said that is something he often says, and didn’t recall exactly what that was referring to.  I told him that I often feel like I have to keep quiet in church.  He said that he does too, but when he teaches Sunday School, he does bring up some tougher questions.  I told him I tried to do that too, but that I had been pulled into the bishop’s office because a member of the stake presidency objected to my use of  a non-KJV Bible to explain some passages of Isaiah.  He said he was sorry to hear that, but he knew many Mormons that read non-KJV Bibles, and encouraged me to keep “plugging away.”

Finally, here is the big announcement I was talking about yesterday.  The awards banquet was last night.

At the awards banquet last night, the association gave Senator Bond the Thomas L. Kane Award for Outstanding Service to the Mormon Community by a non-Mormon. They specifically referenced his courage in ending what amounted to almost a century and a half of animosity and suspicion between Latter-day Saint communities and their Missouri neighbors.

The association issued several other awards for articles and books on Mormon history published the previous year. These included:

  • Best Undergraduate Student Paper Award, Joseph T. Antley’s “Early America’s Treasure Quest: The Effort to Recapture the Supernatural in the American Northeast.”
  • Best Graduate Student Paper, Matthew Bowman’s “Matthew Philip Gill and Joseph Smith: The Dynamics of Mormon Schism.”
  • Best Thesis Award (two winners), Debra Marsh’s “Respectable Assassins: A Collective Biography and Social Economic Study of the Carthage Mob” and Caye Wycoff’s “Markets and the Mormon Conflict in Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839 – 1846.”
  • Best Dissertation, Jonathan Moyer’s “Dancing with the Devil: The Making of the Mormon Republican Pact.”
  • Best Article Award, Samuel Brown’s “Joseph Smith in Egypt: Babel, Hieroglyphics, and the Pure Language of Eden.”
  • Best International Book, In Harm’s Way: East German Latter-day Saints in WWII by Roger P. Minert.
  • Best Documentary (two winners), Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry , edited by Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lyn Davidson, and Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Andrew Jenson and David H. Morris Collection , Richard E. Turley and Ronald W. Walker, editors.
  • Best Biography, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848 – 1861 by Polly Aird.
  • Best First Book, Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama by Megan Sanborn Jones.
  • Best Book Award, “Liberty to the Downtrodden”: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer by Matthew J. Grow.

It was a fascinating conference, and I look forward to Day 3.

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3 comments on “Highlights of Day 2 at MHA: Trouble in Zion, Bushman, Gordon, and Bringhurst and the Awards

  1. “They specifically referenced his courage in ending what amounted to almost a century and a half of animosity and suspicion between Latter-day Saint communities and their Missouri neighbors.

    Huh? Sorry, but I don’t see what he contributed — except to gain political favor with LDS by “rescinding” something that had expired by its own terms more than 130 years earlier. Looking at the past recipients, this one seems quite out of place (with the possible exception of the Illinois awardees last year).

  2. Does anyone know anything about Matthew Bowman’s paper on Gill?

  3. Joseph – what would you like to know?

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