This is short, and it has the ugliest cover of any book published in 2014, but this is probably the best book of this nature I've ever read. FormattedThis is short, and it has the ugliest cover of any book published in 2014, but this is probably the best book of this nature I've ever read. Formatted as a series of letters from the author to a "young Mormon," it's author Adam S. Miller's thoughts on twelve topics. It reminds me of my best conversations about religion with friends and family members and colleagues. Some of the topics are more conventionally religious, like Faith, Prayer, and Scripture; others are more secular, but where religion and religious thought are often seen as intrusions or barriers -- Science, History, Sex. It's the kind of book I wish the LDS Church brochure "For the Strength of the Youth" was more like.
This was published by BYU's Neal A. Maxwell Institute, and although all things BYU make me shudder and arch a skeptical eyebrow, this book is all win. It manages to balance rational thought, observation, faith and our rich-but-complicated history as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I picked up this copy at my library, but I'll be purchasing it. Great read for Mormons of any age, or people who live with them and are trying to understand them. ...more
Short review: This is a well-researched, fascinating look at an American-born religious group that has an intriguing history. If you’re interested inShort review: This is a well-researched, fascinating look at an American-born religious group that has an intriguing history. If you’re interested in race, religion, history, or the overlap of all three, this is a must-read.
I need to start this with a disclaimer that I’m a Mormon. Not only a Mormon, but a “Utah Mormon,” who has family members in the LDS/Mormon Church going back to 1830, the year that religion was founded. So that may bias my reading of this book. I’m also a history teacher, and I think that the history of the Mormons as a religion, as a culture, and as builders of a secular “kingdom” in the Western United States in the 19th Century is one of the most interesting and compelling stories in American history. Even then, I’ve never considered the story of the Mormons to be that of an entirely different race.
W. Paul Reeve, Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah, makes the claim that Mormons were indeed seen as a different race by 19th Century Americans, and that this idea shaped interactions between Mormons and “Gentiles” (church members’ term for outsiders) for the better part of a century. This racialization contributed to the Mormons being forced from homes in Missouri and Illinois, and was part of the impetus for their settling of the Great Basin—pretty much as far away as they could get from other (protestant, white) Americans.
This racializing of the Mormons is particularly odd considering the current notion that all Mormons are as white (or fake-tan) as Mitt Romney, or as bland and white bread as my own family ancestry, mostly English, Danish and Scottish. I’m super damn white. But by 19th Century standards, I’d be considered a separate race…which at the time would also mean that I had limited rights. Reeve points to an arc in Mormondom that starts with Mormons being considered as white (as “normal”) as other Americans, but then becoming more and more conflated with various races and traditions, and being forced to prove their whiteness. This racialization goes beyond skin color and into outright deformity, including claims that Mormons had tails and horns. Seriously. Horns. As Mormons were forced to prove their equality with other Americans, they seemed to overshoot the mark, denying rights to African Americans, moving away from perceived alliances with Native Americans, and other races. By the 1950s, they were finally considered as white as other Americans…but by that point, the tides were turning. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and within a few decades, the Mormons’ denial of priesthood rites to blacks was seen as racist as their own treatment had been a century before.
Reeve has written a masterpiece that lays out the thinking of nineteenth century Americans, using a political cartoon showing a “Mormon Elder-Berry” holding hands with his offspring from multiple wives, each a different race. He uses this as the framework for the book, with chapters on African Americans, Native Americans, Oriental, and other races. He points out that other newcomers to the United States, like Irish and Italians, were also considered “other,” but were generally adopted into the body as Americans within a generation. Mormons were still a separate race.
Using letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and remarkable political cartoons, Reeve gives us the historical evidence. It ends up being a fascinating look at how Americans constructed the very concept of “race.” How did they decide who was in, how did they decide who was out? How long would it take a group of people to be considered an American?
Most poignant, and most troubling, are the chapters about the evolution of the Mormon policy, and eventual beliefs, regarding African Americans. In the earliest years of the church, there were black members in congregations, they held the priesthood, they had access to “saving” ordinances. Over the course of a few decades, all of that changed. Reeve gives us the evidence explaining when and how and why it happened, and the fallout that lasted for a century. When you have a hundred years of a policy that discriminates against a race, is it any wonder that the modern LDS Church is still trying to get over that hurdle of racism? The priesthood ban based on race was lifted in 1978, but still, nearly forty years later, it’s an issue. This book explains why, and in a concluding chapter “From Not White to Too White: The Continuing Contest over the Mormon Body,” Reeve gets into 21st Century issues that are still bubbling to the surface.
Some scholarly books are just written for other historians to read. This is one that is still academic, but is able to be read and (I think) enjoyed by those who are interested in the topic. Reeve has a conversational style, with enough irony and humor to take some of the sting out of what is at times a very controversial book. Especially for those of us who are Mormon, and who are confronted with the racism of our ancestors or our religious peers. Besides enjoying the information found in the book, I enjoyed reading the book.
This was a readable, well-researched, fascinating look at an American-born religious group that has an intriguing history. If you’re interested in race, religion, history, or the overlap of all three, this is a must-read. ...more
There's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the BeThere's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the Beehive State in 1847, setting up their polygamist kingdom, and then fighting against the U.S. government for fifty years to become a state. It wasn't until the Mormons agreed to give up polygamy in 1890 that the United States allowed them to move from being a territory to a state, which finally happened in 1896. For many people, that is the history of Utah. But it's much more than that.
Eileen Hallet Stone is a reporter and columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune. One of her ongoing columns has been Living History, revived after being dormant for some time. As a Utah History teacher, I've enjoyed the articles in the paper when I've caught them--but there have been many I've missed. Thankfully, 58 of those short stories have now been collected in Hidden History of Utah, a 2013 book published by The History Press. The 200 page book is an interesting series of snapshots into the "other history" of Utah, and it's a great resource for Utah residents or simply history buffs who want to know more about the Western United States.
Most of the stories cover the century from 1850 to 1950, and are each only two to three pages long. It's a great one to read in short batches, when you've only got a few minutes to get your history on. The articles are grouped into categories:
Early Towns, Different Stories
Western Entrepreneur's True Grit
Matters of Inequity
Rails, Wires, Wheels and Roads,
Suffragists in the West
Working the Mines
...you get the idea. There are stories from World War II, from the Great Depression, about Prostitution and Prohibition. Many of her stories are meant to bust the myths that Utah has always been dry (it hasn't, and still isn't), or that we're all a bunch of white bread Mormons (okay, I am, but there's more diversity here than people realize). The stories are entertaining, succinct, and well-written. The one caution is that Stone seems to be so interested in telling the "other stories" of Utah's History that she doesn't include the traditional Mormon stories at all. Filling in gaps is good, but if a reader picked this up expecting to cover all of Utah's History, there would be some series chunks missing.
with that caveat in mind, if you're interested in Utah History, this is a good place to start. There are other contributors to the Living History column, including longtime Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley--I'd love to see more collections in this series. Past publications by the Salt Lake Tribune have included It Happened in Utah by Gayen and Tom Wharton, and In Another Time, by the late Harold Schindler. All are worth tracking down, for the same reasons that Hidden History of Utah is. ...more
I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than j I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than just a place to get out of the elements, they're built the way they are for a reason. I don't have any professional training, and given my math skills, could never actually build anything, but I love architecture.
When I saw Images of America: Salt Lake City's Historic Architecture by Allen Dale Roberts, I knew I had to pick it up. The book is part of a long-running series from Arcadia Publishing, with hundreds of books celebrating local history across the United States. Their pattern seems to be mining photos from the archives of local/state historical societies, and then finding local experts to write about them. In this particular case, it worked perfectly.
Mr. Roberts is an award-winning architect and the president of CRSA, an architectural firm in Salt Lake City that specializes in historic preservation and restoration. So when he writes about the buildings in the book, he knows what he's talking about.
The 128-page paperback volume features hundreds of buildings, divided into nine chapters based on the function of the structure: Civic and Public Architecture, Industrial Buildings, Hotels and Apartments, Religious Architecture, etc..
Of the 220 buildings featured in the book, about a third of them have been destroyed. For some, it's understandable. The site of the building, the cost to renovate, safety concerns--all play a role in deciding if a building should stay or go. For others, it's a loss that left me genuinely sad (and sometimes angry) about the shortsightedness of previous generations. Chief among these are the Commercial Block, which was a beautiful building near my former workplace downtown, and the Dooly Block, Utah's only building designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan.
As you read the book, the names of certain architects keep coming to the fore: Richard Kletting, Frederick Hale, the firm Pope and Burton...most of the significant buildings in the late 19th and early 20th Century were designed by a handful of men and their firms. You begin to see common themes and design elements in their buildings, and I love knowing a little more about the backgrounds of the structures. Names of sponsors of the buildings also keep coming up--the Mormon/LDS Church of course is responsible for many of the buildings in Salt Lake City, but a family of four "Walker Brothers" and the silver mining magnate Thomas Kearns also served as a counterpoint, building commercial buildings to rival the economic and political hold the Mormons had on the city. It makes for an interesting study in contrasts, and a kind of time machine to look at my hometown.
The photographs are all black and white, pulled from various state archives, with a handful of modern black and white photographs that may have been taken by Roberts himself. Most buildings are featured two per page, but some significant buildings merit their own page, or even multiple pages. Roberts' captions are succinct but informative, and I enjoyed reading this book more than I expected.
If you're a fan of architecture, and happen to have ties to Utah or Salt Lake City, I highly recommend this book. Since I know most people reading this don't have those ties, look for the Images of America books that represent your own community. Chances are good that there are many of them, and if they're anything like this one, they'll be a good find. ...more
I'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, allI'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all the way to 1830, when the religion was founded in New York by Joseph Smith. They stuck with the Mormons as they moved to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and then the middle of nowhere (Utah).
I try to be open and upfront with my religious beliefs, not to foist them upon others, but open enough that friends, co-workers, new acquaintances who have questions about the Mormons feel comfortable asking me. I usually do a pretty good job of it, I think...although I have startled more than one person who asks me how many wives I have by telling them "four...and we're looking at a fifth. Interested?" For the record, that's a JOKE, and Mormons haven't done the polygamy thing since 1890. Still. It's a peculiar piece of our history, and I own it. There are other oddities in our theology, some of which you undoubtedly heard about during Mitt Romney's run for the White House. Even odder than our theology is Mormon folklore--the stories and culture that have grown up around the Mormons in isolation in the Western United States. Those traditions are the topic of Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies, a 2013 book edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould.
The hefty (nearly 600 pages) paperback is a collection of writings dating from 1948 on, although most of the 28 essays and articles are from the last 25 years. The majority of the older essays still hold up over time, because they're about rural communities and the transition from pioneer times to 20th Century life.
The six sections of the book are:
Part I: Mormondom as Regional Culture: Society, Symbols, and Landscape
Part II: Making Mormons: Formative Customs and Traditions
Part III: The Sacred and the Supernatural
Part IV: Pioneers, Heroes, and the Historical Imagination
Part V: Humor
Part VI: Beyond Deseret: Mormon Folklore in an International Context
The introductions to each section, along with a long scholarly introduction about the context of the Mormons in the West, the role of folklore in researching history, and how they gathered and organized the essays, are all written by Eliason and Mould. It turns out those are the driest part of the collection, although they do a good job of establishing the rest of the book.
Some of my particular favorite essays:
The Mormon Landscape: Definition of an Image in the American West, by Richard V. Francaviglia -- there is something unique about Mormon cities and towns and their situation in relation to each other and the mountains and streams that feed them, when compared to similar sized towns in neighboring states. Francaviglia explains those differences, and gives a sort of primer to help you identify "if you're in a Mormon town or not."
Made in Heaven: Marriage Confirmation Narratives Among Mormons, by George H. Schoemaker -- Mormons have a strong belief in "personal revelation" -- that God has a vested interest in our lives, and will give us a heads-up about important things via the Holy Ghost. It can be through feelings, it can be through a voice in our head, it can be through friends or family members. Schoemaker's article is about Mormons who get some kind of revelation that their spouse-to-be is The One. As a Mormon who was single until the age of 27 (a very old man in Mormon terms), I've heard dozens of these in real life, and it was interesting to look at it from a scholarly perspective.
Nameways in Latter-Day Saint History, Custom, and Folklore, by Eric Eliason -- Mormon given names have always fascinated me, possibly because my own name (Quinn) is somewhat unusual. It defies the naming traditions described by Eliason, but when the time came for my wife and I to name our own sons, we followed some of the courses described in the essay. Eliason details several different traditions, ascribing them to times and places, and examines whether or not they're truly "Mormon" traditions, or "Western U.S." traditions. I loved this essay.
Pioneers and Recapitulation in Mormon Popular Historical Expression, by Eric Eliason -- turns out I like how this guy thinks. And writes. This looks at the idea of the Mormon exodus from eastern states to Utah, and how it's been commemorated and become its own sort of weird object of veneration. I've never quite agreed with it, but Eliason explains it well here. He also looks at how that commemoration has changed over time, and what forms it may take in the future.
Others in the collection are hit and miss; I felt like the collection and analysis of "BYU Coed Jokes" was interesting, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Same with the inclusion of "Three Nephites" stories -- similar to the "Wandering Jew" or Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven character...an angelic visitor who pops in, does some good deed, and then vanishes. That essay felt short and incomplete for a subject that's such a huge part of Mormon folklore.
One that I wanted to love, and that I was keenly interested in, was Susan Peterson's The Great and Dreadful Day: Mormon Folklore of the Apocalypse. Mormons tend to have...interesting ideas about the end of the world (the official name of the church includes the term "Latter-Day" in it, after all), and in my personal experience, the folklore related to the apocalypse goes bananas. Sadly, Peterson's article was originally published in 1976, and although it's well-written, many of the things she includes as evidence or as Mormon conventional wisdom has been changed.
Overall, it's a collection of scholarly essays that look at Mormon folklore. If you're a fan of American folklore or cultural studies, it's a solid read. Each essay provides enough of a background about what you need to know about the religion for that particular essay, so you aren't ever out of your depth in understanding where the authors are going. If you're interested in the subject, but want something a little shorter, I also recommend Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore....more