Aaron's Reviews > Adventures of a Church Historian

Adventures of a Church Historian by Leonard J. Arrington
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's review
Jul 11, 2010

it was amazing
Read in February, 2011

This was an amazing book that details the history of the LDS Church History Dept from 1972-1982. Due to a feeling of openness and high productivity among the historians in the dept, these years are called "The Camelot Years" among local historians. Arrington, the first non-general authority/apostle called to the position, has had an everlasting effect on Mormon history.

It's very clear from the out-set that Arrington was a good, honest, well-intentioned man. He gives an interesting history of his life in North Carolina as a graduate student, his time in the military during World War II, and his years as a Utah State University professor. The chapters of his time in Logan were of special interest to me because of my time as a student there. It's clear that Logan and Cache Valley meant a great deal to Arrington.

In 1972 on the behest of N. Eldon Tanner, Arrington was called as Church Historian. He equipped a team of LDS historians who became legends--James B. Allen, Glen Leonard, Carol Madsen, D. Michael Quinn, Thomas Alexander, Ron Esplin, Bitton, and Dean May are just a few names who dot the landscape of the book. (I also found out from the book that one of my favorite professors at Weber State University, Gene Sessions worked for Arrington.) Under the guidance of Arrington, the All-Star Team of historians starts to produce many legendary pieces of work that will have an everlasting and good effect on the genre. It's clear that these are a group of professionals intent on doing the best they know how.

I'm happy that Arrington documented the conflict that took place between the Twelve and the history dept. He did it in an honest, discreet, and kind way. As detailed in other reviews, the intellectual vs. faith conflict is intense. Arrington lays out a logical, honest, and good defense of why the Church needs to write a good, faithful, and responsible history. He looks at Mormon History as a painting full of thousands of brush strokes that complete a beautiful picture. Sometimes there is a flawed brush stroke, but it shouldn't scare us to report on it. In the words of McConkie, "The Church shouldn't be afraid of its history." I agree.

As reported in other reviews, a few in the twelve did not like what the department did. Despite the best efforts, Arrington is constantly bombarded from these members. It starts a conflict between a few members of the leadership of the Church and intellectuals that continues to this day--but definitely reached its climax in the Early 90's. This isn't a Tell-All or an expose. Arrington does an excellent job in being critical and honest in his assessment of the conflict, without being demeaning and disrespectful, when he easily could have been. I won't lend my criticism to these members in the Twelve. I will say this--I gained a new respect for N. Eldon Tanner, President Kimball, President Hunter, Joseph Anderson (who is someone I really would have liked to have known), and Bruce R. McConkie. I don't blame the others for having the views on history that they do--I just disagree with it.

In the end, the history dept.headed by Arrington is eased out of the Church program and moved to BYU. Still, the work that Arrington did for the Church is priceless. With the advent of the internet, the Church has been open to tons of criticisms concerning its history. I'm always surprised that in order to counter these arguments, the Church relies on the works of Arrington and his team. Without a doubt, there was a reason why Arrington became the historian at the time he did. Arrington was a man ahead of his time--and I and many members are grateful for the work he did.

In another note of interest, while attending the Arrington Conference last Autumn, I heard that a biography of Arrington is being written by Gregory Prince. I can't wait to read it.
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