I only had the privilege of spending an evening and a day at Mormon History Association's annual meeting, but oh what a meeting it was. I arrived to fantastic news: Spencer Fluhman had won "best first book" and John Turner had won "best biography". Then, I heard some terrific papers on Mormon women and nineteenth-century reform movements, a project led, in part, by Matthew Grow.
|Sarah Barringer Gordon kicking it off|
Lunch was a "who's who" of young Mormon scholars. Ben Park to the left of me. Chris Jones to the right. Joseph Stuart announcing that he was headed to UVA to work with Kathleen Flake and their fantastic program (with Matt Hedstrom and Valerie Cooper). We all raised a glass of ... well, not beer or wine ... to huzzah the news. Conversation ranged from Lebron-hating to intense readings of Terryl Givens's works. I felt like a kid in a Mormon candy store.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Leigh Eric Schmidt used the Tanner Lecture to discuss three Freethinkers and how they deployed Mormonism in the late nineteenth century in complicated ways. It was an epic lecture (no surprise to those of us familiar with Schmidt and his scholarship) and it was made even better by Schmidt's use of Fluhman's book and Patrick Mason's work on anti-Mormonism in the South.
I spent the afternoon mostly discussing representations of Mountain Meadows massacre, as Christine Hutchinson-Jones and Janiece Johnson ran from England in the nineteenth-century to twenty-first century films to consider the place of the horrific events. Brief interludes with hair weaving from Jenny Reeder left me wondering if anyone would want my locks after I had left the land of the living.
My panel featured two incredible papers. First, W. Paul Reeve described how Mormons went from "not quite white" in the Age of Lincoln to "too white" in the Age of Obama. Second, Max Perry Mueller presented on Temple Square during the 1960s and how it became a site of racial-religious contest. Mueller explained how African Americans used civil rights protest to compel public transformations, which also resulted in the church hierarchy focusing on its First Amendment rights when it came to their private worship and space. Quincy Newell did what she does: make absolutely brilliant points about how the essays could critique one another.
Finally, my conference was animated by the good will of Newell Bringhurst and Brian Hale. Without doubt, Dr. Bringhurst is one of the most important Mormon historians of the past thirty years. His Saints, Slaves, and Blacks (1982) was a path breaking book on religion and racialization. He was doing "whiteness" studies before they existed by name. His biography of Fawn Brodie uncovered the genius of her Joseph Smith scholarship and demonstrated the cathartic importance of No Man Knows My Story for her. Bringhurst's short biography of Brigham Young is a model of short, erudite scholarship, and he has been hugely important in work on polygamy in a series of edited volumes. He, with Brian Hales, who has also written considerably on polygamy, were wonderful hosts!
Huge kudos to Andrea Radke-Moss, Matthew Bowman, and the rest of the program committee! If you're looking for a conference for next year that will have incredible scholars young and old, where audience members are intensely interested in the material, and where laughter is heard as often as laments, then the MHA is for you.