Is Mormon History American History? From the Juvenile Instructor

Such is the question posed at the Juvenile Instructor (a blog I just found that attempts to discuss Mormonism within the wider context of American history -- the blog's title is from a 19th-century Mormon periodical). The discussion there concerns the relative treatment of Mormonism by Charles Sellers, Sean Wilentz, and now Daniel Walker Howe in their respective treatments of the antebellum era, discussed further in John Turner's post below. The post concludes by asking: All of this leads to the question: how significant is Mormon history to the larger narrative of American history? Is Wilentz right in granting Mormonism just one paragraph in a 800-page book on antebellum American history? Or is Sellers (and possibly Howe) more accurate in devoting more time to Mormonism’s place in American history?

The post is well worth checking out as part of our discussion here of religion, the market revolution, and the antebellum era, as well as for those with a special interest in discussing Mormon history in more depth. And thanks for the links and references.

Also, this of interest on the same topic, from American Religious History:

Mormon-studies professorship is first in California

The Claremont Graduate University program will be led by Richard Lyman Bushman, a church elder, media commentator and author.

By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 30, 2007

Claremont Graduate University is establishing a new professorship in Mormon studies and hiring a prominent historian and biographer of the religion’s founder to fill that slot — starting the first such academic program in California and the second of its kind at a secular school nationwide.

Non-Mormon academics and Mormon church leaders described Claremont’s appointment of Richard Lyman Bushman, professor emeritus of early American history at Columbia University, as a significant advance in serious scholarship about the religion, which is growing quickly worldwide but also raising puzzlement and even hostility. (Click on link above for rest of article)


Anonymous said…
To be fair to Wilentz, I must confess an error in my post on his book and allow that Mormonism briefly surfaces again in a second paragraph on the "twin relics of barbarism." However, he doesn't mention the Utah War, which probably deserved at least a word or two in his coverage of the Buchanan presidency.

This, however, illustrates the difficulty of the question. How much space should Mormonism (or, specifically, Nauvoo, the Utah War, or the Mountain Meadows Massacre) receive? I can hardly blame Wilentz for instead writing about Dred Scott and Kansas.
Anonymous said…
I guess I showed my hand on this one, John, when I titled my dissertation's introduction, "Mormon History as American History." For me, much of Mormonism's significance for the larger narrative is the ways which it provoked such intense hostility. Something that touches such a nerve surely merits some attention. I argue that, given the sheer volume of anti-Mormon writing, historians who ignore the Mormon story miss a critical window on some pretty salient dilemmas.
Paul Harvey said…
Spencer: Good to see you briefly retired from your touch football quarterbacking career to comment on this -- feel free to send me something to post on the subjects you're studying, or if not that hope we'll hear from you in the comments section further. Thanks, Paul
Anonymous said…
Spencer -- good to hear from you in this venue.

I don't disagree with you. Mormonism (and more particularly, anti-Mormonism) does have a lot to say about American History. The viciousness and pervasiveness of anti-Mormonism speaks volumes about American identity in the 19th century and how closely it was tied into Protestant Christianity. But in the context of Wilentz's rather strict focus on American politics, I don't blame him for ignoring Mormonism (although more on the 1856 Republican platform and the Utah War would have fit in fairly easily).
Rebecca said…
Maybe Wilentz overlooking the Utah War is part of a larger pattern in which nineteenth-century historians who aren't explicitly historians of the West completely ignore everything that happens between the Mississippi and California? (Well, they don't necessarily *completely* ignore it, but I think there's definitely a feeling that what happens in the east is more important/significant for later events). Just a thought.

Popular Posts