As you know, I’m reading the latest Dialogue, and on the train this morning I get to R. John Williams, “Remembering Gene and His Generation,” which is a review of Robert A. Rees, Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England (SLC: Signature, 2005). At pp. 186-87, Williams comments a bit on the Bloggernacle:
But no matter who assumes the reins of “independent” Mormon scholarship in the future, one can be relatively certain that the venues for that intellectual activity will seldom involve paper. The “next generation” of Mormon scholars do not, as a general rule, shell out $35 for essays in honor of the previous generation (which is not to say that they shouldn’t). They do not, unfortunately, even subscribe to Dialogue. Whoever these next Mormon intellectuals are, they are connected to digital networks, computer screens, and online discussion groups. One finds them woven into the fabric of online “threads,” moving through cyberspace with relative anonymity. They show up at online sites like Times and Seasons, Exponent II Blog, By Common Consent, Feminist Mormon Housewives, Millennial Star, and a host of other blog-like discussion sites.
Having perused many of these online sites myself and even contributed to these discussions on occasion, two things strike me as interesting. First, how exciting, heated, wonderful, and brilliant some of these discussions can be on the one hand, while sometimes slipping into a kind of quasi-intellectual form of “self expression” rather than true “communication” and “dialogue” on the other. And second, how seldom, if ever, those participating in these discussions realize the enormous wealth of foundational intellectual work already done in forty years of Dialogue publications. While some may argue that each generation must work out these problems on its own, I would contend that there is incredible value in digging into the discursive past. Trolling through these online forums, I have often wondered things like, “Wasn’t that Michael Coe’s point back in 1973?” Or, “Wouldn’t this person benefit from Gene’s Letter to a College Student from 1974?” Or even, “Isn’t there a great article on that topic in the current issue of Dialogue?”
Your reaction to any of Williams’ comments is on topic for this thread. But I have had a similar thought many times to his second point above. And therein lies my little suggestion.
If Hugh Nibley were a young student of Mormon things in 2007, I can guarantee that he would already have read through all of the journals. That was how he acquired knowledge. You go to the stacks in the library and read everything on a given subject, and then you find the relevant journals and read through their entire history. (Not that you read every word; there is a lot of browsing and skimming that goes on in this process.)
So my little Nibleyesque suggestion is that people take some time and browse the many riches that are there for the taking in the Mormon journals. They are pretty much all online now, so expense is no longer an excuse. Start at the beginning and work forward, or start with the current issue and work backward, whatever makes sense to you. If you do this, you will get a bird’s eye view of Mormon studies, and your capacity to intelligently contribute to the ongoing Bloggernacle conversation will increase exponentially.
Here are the links for your convenience: