Kris Wright is a former BCC blogger.
Every important new discovery about the past changes how we think about the present, and what we expect from the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations for the future revises our perceptions of the past. In this complex context, history is born ostensibly as a reflection on the past: a reflection which is never isolated from the present or the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time. 
Recently I listened to a podcast interview here at BCC in which Scott B. interviewed Jonathan Stapley about women and Mormon healing rituals. During the discussion, Jonathan was able to share his broad knowledge of Mormon history and spoke about the history of women and healing in his trademark erudite manner. Because I was already familiar with the historical sources used in the forthcoming paper and the conclusions drawn from them, the most interesting part of the podcast for me occurred in the final eleven minutes, where the theme of the uses of history and the question of objectivity emerged. Scott asked Jonathan what his hopes were for the paper and what it meant for the modern LDS Church. Jonathan repsonded:
Personally, I approach this paper as an historian and I would love for the body of of students of Mormonism to be greater informed to these historical trends and perhaps some of the analyses that we bring to the front through this… I think that is what any academic would like — for people to read their stuff, understand it and uses it … there has been a history of people advocating for change and turning this topic into a political weapon, I’m not really interested in that. In fact, I’m emphatically against turning history into a weapon, a political weapon.
To which Scott replied, “… I think I can say with a fair amount of confidence that people are going to use this paper as a weapon.” The question of history being used as a “weapon” is an intriuging one and while I initially conjured up comical images of people rolling up the article and beating their rivals with it, or using it to set fires, I don’t think that is what is implied. The weapon is a new or expanded view of Mormon women’s history and I suppose the political nature of such a weapon lies in the challenges to the status quo that could emerge from such knowledge.
Women’s history is unavoidably political as it has transformed some of the conceptual foundations of historical study. Those who have studied women’s history have broadened the definition of historical evidence, historical periodization and constructed new ideas about historical objectivity and knowledge. Catholic theologian Anne E. Carr noted that, “There is politics involved in taking the growing body of knowledge about women seriously, in overcoming or continuing the devaluation, trivialization and indifference that attaches to the question.” Some critics might use the word political as an insult invoking accusations of bias and distortion, or promoting a “feminist agenda” at the cost of intellectual integrity. Despite the red-herring that these slurs offer, I would argue that rectifying the absence of women from traditional historical accounts remains a political act – and like all historical scholarship in a variety of fields, it also has political implications.
Historian and feminist theorist Joan Kelly said, “Women’s history has a dual goal: to restore women to history and to restore our history to women.”*  Restoring the history of LDS women has been fraught with difficulty as Mormon faith, theology and history are so profoundly intertwined. In the past, Jan Shipps has theorized that Mormon women’s history was actually dangerous because of the feminist theology that flows from it and explored the idea that Mormon women do not have the authority to interpret their own history. Historical precedent shows that scholars who choose to interpret Mormon theology in ways that do not correspond with authorized current teachings will encounter problems with the institutional church. Yet if historians of Mormon women are unwilling to explore the political implications of their work and claim that their research is neutral or somehow scientifically sterile, the impact of their research remains stunted.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich offers thoughts on the potential impact of well-written histories:
Good history is almost always “dangerous”. In the 1990s, “history wars” broke out all over the United States – and in some places that continues. Think of the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings debate, for example, or the argument of the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian … or the arguments of slave reparations. Women’s History was assaulted on many sides during this period. At one point, a Congressman from the Midwest even attacked funding for the PBS documentary on my book A Midwife’s Tale. Women’s history is dangerous. That is why it is important. But if it is serious history – not slapdash research in the service of a cause, Mormon or otherwise – it can make a difference.
Historical scholarship might be the source of great argument; it can cause individuals to question their assumptions and could be at the root of political discord. It might even create paradigmatic shifts that extend beyond the archive or academic journal. Negotiating this complex and dangerous interplay of past, present and future is the formidable but worthy task of Mormon historians.
* Kelly wrote in the 1970s, one might argue that women’s history needs to be restored to women and men.
 Ernest Breisach, Historiography: ancient, medieval and modern.
 Catherine A. Brekus, The Religious History of American Women: Re-Imagining the Past.
 Joan Kelly, Women, History and Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly.
 Jan Shipps, Soujourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons.