“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.”
So it is with the Mormon Wasp, known only in the commenting rolls of the bloggernacle as the unassuming “Justin” these days. BCC is happy to present the following interview with Justin, the author and host of some of the best Mormon History blogging the ‘nacle has ever seen. As J. Stapley once told me, “When Justin speaks, the thinking is done.”
BCC: How have you been doing for the past 2 years since you closed up the Mormon Wasp blog?
Justin: I’m feeling much better, fortunately. I’ve maintained my weight, my hair’s grown grayer, I’ve stayed in the same job, I’ve held three different church callings, I’ve owned three different computers (two died), I’ve fallen in and out of love with The Hills and American Chopper (my reasons for watching were Justin-Bobby, and Vinnie, mostly), I’ve purchased ten Mormon studies books, I’ve had one comment deleted at a not-to-be-named blog, I’ve suffered violent spiritual reactions to at least 277 posts on Feminist Mormon Housewives, I’ve hopelessly fallen behind the times when it comes to technology and music (I don’t have a cell phone, let alone an iPhone, iTouch, or iPad, and I’ve never heard of any of the songs on the iTunes top music download chart). Above all, though, I’ve done my level best to avoid embarrassing the Mormon church and my fellow (European) Mormons–and have been largely successful (according to my bishop, at least, who has European ancestry).
BCC: You mentioned that you purchased 10 Mormon studies books in the past couple of years. What volumes did you pick up? Any favorites?
- The Joseph Smith Papers (first 2 volumes)
- No Place to Call Home: The 1807-1857 Life Writings of Caroline Barnes Crosby, Chronicler of Outlying Mormon Communities
I miscounted. My favorites include the Joseph Smith Papers volumes, A Widow’s Tale, At Sword’s Point, On the Mormon Frontier, and the Book of Mormon: Earliest Text. I was a bit disappointed by Massacre at Mountain Meadows and haven’t had a chance to get into the Eliza Snow volume.
BCC: Of those primary source volumes, who did you feel did the best job editing, and why? Who was the best diarist/journalizer? What are your favorite diary excerpts?
Justin: I think the editing done for the Joseph Smith Papers volumes is in a class by itself. The quality is not surprising given the resources devoted to the project, but nevertheless the editors should be commended for their extraordinary work. The Revelations and Translation: Manuscript Revelation Books volume is a gem, featuring beautiful photographic images and painstaking transcriptions.
I’ve probably most enjoyed the Patty Sessions diaries. Sessions’ entries are typically matter-of-fact in style, often limited to terse jottings on the day’s events. But she provides wonderful illustrations of the ways that the mundane and the spiritual coexisted in her life. Some entries (copied from an electronic source, rather than the USU edition):
“My birthday. Fifty two years old Febr 4 1847 in the camp of Isrial Winter Quarters. We had brandy and drank a toast to each other desireing and wishing the blesings of God to be with us all and that we might live and do all that we came here into this world to do. Eliz Snow came here after me to go to a litle party in the evening. I was glad to see her. Told her it was my birthday and she must bless me. She said if I would go to the party they all would bless me. I then went and put James Bullock wife to bed then went to the party. Had a good time singing praying speaking in toungues Before we brake up I was caled away to sister Morse then to sister Whitney then back to sister Morse. Put her to bed [at] 2 o clock.”
“We visited the sisters and brethren all day. In the evening David went to a party. They prayed and danced and prayed again. Sylvia her Father and I with a few more sisters met at Br Leonards. He was gone but Mr Sessions presided and we had a good time. We prayed prop[h]esied and spoke in toungues and interpreted and were refreshed.”
“Sylvia and I went to a meeting to Sister Leonards. None but females there. We had a good meetting. I presided. It was got up by E R Snow. They spoke in toungues. I interpreted. Some prophesied. It was a feast.”
“It is Davids birthday 23 years old and the same time of day that he was born. He and Sylvia left me on the bank of Missouri river. Started for home. Mr Sessions went over and saw them leave the river. O may the Lord speed them in all safety home. May they keep the spirit of gathering and with all their connection[s] gather up their substance and come to us again as soon as the Lord will is my prayer. Mr Sessions an[d] I returned to the house. Went to meeting. Counsel was given for the saf[e]ty of our catle and also for raising a crop. In the evening I was sent for to go and lay hands on Zinas child. We had a prayer meeting.”
“Packed 186 pounds of pork for the mountains. I then went to collect some debts. Got nothing. Then went to a meeting to Eliza Beamans; with many of the sisters. Sisters Young and Whitney laid their hands upon my head and predicted many things that I should be blesed with that I should live to stand in a temple yet to be built and Joseph [Smith] would be there. I should see him and there I should officiate for my labours should then be done in order and they should be great and I should be blessed and by many and there I should bless many and many should be brought unto me saying your hands were the first that handled me bless me and after I had blesed them their mothers would rise up and bless me for they would be brought to me by Joseph himself for he loved litle children and he would bring my litle ones to me and my heart was fil[le]d with joy and rejoicing.”
“Sister E R Snow is here. The girls wash some for her. She lines Carlos hat. We had a feast in the afternoon at sister Millers. There we blessed and got blessed. I blesed sister Christeen by laying my hands upon her head and the Lord spoke through me to her great and marvelous things. At the close I thought I must ask a blessing at sister Kimbals hand but it came to me that I must first bless her and show Herbers girls the Order that duty caled them to perform to get many blessings from her upon them. I obeyed. Layed my hands upon her head although it was a great cross and the power of God came upon me. I spoke great and marvelous things to her. She was fil[l]ed to the overflowing. She arose and blesed the Lord and caled down a blessing on us and all that pertained to her. Sister Hess fell on her knees and claimed a blessing at my hands. I then blessed her. Sister Chase claimed a blessing of Sister Kimbal. She blessed her with me. She spoke great things to her. The power of God was poured out upon us. E R Snow was there and with many others. Thank the Lord.”
BCC: Those passages–and the names of several women–brought to mind the Women of Faith in the Latter Days series that is being planned. Have you heard about the series? Any hopes or expectations for it?
Justin: I’ve only heard about the series via the Juvenile Instructor post that you link. I find it intriguing that the editors are apparently casting their nets widely for potential authors, although I’ll have to wait and see the list of selected contributors. A publication date of 2011 for the first volume and the proposed publication schedule for subsequent volumes seem very ambitious. I hope that Deseret Book avoids imposing certain editorial controls (e.g., no citations to certain journals or authors) and strives for a solid product, both in terms of content and and in terms of physical construction. Hopefully, the series will have a good index, and an accompanying CD/DVD would be nice to see.
BCC: Changing directions a little bit, I’d like to ask you about your old blog if I can. Having arrived in the Mormon blogging world recently, I was not around while you were actively blogging. However, I have been told by numerous people that Mormon Wasp was _the_ place for historical research in Mormonism in the bloggernacle. A couple of questions then: First, do you miss blogging? Second, do you anticipate ever opening the archives of Mormon Wasp up as a resource?
Justin: No, I really don’t miss blogging. Once in a while, I will come across a news item that that demands could use a blog post, but I don’t want to dive back into the blogging business (yes, I posted the non-Marriott-related comment on the article).
Solo blogging took a great deal of time and mental effort. It was stressful. I was constantly on the prowl for possible blogging material (I read all Mormon news as such), and I felt pressure to produce posts on a regular basis. It’s been a relief not to think about blogging for the last two years. I kept Mormon Wasp archives open for a time after I quit, but I really don’t see it as a general Mormon history resource. It was very eclectic in its subject matter, and I mostly wrote about things that I was thinking about at the time or about which I had an ax to grind. For instance, I regularly wrote about certain aspects of the priesthood restriction in the first years of the blog. Once I grew tired of thinking about the matter, I moved on to other subjects. Plus I was always uncomfortable with the public aspects of blogging, and I tried somewhat to limit exposure to the blog (e.g., I blocked search engines in the blog’s settings). I see the blog as a personal project of mine, and I’ve moved on.
BCC: You said that solo blogging was a strain on you. That reminds me–Steve Evans insisted that I ask you, just for old times’ sakes, if you’ll be a perma at BCC. How about it?
Justin: It’s been over two years since Steve last asked me to join BCC. I thought that I had been removed from his rolodex. In any case, I must decline. I don’t feel much like blogging at the Wasp or anywhere else.
BCC: So I guess that answers a question from Jonathan Stapley: When are you going to return with power and great glory?
Justin: I’m afraid that I will never return with power and great glory. Truth be told, I am occasionally tempted to resurrect the Winter Quarters Coupon Shopper, which enjoyed a very brief existence, but those are mostly idle thoughts that I quickly boo off the Showtime at the Apollo stage of my mind.
BCC: What would you say to a person who has a growing interest in Mormon Studies, but no formal training in history, in terms of a starting point for getting involved?
Justin: If said person would like to get involved in terms of research, writing, or publication, I would recommend reading Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker and James B. Allen, Mormon History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), for a survey of the historiographical land. Read back issues of the Journal of Mormon History and Dialogue. Read Mormon and non-Mormon history alike. It’s probably a good idea to subscribe to the Journal of Mormon History and to attend the Mormon History Association’s annual conference. I would recommend making and cultivating contacts with practicing scholars and amateurs at the conference or via email. Find an area or topic that interests you. Consult mormonhistory.byu.edu and Excavating Mormon Pasts to obtain a sense of what’s been done, what’s been beaten into the ground, and what areas could use more inquiry.
BCC: You’ve talked about the JSPP, and the great work that has gone into that. Although that project is ongoing, and could still be seen as “the next big thing” in Mormon Studies, do you have any thoughts on the current state of Mormon Studies, and what perhaps should be “the next big thing” for interested parties?
Justin: Last night I re-read the roundtable discussion published in the Summer 2009 issue of the Journal of Mormon History (previewed here) on what is variously referred to by the participants as the Future of the New Mormon History, the New-New Mormon History, and Post New Mormon History, and I recommend the discussion to those who would like to read better informed recommendations and forecasts in this area than mine. (A related blog discussion can be read here.)
With these discussions in mind, I look forward to more interpretive and contextualizing scholarship. I hope to see more done in the areas of sociological work and ritual studies. I’m interested in reading Paul Reeve’s work on racialization. I would like to see more twentieth-century history. I welcome publication of long-awaited biographies (e.g., Eliza Snow or Heber J. Grant) and primary sources, whether it’s the JSPP, the George Q. Cannon journals, or Relief Society founding documents. I’m interested in seeing the results of the project on LDS urban pioneers. I love the digital collections movement (e.g., here and here), which makes primary sources more widely accessible. As an interested observer of the field, I have high hopes for the future of Mormon studies, and I’m looking forward to a bumper scholarly crop in the next decade, regardless of its form.
BCC: Justin, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time answer a few questions, and we always appreciate your comments on the blog.
Justin: One small note regarding the Banner of Heaven: I was the person who located the photo of Aaron Cox on the Duke website and posted the link as “Sleuth” on ninemoons. I picked up on A Random John’s tip on Nine Moons regarding the Duke uniform and, using Internet Archive, scoured the archives of the Duke athletics site for a matching photo. I viewed the search as a challenge of sorts.
* * * * *
 The article linked here relates to Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s interactions with Mormonism, particularly the Book of Mormon, concluding with Tolstoy allegedly praising the Mormon faith. Justin, in a comment which is largely hidden below the fold, suggests that such may not be the case:
“Leland Fetzer’s article titled “Tolstoy and Mormonism,” published in Dialogue in 1971 (google “Tolstoy and Mormonism”), quotes Gates’ first letter to Tolstoy, which explains her inspiration for writing him (she read an article quoting Tolstoy’s remarks regarding persecution against the Mormons).
Fetzer’s article also quotes Tolstoy’s written opinion regarding the Book of Mormon. Tolstoy noted in his diary that “I was horrified” after reading the Book of Mormon and George Q. Cannon’s biography of Joseph Smith. Fetzer’s article also provides reasons to be cautious about accepting the accuracy of the account regarding the conversation between Tolstoy and White.“