MHA 2013 Live Thread

So, because our valiant live-blogger Kevin isn’t here, we didn’t realize that we were missing an MHA live-thread until well into the conference. Our bad.

The schedule of papers can be downloaded at the MHA website. The conference is taking place in the beautiful, if over-commercialized, city of Layton, Utah. As with most MHA conferences that take place in the Wasatch Front, it is teeming with people, as over 500 individuals pre-registered.

For those in attendance, please feel free to share your reflections, experiences, and favorite points from the many fascinating papers.

And for those of you on twitter, you can follow along the frequent updates with #MHA2013.


  1. Thomas Alexander, in explaining all the environmental problems the 19th century saints encountered, joked “the seagulls (from the seagull and crickets story) didn’t solve everything.”

  2. Last night, there was an opening session with music and narration on the founding of Davis County. I unfortunately didn’t make it, as I ended up chatting with several people in the lobby–the true purpose of the conference. I was happy to catch up with Mike McKay, currently an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers but just hired as a Professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. He is a great hire for BYU RelEd, so I’m really happy for him & them.

    Earlier in the day, JIer Amanda Hendrix-Komoto and Brittany Chapman hosted a phenomenal and provocative discussion group on Mormon women’s history. Lots of great ideas were shared, and we had the privilege to listen to Laurel Ulrich as she dispensed much wisdom. There was also great pie, which always helps.

  3. This morning, Sally Gordon gave a great presentation that was a teaser for her current book project with Kathryn Daynes. They are in the midst of a social history of the polygamy prosecutions in 1880s Utah. I was blown away at how much of an economic, cultural, and social rupture the “raids” caused for Mormons. The economy crumbled, men lost most of their incomes, and many were jailed just for the fact that they couldn’t pay their fines. She sandwiched the presentation with two poignant stories of families whose lives were turned upside-down due to legal problems. This is fascinating and much-needed research.

  4. Just attended a phenomenal session on the origins of Mormon modesty culture. Christine Talbot spoke on the rise of dance halls in the 1910s, and how leaders felt they would lead to the degeneration and commercialization of the youth. Rebecca de Schweinitz spoke on Mormon responses to the tumultuous decades of the 60s and 70s, and how they constructed a “chosen generation” in the face of counter-culture. And Amanda Hendrix-Komoto juxtaposed the growth of a global modesty culture with the display of “immodest” bodies at the Polynesian Culture Center. So great to see master historians contextualize tricky issues.

    Now off to lunch, where we’ll hear from John Turner speak on violence culture in territorial Utah.

    And as a plug, if you go to the book vendor’s room, you can see a large cardboard mock-up of the forthcoming Mormon Studies Review cover. The first issue will be mailed December 1.

  5. Sam Brown’s presentation on language, magic, oral to written text was fascinating. I covet his expressive power. Eventually we will see this in print in some form, but not soon enough. And of course, it strikes at the core of sermon making. Sam leveraged Walter Ong to bring a nice theoretical framework to the discussion. There are themes here we have already seen in Sam’s work on JS and language.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks so much for doing this! I regret that I cannot be present this year, but the open thread definitely helps. Keep ’em coming!

  7. LaJean Carruth’s presentation was great stuff (what can I say, it was a sermon). One of the few living experts on Taylor shorthand, she gave us a translation of Thomas Bullocks notes of the August 8, 1844 succession meeting. It was rather unexpected, although on the whole, perhaps not that strange. It gives vital context to what happened in the afternoon though. Great stuff.

  8. I may have just been chatting with Joanna Haglund… :)

  9. So. We pass in the night again?

  10. Just had some bland salad and surprisingly delicious cheesecake. John Turner is now speaking on an instance of castration in early Utah, which I believe to be a somewhat bold intro to a lunch talk.

  11. SWHoward says:

    Biggest problem with afternoon schedule: too may fascinating topics to choose just one at a time. Here I am about to listen to talks on church historian Andrew Jensen.

  12. 'reed russell says:

    Kevin is greatly missed. At least DKL is here.

  13. Gina Colvin just gave a fascinating presentation on Maori Mormons, concluding with the question (paraphrased) “How would Mormonism look if Mormons on the periphery were allowed to integrate more of their culture into the church?” It accompanied a photo of an elder in shirt and tie, close-cropped hair, shaven face, and full Maori face tattoo.

  14. In a fascinating panel in which Anne Taves, a distinguished scholar in religious studies, is delivering a paper on a more sophisticated skeptical approach to the gold plates. Lots of smart ideas being rown out. She is taking up Bushman’s and Givens’s challenge that non-believers must confront JS & JS’s contemproaries’ obsession with the gold plates’ materiality. How can we approach the plates if we don’t believe that an angel delivered an ancient record, and yet not merely dismiss JS as either a fraud or deluded? One provocative suggestion is a comparison to the Eucharist: priests and Catholics participate in a cooperative endeavor in which they take mundane materials (wafer and wine) and believe God literally turns it into Christ’s flesh and blood. Could JS have made plates himself and sincerely believe God transformed them into an ancient record? This, and other examples, demonstrates the porous nature between categories like materiality, deception, legitimacy, and divine intervention.

    Too much, and too sophisticated, stuff to recap here (especially on an iPad!), but lots to think about.

  15. Are these presentations being recorded and if so will they be available online? Some of them found fascinating.

  16. TAVES: Smith transformed tin plates into gold for those who believe the same way the Eucharist is transformed into the body of Christ for those who believe. Can’t wait for the Q and A.

  17. Aaron: they are recording the audio, which they will make available to MHA members.

  18. Am enjoying three papers on “beautifying Zion” through garden, literature and music, and painting.

  19. Laurie Maffly-Kipp with a brilliant and important response to Taves’s thoughtful paper. She fears we are dissolving the meaning of materiality to the point that it loses most meaning. Also, do the gold plates serve the same function as the Eucharist? We need more work on how we construct the “sacred.” And then she makes great points on an emphasis on an “object,” which she fears has a shor shelf life and limited use. They are gone. All we have are the narratives.

    Also, she strongly disagrees with the assumption behind Bushman’s and Givens’s lament, with which Taves agrees: that there is a strong divide between believers and non-believers. I think I agree.

  20. Laurie Maffly-Kipp, in her response and when mentioning the divergence of beliefs, made an off-hand quip that no religion believes in inter-planetary travel. Steve Harper, in the opening response, said he, as part of a religion that meditates on hieing to Kolob, strongly objects to that dismissal. Lots of laughter ensued.

  21. Taves’s paper made me think of the Brother of Jared and his stones.

  22. Steve Harper, after heaping lots of praise on Taves’s paper, brings up an important issue: her thesis accounts for the plates, but not the world the plates created. Her next step is to extend her analysis to see if it encompasses the creation of the plate’s (or, the BoM text) contents, beyond just the plates themselves.

  23. From Smith, Book of Mammon:

    “A known treasure hunter, and confessed failure at this his only gainful trade, Joseph Smith was long ago sent to recover a record of gold, at the behest of an ancient spirit: murdered Indian seer, stout Moroni son of Mormon. Dressed in black broadcloth at midnight, young Joseph first attempted to raise gold from the Hill Cumorah in 1823, but a shock or two at the burial site prevented the record’s recovery. Smith confessed in one version of his quest that his heart was not then set entirely on the things of Heaven, but rather a tiny lust for wealth still burrowed into his heart at the sight of the ancient treasures. Could Hephaestus, let alone a poor kid facing foreclosure on the family farm, calculate otherwise? After a terrifying vision of good and evil, Joseph could no longer deny these were indeed utterly distinct. Four years later, cleansed and chastened, Smith retrieved the ancient treasure from the dust, and then lifted from its gold pages a tale worth, spiritually and materially speaking, incalculably more than the metal would’ve drawn. Recent “researchers” suggest Smith actually fabricated a facsimile of the Gold Plates in lead, and they may be on to something: that is, Smith’s transmutation of lesser metal into gold.”

  24. And…. BHodges, coming up.

  25. Kristine says:

    “Lots of laughter ensued.”

    But don’t worry. It wasn’t loud.

  26. Taves’ presentation was a thoughtful, but sparse reconstruction of the golden plates saga. She proposed that JS made the plates in response to Moroni’s insistence that the project move on from the instructional stage. The materialized plates were thus in some sense a product of inspiration. I’m not sure this is a plausibility gain in general, but it might turn out to be a way for some people to compartmentalize the plates?

  27. BHodges is one very fluent speaker — no erms or uhhhs, but a rapid-fire, high vocabulary delivery with lively inflection that makes him a pleasure to listen to.

  28. Thanks, all, for the live blogging. I’m sitting in a high school gym on the other side of the country waiting for the graduation ceremonies to begin. It’s important to be here, but I do appreciate your updates.

  29. Jared Tamez’s paper on how reactions to the first Spanish-language temple ceremony is completely fascinating. They were so excited and happy and felt so much more a part of the worship.

  30. Anne Leahy and Douglas Stringham ave been alternately signing this session (one that included Douglas’s paper on early deaf Sunday Schools) for about a dozen deaf attenders. It’s been as enlightening to watch that as to listen to the papers.

  31. Just had one of my most intimidating moments ever: presenting a paper with Leigh Eric Schmidt, Sally Gordon, and Kathleen Flake in the audience. I did it without fainting, so I count it a success.

    Really sad my panel didn’t allow me to go listen to Ron Walker, Jared Tamez, and Margaret Young, though. The perils of so many great papers.

  32. BHodges FTW: in the Q&A following a great panel on religious studies and the possibilities of comparative religions, BHodges asked about the disconnect between the experience of a ritual and the description of said ritual. And as a point of comparison, he mentioned the difference of hearing a Seinfeld stand-up routine and having someone explain why Seinfeld is funny.

    Any reference to Seinfeld is a win in my book.

  33. The MHA Awards banquet was great fun, and I had the honor of sitting at a table with fellow JIer Ryan Tobler, Maxwell junta member Morgan Davis, Matt Grow, Rick Turley, Reid Neilson, and Elder Snow.

    The list of awards can be found here:

  34. And . . . Ben Park sheds a bit of glory on BCC. Double award winner at MHA. Congrats Ben!

  35. Dave Howard says:

    Ann Taves has hooked into a valid point with respect to the gold plates. She says there is another position besides no plates q.e.d. fraud or yes plates q.e.d. true prophet. Take your pick. She referred to Heidegger sever times but may not realized the power of this reference. He would allow an artist to create an alternative world with alternative truths that are internally consistent. In other words, Joseph Smith, should be allowed to create this alternative world where the ancestors of Native Americans recorded their history on golden plates in reformed Egyptian. Objective reality is irrelevant. — Only non-Mormon scholar could possibly make such an obvious point. — It was a wonderful presentation.

    I tip my hat to Steven C. Harper, the only LDS person on the program. He demonstrated a great sense of humor and understanding of the moment and let it be.

  36. davehoward2013 says:

    Chris Jones was very deserving of the honor and special recognition bestowed on him this evening. He and his family have been such an enthusiastic supporter of MHA for so many years. He has suffered a serious stroke and was in a wheel chair but he was giving thumbs up as he was wheeled up for his honor.

  37. SWHoward says:

    Congratulations to Ben both for his award and for not fainting. I enjoyed the panel discussion.
    From where I was sitting I could not see that the person who made the incisive comments was Sally Gordon until someone mentioned her name. I thought Ben handled the comments very well, as did the other presenters.

  38. Ardis, I was so glad to see you in my session!

  39. As always, the student reception was one of the highlights of the conference, partly because BHodges did his impeccable Thomas Monson impression for the crowd.

    I hope you enjoyed working for the Maxwell Institute while you could, BH!

  40. Woke up ridiculously early for the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Breakfast, but it was great to be part of an important effort. Now I’m in a panel on the Mormon image in 19th century America with papers by Reid Neilson, Crissy Hutchison-Jones, and JB Haws.

    By the look of so many people yawning and nodding off, I take it everyone else got as little sleep as I did.

  41. Two awards for our Ben! Congrats, Ben!

  42. Not pleased to be having to jump from session to session to learn about women of the RS versus young women’s diaries. I think I’m spending more time in the hall getting to each session than actually listening. Sigh. But I learned that Sarah Granger Kimball was one of few women who attended the School of the Prophets.

  43. Two fun anecdotes from Crissy’s paper:

    In 1897, the New York Times published an editorial warning Utah that if they chose Brigham Young as the statue for their state spot in the US Capital, there “would be a commotion never before seen in America.” You know, ‘cuz America didn’t have many moments of commotion.

    In the early 20th century, a magazine expressing their astonishment of Utah”so civilization while discussing outdoor activities: ” they prefer hotels to tents!”

  44. Phenomenal paper by JB Haws on the Mormon image in latter half of 20th century. In 1977, a Gallup Poll found 54% of Americans viewed Mormons as “favorable.” In 1991, the same poll found that number dropped to 27%. What happened? Well, the opposition to NRA, the popular Godmakers film and rise of counter-cult movements, and various controversies including Hoffman. It was a very tough decade for the Mormon image.

    The paper also juxtaposes two TIMES cover stories on Mormonism about fifty years apart. The one in 1947 was a Utah story based on industrialization. They focused on how Mormonism was “crushed” politically and “collapsed” economically, and that they were adopted modern notions of democratic religion. In 1997, Mormonism was shown as a global story with vast economic success and an extremely strong institution. Much had changed in fifty years—the 1980s was the nadir of Mormonism’s image as dangerous, political, and despotic—but their image was improved by the late 1990s through PR savvy, even if the elements of the image was fundamentally changed.

    This was a fantastic paper. Really, really looking forward to his book later this year.

  45. That’s “opposition to ERA” in Ben’s last comment, although personally I would cheer loudly for church opposition to the NRA.

  46. LOL! Ardis is right. Talk about revisionist history!

    Now, Leigh Eric Schmidt, one of the small handful of leading scholars in American religious history, is talking about the various intersections of Mormons and freethinkers in late 19th century. Brilliant, and unbelievably sophisticated. There is a row of us grad students and young faculty taking furious notes, picking our jaws up from the floor, and occasionally blurting out phrases of excitement. A nerdy lot, we are.

    Also, I’m sitting next to Spencer Fluhman and, after Schmidt referenced and praised Fluhman’s work, he leaned over and whispered, “I’m pretty sure this is the apex of my career. Everything else is downhill from here.”

  47. It is tough to capture how brilliant this Schmidt paper is. No matter that freethinkers and Mormons were ideological opposites, they were important combatants against the Protestant nation of late 19th century America. They tested the limits of identities and allegiances. Also, Mormons provided a tricky test case for freethinkers’ liberality: on the one hand, their devotion to civil liberties made them appalled at how the government treated Utah. On the other, the felt Mormonism, like all religion, was a detriment to society. Their balancing of this tension is a fascinating, important, and amazingly neglected aspect in our work on the “Mormon Question.” In the end, Mormons and freethinkers had a tenuous alliance in opposition to what they felt was a Protestant-dominant nation.

    I am counting down the days for the next Spring issue of Journal of Mormon History, which is when they typically publish the tanner lecture. This was truly a tour de force.

  48. Listening to Ardis E. Parshall discuss instances of British hooliganism against Mormon members and if you think she enjoys writing fun phrases (both her own and historical) you should see how she relishes saying them.

  49. SWHoward says:

    Great paper by Steven L. Sheilds on RLDS missions to Utah 1866 and 1874.

  50. Alex S. says:

    Amen, SWHoward. Steve had some awfully fun quotes about BY as well.

    John Dinger’s plea to give William Marks more benefit of the doubt was a welcome reminder to look at lifelong contributions and not just traumatic/emotional endings.

  51. Don Bradley gives us a very credible suspect for the theft of the 116 pages: Flanders Dyke

  52. There was a great lunch in which MoStudies grad students and bloggers nearly filled an entire restaurant. We went to Holy Smokes BBQ, which was absolutely delicious. Lots of good times had by all.

    I then had the wonderful opportunity to chair a panel with three great papers on Mormon travel encounters and narrative. ‘Nacle regular Kevinf gave a fantastic paper on LDS servicemen in Siberia during World War 1.

  53. Now I’m in a power session on Mormonism and race with Paul Reeve, Ed Blum, and Max Mueller. Paul gave a great paper on how Mormons inhabited a luminal space in 19th century America, as people racialized them in a way that excluded them from the blessings and rights of white people. This allowed Americans to dismiss Mormons and portray them as an “other.” Lots of great quotes and political cartoons. We should all be bating our breath for his book next year!

    Ed Blum, a growing rock star in American religious and racial history, spoke on how Mormons interpreted the Civil War. On the one hand, it confirmed in their mind Joseph Smith’s prophesy (D&C 87) and satisfied Mormons’ desire for the nation to be punished. Sme Mormon leaders opposed norther republicans because they were franchising blacks before they gave the white people in Utah statehood. But when America began reconciling and the end of the world didn’t come, they were left to find new interpretations of the prophesy. This whole fiasco (JS’s prophesy being right in some ways, but unfulfilled in others) led Mormons to reconsider how prophesy even worked. The issue was further tenuous since it upended what they believed to be the racial hierarchy and order in America.

    Max Mueller spoke on public protestations at Temple Square. This area, which acts like SLC’s town square, tests the boundaries of the freedoms of religion and speech. Mormonism both reaffirmed the notion of private space while also contesting the notion of public protest. He went into a lot of interesting intersections between the LDS Church and groups like ACLU in negotiating the contested space.

  54. Max also made the brilliant point that the controlled, sectioned-off groups of protesters at Temple Square at conference time has become part of the Mormon pioneer pageantry: it allows modern-day saints a safe exposure to prosecution, thereby reaffirming their contested identity without the threat of actual harm.

  55. The JSP crew gave a great preview of some issues worked through for the beginning of the Documents series coming out this fall. Great discussion of the BCR by Robin Jensen, an example dating a revelation that is important in the evolution of the First Presidency- and one of the few revelations where an autograph exists. Michael MacKay and Gerrit Dirkmaat on D&C 19 and its current date. Really terrific stuff.

  56. Rob Jensen (again) and Emily Ult on Mormonism and material culture. Rob showed us receipt and made us puzzle out various document-centric issues. Then he did the same with an early Missouri doc. Docs as material culture. Emily passed nails ca 1863 from SL tabernacle. What can you learn from material objects. She’s really sharp. Doing some cultural history of my own there. Great fun.

  57. davehoward2013 says:

    I attended a great session discussing Mormon Lamanites. Stanley Thayne reported on interviews with East Coast Watawbas.

    Corey Smallcanyon discussed early contacts between with the Navajo and Hopi. While it sounded like the mission of the Mormon explorers was really to establish Mormon settlements they did make some friends among the Indians they encountered. Apparently, Jacob Hamblin obtained a federal grant to search for survivors of the Meadow Mt. Massacre among the Navajos and Hopi.

    Elise Boxer pulled no punches when she discussed the Indian placement program that started in 1947. She questioned whether this made them white and delight some. The program ended in 1978 in the US but continued a little longer in Canada. The program allowed the white Mormons to share their whiteness.

    Jessie Emby gave a terrific report on conducting hundreds of interviews with Mormon Lamanites and families that participated in the Indian Placement Program. Her final work is yet to come.

    Commentator Jane Hafen left the impression there is a lot more to be told of this story. Mormon Lamanite scholars are on the rise.

  58. davehoward2013 says:

    Chair and Commentator Kristine Haglund did an amazing job tying together three presentations which appeared to have nothing to do with each other than sharing the rubric “Conflict within Mormonism”

    Ardis Parshall discussed British Hooliganism inflicted on Mormon meetings in the 1850s and the support the British legal system gave the Mormons without judging the religious doctrines.

    Stephen Fleming defended Mormon doctrine from the accusation it was the subject of Platonic Corruption.

    Chase Kirkham discussed the B. H. Roberts circular theory regarding men before Adam and Joseph Fielding Smith’s linear argument of no men before Adam. He cam up with a sine wave and applauded Pres. Grant for saying both men were wrong.

    My head is still spinning from this session but Kristine found some common thread of good intellectual stimulation, or something?

  59. SWHoward says:

    Dinner report: At our randomly selected table there were three who had graduated from South High, one each from Olympus, East and Granger. Four had gone to Irving Junior, one to Roosevelt, one American Fork. Three couples were within one year of our 48th wedding anniversary. (Don’t assume this is a typical MHA dinner table.) Outgoing president Glen Leonard spoke on the early history of Davis County, with an emphasis on Farmington. Incoming president Bennett did an impression of a Canadian pretending to be a Texan.

    Good feelings, camaraderie, inspiration and optimism for the future prevailed.

  60. Forgot to mention Mark Ashurst-McGee was the JSP dude who went through the analysis of the revelation on the First Pres. iPhone did it, I swear. Also, I noticed I misspelled Emily’s name, it’s Utt, not Ult.

  61. Best MHA in memory, in my view. Ann’s proposal (more on this later) I think is a useful heuristic device, much like Ostler’s Expansion paper, in which the (sometimes problematic) details are much less important than the way the framing can short-circuit the polemics and allow more interesting conversations to occur. What I thought was much more interesting was the methodological tack–thinking through ways a community of minds can materialize the divine through physical vessels (I think her Host analogy is more relevant to the Mormon ‘sacrament’ in which a morsel of bread becomes the vessel for mental/psychic healing). She’s very bright, and I’m hopeful she’ll continue to think about Mormonism. Leigh’s was great fun and could lead to some interesting wondering about the later periods and transitions. Paul’s talk was delightful–he got so much laughter he finally said “I’m not a comedian,” but the material he was playing with and the language he used were fantastic. I had a lot of parenting duties so missed more of the conference than I wanted, but I did catch kevinf’s great romp through the LDS presence in the US participation in the Russian civil war (when residual tsarist “White” Russians fought the Bolshevik “Red” Russians right at the end of WWI) and Ardis’s delightful deadpan account of some nutter-butter that wandered about terrorizing British Mormon meetings. Chatting with Leigh and Ann informally, they were both delighted and impressed by the vigor and aptitude of the young Mormon history scholars–they knew many of you by name. And delighted by Glen’s kind and thoughtful presence as MHA President (he’s the one who decided to invite Leigh Schmidt for the Tanner lecture, which was a great move). Andrea and Matt threw a great conference. MHA really is a grand time. And PS, Laurel is now president-elect, so the 2015 meeting is going to be teh awesome. The conference got me excited to do some more Mormon history work (which I had been forced to deprioritize recently).

  62. Thanks again, everyone, for the notes about the meeting. It sounds like it was a great event.

    Has the location of the 2015 meeting been announced yet?

  63. Amy: 2015 will be in Provo, and will celebrate MHA’s 50th anniversary. Even more, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich will be president, so we should all be excited.

  64. Thanks, Ben.

  65. I loved the workshop format with Rob and Emily U. It was so hands on and much more interactive with audience participation throughout. I really hope there are more such workshops in future conferences.

  66. Reviewing tweets so conveniently compiled by Ben here, and see this: “Bellicose commenter shouted down in session 1B. Winning!” What’s the story there? (I hadn’t yet arrived.)

  67. I agree with EmJen about Robin and Emily U’s workshop. I found it engaging, enlightening, and useful.

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