As the MHA 50th Anniversary Conference draws closer, I’ve been thinking about various efforts and groups within Mormonism that attempt to make sense of our history. There have been lots of such groups, with varying levels of professionalism, success, and academic prowess, most of them the output of the sixties . A partial list of groups and journals would include Dialogue, MHA, BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, EMSA, Sunstone, Interpreter, and the JMH. None of these organizations is perfect. If you were going to join or be part of a group that looked at Mormon history, what would it look like? What are the attributes of a good Mormon historical association, what would they be? Let me suggest a few.
1. Academic chops. The backbone of a solid Mormon history group is a core assembly of thinkers, authors, and historians. It requires academic discipline and a comfort level with deep research. This is not the same as having every member be a professional historian or a member of academia; rather, I mean that the study of history, especially in a field as document-rich and recent as Mormon history, requires a level of patience, rigor, and consistency that is typically acquired from higher education.
2. Institutional trust. You won’t get very far as a Mormon historian without the cooperation, and ultimately the trust, of the LDS Church. It is that simple. The sources, the community, the institutional access — you need to be working with the Church. If people can’t join your organization because they’d lose their job at BYU, that is an indicator of two things: 1) BYU is not about academic freedom, it’s oppressive and really fraught, and 2) your organization does not have the buy-in it needs.
3. Ideological diversity. There’s a recognizable tension when you explore the history of a religion: are you about the HISTORY, or are you about being FAITHFUL? Choose forever! The only right answer is to say that for Mormons, being faithful does not mean neglecting the history of the religion: it means being curious, it means searching and exploring and finding out the truth. Our religion can stand for itself, and Mormons do not be afraid of the truth . That said, there is a difference between explicitly devotional content and raw, dispassionate history. Are Church sources entitled to presumptions of accuracy or truthfulness? Should a Mormon religious scholar attack inaccuracies or inconsistencies without considering the impact of their scholarship on the testimonies of their fellow Saints? A good Mormon history association does not need to answer these questions definitively in the abstract, but it must be open to vigorous debate over these points.
4. Thematic diversity. There are many paths that are well-trodden in Mormon history, but others that are not. It’s time to look at fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. We have given short shrift to people of color in Mormon history, with some notable exceptions. The scholarship surrounding women in the Church has also been limited, but is improving. The international church deserves serious study, in particular the Church in Africa and South America. More than this, diversity of authors is needed: the graying of Mormon Studies needs to be countered, the whiteness of Mormon Studies needs to be countered, the maleness of Mormon Studies needs to be countered. And I say this not out of some social justice or affirmative action impulse, but simply because there are important stories to tell, and not just anyone can tell them.
5. Independent. See #2, but here’s the thing: if you’re going to be an effective organization in Mormon history, you need to preserve editorial independence. This is because your honesty cannot be questioned. Your financial sources should come from neither the Church nor its enemies, lest people frame you as being in the pocket of the Church or, alternatively, a tool of the Adversary. 
6. Relevance. The Mormon Studies journals, by and large, are dying. Their subscription bases are dwindling and as their audiences shrink, they are becoming less relevant and more shrill. They seem to have little new to say, and prefer to dwell on the trophies of the past. Few, if any, have effectively embraced social media or other alternative avenues of finding new audiences. This is in part because there is no money in social media, but heck — print publishing is no goldmine, either. Similarly, their conferences are polarizing, between showcases for disgrunted nutjobs (on both ends of the orthodoxy spectrum) and stoic, boring sepulchres. There are exceptions, and they are important exceptions, but still — the academic approaches in Mormon studies need to innovated, to find new blood and new relevance. It’s needed.
Here’s the awesome thing about Mormon studies and Mormon history: nobody will agree on how to resolve these points. Disagreement over these points is great! It is a sign of a vibrant community that has a lot invested in its history and culture. As MHA hits 50, Dialogue nears 50, and Interpreter turns three, considering these questions will be more important than ever.
 You know who you are. The closest that I’ve come to being directly affiliated with any such groups is that I serve on the editorial board for Dialogue. I don’t have any affiliation with MHA but this year’s conference looks exciting and will do what I can to promote it.
 Detractors of Mormonism disagree with this sentence, obvs.
 BCC takes no funds from anyone, and it has not prevented us from being accused of both of those things.