JWHA 2019 New York

I just returned from the annual JWHA Conference. In the past I would live blog these things, but that has just gotten too hard, so this will simply be some retrospective comments, nothing in real time and all from memory without contemporary notes.\

I had to fly out last Wednesday as I had to deal with some business in Connecticut. Then I flew from Hartford to Washington Dulles and from there to Rochester. The hotel was a 20 minute drive away via hotel shuttle, a perfectly pleasant ride. Since I was late I missed the opening plenary Thursday night.

I was the chair of the opening plenary Friday morning, with three terrific presentations. First, Katy Sumsion and Keith Wilson talked about the First Vision. They traced the trajectory of the Vision in both the LDS and RLDS traditions, and show they have tended to mirror each other, with the LDS to some extent following in the path blazed by the RLDS.

John Hamer did his usual terrific job comparing the church of Zion Illinois to the Mormon tradition; very interesting.

Kevin Bryant talked about  JSIII’s claim to have talked to Frederick Douglass in Chicago.. Kind of triangulating what we know of Douglass’s public persona he was able to demonstrate convincingly that Smith did not actually talk to Douglass, but to a man he tood to be Douglass. Really interesting stuff.

Then I went to a session featuring Jill and Greg Brim. Jill talked about evangelical resistance to the restoration movement, and Greg talked about the pamphlet wars between the LDS and RLDS. Both really interesting presentations.

I had to miss some sessions to deal with a work matter. These conferences will be easier to deal with once I retire!

The next session was by Alex Baugh on misconceptions re Liberty Jail and Blair Bryant on D&C 76. I was especially interested in Baugh’s presentation. He started out by talking about the movie that just came out about the jail experience (Not exactly historical in its presentation). Then he went over a number of common misconceptions people have. Again, I didn’t take notes, but I’ll try to recall a few of them. One was that the dungeon was almost completely underground, whereas only about two feet of it were. Another was that they couldn’t stand up in the dungeon. The space on that level was about 6’5:, so there was one tall guy who couldn’t stand upright, but most could. Another was that they were kept in the dungeon all the time; they slept down there, but spent much of their time on the main floor. Another was that they had to use a rope to climb from the dungeon to the main floor; no, it was a ladder. Another was that there was no stove in the building; there was a stove on the main floor. Another was that they were fed human flesh or “Mormon beef”; very unlikely. There were a few others that I can’t quite recall, but I enjoyed learning about these common misconceptions.

That evening a group of us went out to dinner, including Matt Harris,Stirling Adams, Rick Bennett and Roy and his son. Great restaurant, great conversation. We solved all the Church’s problems.

The next morning’s plenary was about Scott Esplin’s Nauvoo book. I’ve been meaning to get that one; the discussion spurred me to redouble my efforts. The book sounds interesting to me because it is mostly focused on the 20th century and includes material on the effect of the historical sites on local residents. I’ve been going to Nauvoo since I was seven in 1965, so I’m very interested in learning more about that aspect of the place.

Then I went to Matt Harris on Joseph Fielding Smith and the priesthood ban and Stirliing Adams  on Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie and Russell M. Nelson and the mechanics of creating racial identity among 20th and 21st century Mormons.

Next I went to see Joseph Johnstun and his wife Shalisse for a very creative pair of presentations. Joseph talked about perceptions of environmental phenomena in the early church, and Salisse talked about sound in Nauvoo (lots of stuff you wouldn’t think about but seems obvious in retrospect).

Then it was tour time. I went on the tour that focused on the Mendon historic sites. We also went into Palmyra to the Grandin book shop where the BoM was printed. I had never been there before so I was happy for the opportunity. BCC perma Jared Cook was the tour leader and did a great job. (On the bus I sat near David Grua and we had a long, meandering conversation about everything under the sun.

The conference was topped off by the Presidential Banquet last night and a hymns of the Restoration event this morning, followed by travel home.



  1. Allan Garber says:

    What is the JWHA?

  2. I enjoyed reading about your entire experience. I felt as if I were on a field trip. Thanks

  3. Allan, JWHA is the John Whitmer Historical Association. Thanks, Kevin. Wish I could have been there. All those presentations sound great. Will they be published and maybe appear on YouTube?

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s weird, I sent a reply to Allan’s question but it never showed up and I got a response saying my comment is awaiting moderation.

  5. Kristin Brown says:

    Yes, my response is awaiting moderation as well, so I will try again. Thank you, Kevin for your notes. I enjoyed your journey and review. My good friend Jill Brim is president. Both Jill and Greg have dedicated hours and hours of their time to the success of the conference and their topic. Glad you could attend.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristin, I too am friends with the Brims since they used to live in the Chicago area. Jill was Program Chair and I was on her committee. She did her usual outstanding job, and she will make a great President.

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