Juvenile Instructor

Future of Mormon History Publishing by Benjamin Park
October 29, 2007, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Ben, Publishing

University of Illinois Press has been one of the major reasons for the flowering of Mormon scholarship in recent decades. Many groundbreaking pieces have been published through this venue, and many of their books can be found on all of our book shelves. This made it all the more difficult when rumors started trickling out that they were not going to be doing Mormon history anymore. The rumor was that since Elizabeth Dulany retired, the press did not want to accept any more books for this genre.

As a piece of good news, Chris, Jared, and I had the opportunity to talk to Kathryn Daynes (author of More Wives Than One, published by the University of Illinois Press), and she said that this rumor is not completely true. It turns out that Liz’s retirement just caused a minor set-back (I guess 5 editors left with her, which left a big pile-up of work to do), but that they still plan on continuing their tradition of scholarly Mormon work. In fact, they just contacted her [Daynes] this last week saying that they have the intention to re-print her book in paperback. She says that it may take a while for them to get running again, but that they do have the intention to continue to publish quality work in this field.

So, my question is, where is the future for Mormon history scholarship? This is a broad question, so maybe we can focus on the field of publishing. Does it seem we have a broad range of publishers, or are we still lacking? University of Illinois Press will (hopefully/eventually) continue carrying the torch. Signature Books publishes some quality material. Oklahoma Press seems to have a good series going. University of Utah seems to have flirted with the idea. Oxford may have a future with Givens, Mountain Meadows, etc. Will all these presses remain on equal ground? Will others arise?


13 Comments so far
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Ben, don’t forget Utah State University Press, which has published several important books.

Comment by David Grua

Utah State Press has a ton of good stuff in the queue, and their series on Frontier Women is amazing. I have heard that with the McKay bio, University of Utah may publish more. The RSC at BYU mystifies me with excellent titles such as the descriptive bibliographies and the Card diaries mixed in with a bunch of crap. Then there is the other BYU publishers (BYU Studies and FARMS).

AHClark/Oklahoma has great potential and The University of North Carolina Press has some decent publications under its belt.

Signature and Kofford are great with Signature having the edge due to the Smith-Pettit connection.

Whatever happened to Grandin? Their website has been off-line for almost a year now.

Comment by J. Stapley

J., the RSC’s “mystifying” blend of quality work with “crap” can probably be attributed to the fact that one of the center’s primary purposes is to serve as a publishing house for BYU Religious Ed faculty, which has an assorted mix of qualified scholars and campy CES-trained professors.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that Yale University Press is publishing Matt Grow’s biography of Thomas Kane, that although not explicitly a Mormon history book, will surely feature discussion of many Mormon topics. In addition, Columbia University Press will be publishing Joseph Smith: Reappraisals after Two Centuries, edited by Teryl Givens and Reid Neilson.

Comment by Christopher

One element that came from that discussion was that since there is a backlog of material at U of I, authors might be driven to other presses. I think that’s a great thing. Hopefully that will expand the possibilities for authors in Mormon Studies and acquaint more presses with scholarly Mormon studies. And all that without losing U of I.

As far as number or range of publishers, I think we still have some gains to make, but as Mormon scholarship continues to broadens its scope and speak to wider themes, we’ll see more and more works published with prestigious presses like Oxford and Yale (Matt Grow).

Comment by Jared

Does it seem we have a broad range of publishers, or are we still lacking?

I have hope for the re-emergence of the University of Utah in this area. (I note the forthcoming publication of several Mormon studies books.)

I have also noted the emergence of John Whitmer Books. Has anyone purchased any of their titles?

Is BYU Press simply a logo or is there hope there?

Comment by Justin

I don’t think we are lacking in history at all. In fact, I think its expanding. [My own firm has a couple forthcoming titles in this area, both due before the MHA.] The availability of POD (widely used among University Presses) has significantly lowered the costs required to produce books, and made it much easier to get books out.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Other academic areas (Social Sciences, Literature, Area studies, etc.) and works in other languages suffer from few or no publications and comparatively few publishers.

The past year has seen some positive signs. Three or four literary presses have started recently and some foreign-language publishers and publications have appeared.

Comment by Kent Larsen

[…] publishing but has recently lost an acquisitions editor in that discipline to retirement, asks, “Where is the future for Mormon history scholarship?” […]

Pingback by Illinois Press Book Blog » Juvenile Instructor’s “The Future of Mormon Publishing”

Justin: When I was an undergrad I worked for Jack Welch at BYU Studies. At the time (2002-2004), Jack was publishing several books with the BYU Press logo, but I remembering him mentioning that that would not continue and they’d have to go back to the BYU Studies logo, which it seems to me that they’ve done. But I haven’t been involved now for a few years so I really don’t know what the currect situation is.

Comment by David Grua

Justin: I am glad you reminded me of John Whitmer Books. I attended their last conference in Kirtland, and they had me really excited about their forthcoming books. They have several that either just came out or are shortly coming out which look extremely interesting.

As for BYU Studies, I know that Frederick G. Williams, of the BYU Brazilian Studies Department, is writing a biography of his same-named ancestor which will be published by BYU Studies. Under what logo it will be printed with, I know not.

Comment by benjaminp

Kent, thanks for your assessment. Do you mind sharing some details about the books your firm will be coming out with (and your firm’s name)?

David, I hadn’t noticed the BYU Press/Studies difference until now since the logos are so similar. Just off the Top, BYU Press (sometimes in conjunction with Deseret Book) has produced:
-An Advocate for Women (The Emmaline Wells bio that won the Best Book award at MHA this year)
-Taking the Gospel to the Japanese (Reid Nielson, won the Geraldine McBride Woodward award at MHA this year)
-Leonard’s Nauvoo-Published in conjunction with Deseret Book
-James Allen’s bio of William Clayton
-The monograph version of Qualities that Count

Amongst other things, so not too bad. I guess I hadn’t noticed until now how many of these were published in conjunction with Deseret Book. What does that do to a book on one hand for it’s reception amongst the rank and file, and on the other for its reception in scholarly circles?

Comment by Jared

My firm has several different imprint names. The principal one is Mormon Arts and Letters. But the history-related books will come out in a different imprint, as yet unnamed (I tried Latter-day Renaissance, but I’ve had a negative reaction so far).

As for the books, I’m not quite ready to announce one of them. The other is a biography of the Utah Senator, mine owner and owner of the Salt Lake Tribune, Thomas Kearns (who was Cathoic, not Mormon). Its particularly interesting for Kearns’ relationship with the LDS Church and his involvement in the deal that turned Utah into a Republican state.

Comment by Kent Larsen

I’m aware of The Life of Thomas Kearns. Is this a different book?

Comment by Justin

Michael and William both hinted at this. If the religion wants to curtail hyper- activity, the religion needs to change, not the people. The religion would still have a few hyper- actives, but then they would be the exception, not the rule. That’ s not to say that hyper- actives are the majority in the religion except among those who actually self- identify as Mormon and are active. Best estimates would put the inactives or non- identifiers at close to 6 million of the 12 million (see Rick Phillips’ s and…

Comment by The work and the glory

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