Scholars typically seek to locate Mormon history within two wide frameworks: that of American religious history and that of the history of the American West. Jan Shipps, in her review of literature on Mormonism in the West, describes the situation as a donut hole. In her essay, “Gentiles, Mormons, and the History of American West,” Shipps argues that historians of the West have skipped Utah, “circling all around the Great Basin, taking into account and telling nearly every western story except the Mormon one.” The task Shipps sets for herself in the essay is to understand why that would be and to offer suggestions to western historians for ways to integrate Mormons more fully into their accounts of the region.
As for the first objective, Shipps presents several ideas for why Mormonism has been ignored in the West’s wider story. First, she argues that it is Mormon “otherness” that leads historians to shy away from trying to incorporate the Latter-day Saints. This otherness reflects the divide that we Mormons have created ourselves by dividing the world into “Saints” and “Gentiles.” This leaves Mormons to write their own history. A second reason put forward by Shipps is the secularism that she perceives among historians. Since these historians do not see the divine in their own lives, they have a difficult time seeing it in the stories of the people that they study. A third reason is that with “[t]he transformation of Mormonism from regional faith to worldwide church makes it so difficult to get here from there, from the familiar Mormonism of western history to contemporary Mormon Christianity, that what has been occurring in the past few decades may be the principle reason why today’s historians of the American West so often neglect the region’s geographical center.” This last reason is perhaps the most intriguing of the three.
Shipps also offers suggestions for how western historians can begin to fill in the hole at the center of the donut. First, she sees Mormon history as a good counter-example to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Turner’s provocative 1893 essay argued that the frontier was what made Americans unique, with Europeans entering the frontier in the East, struggling with nature and savages, and finally emerging in the West as Americans, fully democratic and individualistic. Shipps concludes that Mormons passed through the same process, but with very different results. “The trail was where Saints were made…they emerged in the Great Basin not as individualists committed to capitalistic ethos but as communally oriented Latter-day Saints ready to give what was necessary to give what was necessary to build up Zion.” This transformation led to the creation of an ethnic group that can be studies as are other ethnic groups in the West. In addition to seeing process in the development of Mormon ethnicity, Shipps also contends that historians should peek past their secular lenses and seek to understand the Mormon worldview from the inside.
The “donut theory” may not win the prize for Shipps’ most eloquent representation of the Mormon past, but it does get the point across. This review has necessarily focused on Shipps’ specific thoughts on how Mormons fit into the western narrative, but there are some wonderful autobiographical gems that she shares about her developing sense of identity as a
Gentile/non-Mormon/nonmember studying the Saints. But what of her ideas for situating the Mormons in the West? I am troubled by Shipps’ acceptance of Turner’s emphasis on process rather than the New Western history’s reliance on place. Although some respected historians continue to see a process at play in western migration, most historians have followed Patricia Nelson Limerick’s lead in seeing the West as a region first and a process a distant second. In my view, historians need to cease seeing Mormons as an isolated group in the West, and recognize that although Utah never was California in terms of diversity, Latter-day Saints in their Zion constantly converged and came into contact with “others,” whether it be Gold Rushers, federal officials, protestants, Gentile merchants, and general travelers. These contacts shaped Mormonism, as well as these “others.” Focusing our analyses on these points of contact and convergence will go a long way toward filling in that donut hole.
 Jan Shipps, “Gentiles, Mormons, and the History of the American West,” in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 21. Shipps, Sojourner, 25.
 Shipps, Sojourner, 35. Both D. Michael Quinn and Thomas G. Alexander have argued for secularism among historians for the neglect of religion in histories of the West (D. Michael Quinn, “Religion in the American West,” in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, eds. William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin [New York: W. W. Norton, 1992], 165; Thomas G. Alexander, “Establishing Zion,” The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lecutures: The First Twenty Years , eds. Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006], 117-18).
 Shipps, Sojourner, 41.
 Shipps, Sojourner, 34-35.
 Shipps, Sojourner, 36.
 Convergence, along with conquest, complexity, and continuity comprise Limerick’s four C’s for understanding the New Western history paradigm (Patricia Nelson Limerick, Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West [New York: W. W. Norton, 2000], 13-28).