Juvenile Instructor

JWHA Update by Christopher
November 13, 2007, 3:03 am
Filed under: Christopher, JWHA, Mormon Literature

The latest John Whitmer Historical Association newsletter arrived in the mail this week, and it contained some exciting information about the future of JWHA.  In addition to including David King Landrith’s summary of the Kirtland Conference in September (originally posted at Mormon Mentality), the newsletter discussed some of the new directions John Hamer is steering JWHA, including the advent of John Whitmer Books.  I picked up a copy of Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism (ed. by Newell G. Bringhurst and John Hamer) at the conference in September, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. It includes essays on various Latter Day Saint schisms by a variety of noteworthy authors, including Robin Jensen, Vickie Speek, Michael Marquardt, Craig L. Foster, David Howlett, and Roger Launius.  All of the books printed thus far are available only in paperback, though I have heard rumors that there are plans to begin publishing hardcover books. 

The newsletter also contained information regarding the potential name change of JWHA.  The previous newsletter mentioned that the proposal includes changing the name of the organization from John Whitmer Historical Association to Society for Latter Day Saint Studies, and the name of the journal from JWHA Journal to Latter Day Saint Studies.  A Naming Committee is in the process of being formed to begin surveying and researching the positives and negatives associated with the proposed name change.

For those interested in theology and religious studies, JWHA will initiate an annual Spring Theology, Cultural, and Religious Studies Symposium that will be called the “Restoration Studies Symposium.” The first symposium is scheduled for April 11-12, 2008 at Graceland University in Independence, Missouri.  It is being co-hosted by the Sunstone Educational Foundation. On a related note, a journal focusing on Latter Day Saint Theology and Religious Studies is in the works, tentatively called Restoration Studies: A Journal of Theology, Religion and Culture.  It aims to be the “Prarie Saint” equivalent of Dialogue and Sunstone.

Lastly (and perhaps most significantly for those interested in Mormon history), the digitization of the JWHA Journal is underway (a la The Journal of Mormon History and Dialogue) , with the goal of completing the project by next year’s conference.  It looks as though the complete contents of Courage: A Journal of History, Thought and Action and Restoration Studies will be included on the same DVD.  This will be a welcome addition, I am sure, to many personal libraries, as past issues of the JWHA Journal are difficult to get your hands on (BYU’s HBLL Library doesn’t even include the journal in its periodicals section, and the only copies are available in Special Collections).  Once the project is complete, it will allow JWHA to reprint entire sets of the journal (for those who prefer the actual journals for their collection, and also to offer to additional libraries around the country).


Mormon Literature as a Window to Mormon Memory by Benjamin Park
November 5, 2007, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Ben, Memory, Mormon Literature

As explored elsewhere, novel reading/writing did not have a major stronghold in 19th century Mormonism. This sentiment changed with Orson Whitney’s call for “home literature” around the turn of the 20th century, novels became more common both for past-time reading as well as a career in writing. These were often didactic tales teaching morals with a simple plot, usually with the intention of building faith. Very characteristic of the neo-classicism era, they found historical accuracy not as important in their tales as the message gleaned from them. A modern-day example of this type of literature is The Work and the Glory series.

However, Mormon novels did not gain respect outside of Utah until the 1940’s, when a handful of authors dared to write historical fiction from a not-too-glamorized point of view. Two of these books, Virginia Sorensen’s A Little Lower than the Angels and Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, explore the practice of polygamy in the early Church. While Sorensen focuses on the Nauvoo time period, Whipple sets her story in the settling of St. George. While a case can be made that neither denied the faith in their masterpieces, it is safe to say that they offered a very humanistic approach to controversial topics.

So, my question is, what role does historical fiction play in understanding how Mormons view the past? A vast majority of members would prefer Gerald Lund’s stories over Sorensen and Whipple, but does the fact that the latter’s books were written say something about our community? And, perhaps more importantly, how does literature help shape our outlook on the past? Even though it is obvious that the books are fiction, would they structure how a person would view the time period that the story is set in?