book review – The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past – D. Michael Quinn editor
D. Michael Quinn has selected 15 of the most important essays regarding Mormon history that have been written in the past few decades. The areas of LDS history covered include everything from the first vision to 20th century Mormon politics. In between, numerous important areas such as women in the early church, mythmaking, polygamy, and Mormon responses to war are covered.
The authors of these essays include several BYU professors, Jan Shipps, Leonard J. Arrington, and an epilogue featuring a writing of B.H. Roberts from “A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I” entitled “Justice Will Follow Truth”. The essays are all of the “new history” variety which in Quinn’s words “examines the experiences of common people” and “avoids using history as a religous battering ram”. The writers all seem to be attempting to write a fair and honest history rather than to use history to promote or tear down the Mormon church.
In my opinion, the most significant essays in the book are those of Jan Shipps and James B. Allen (who was my early American History professor at BYU). Both of their essays that now appear in this book (they were originally written in 1974 and 1966) led to numerous other articles, essays, and books on Joseph Smith–specifically the first vision in the case of Allen’s essay.
Unless one has all of the original source materials where these essays came from, this is one book that no one seriously interested in Mormon history should be without.
from the publisher:
The New Mormon History is the banner under which many professional historians today approach Latter-day Saint historiography. Scholars who embrace this term attempt to put significant events into context rather than bracketing data that might seem challenging to traditional assumptions. These scholars are also as interested in the experience of the rank-and-file as in the lives and edicts of the leaders, and pursue questions about women, minorities, domestic life, diet, fashion, and the common church experience. They employ statistical analyses and theories and methods of the social sciences in their work.
In this collection, D. Michael Quinn has selected fifteen essays which demonstrate the methods of this new history. Contributors include Thomas G. Alexander, James B. Allen, Leonard J. Arrington, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Eugene E. Campbell, Kenneth L. Cannon II, Mario S. DePillis, Robert B. Flanders, Klaus J. Hansen, William G. Hartley, Stanley S. Ivins, Dean L. May, Linda King Newell, B. H. Roberts, Jan Shipps, and Ronald W. Walker. Participants offer new ideas and give readers the opportunity to determine for themselves the relative success of these approaches by presenting examples. The collection demonstrates areas of interpretation that may be considered revisionist as well.