Faithful History
Edited by George D. Smith

Chapter 2.
The Irony of Mormon History
Paul M. Edwards

[p.19]An early issue of Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought carried a remarkable article by Richard L. Bushman entitled “Faithful History.”1 Too appropriate to be coincidental there appeared in the same issue—though separated by what the second author would have called the “divided payoff”—an article by Samuel W. Taylor entitled “How to Read a Mormon Scholar.” The juxtaposition of these two essays and their content is characteristic of the topic I would like to address: the idea of faithful history and some of the complexities and ironies arising when Mormons and historians open Pandora’s box of mixed loyalties.

Perhaps I should clarify two points in order to preclude unnecessary confusion and judgments. My concern is with the Mormon movement in its widest perspective and with that wide historical search within Mormonism. We share so much in common it seems unnecessary at this point to be alerted to theological and social differences be they real or imagined.

Another definition concerns the term irony. I use the word “irony” to refer to the incongruity between that which is expected and that which occurs. Adopting its dramatic usage, I also refer to the fact that an audience is often more aware of the incongruity than the characters who voice it. Unlike some who use this word, I am not implying any metaphysical character to the irony and do not consider the situation to be negative or necessarily hopeless.

First, I would like to consider the concept of the faithful [p.20]historian about which so much has been written and so little said. Leonard J. Arrington in his tribute to President Joseph Fielding Smith introduces the question. He reports President Smith saying: “The chronicler of important events should not be deprived of his individuality; but if he willfully disregards the truth no matter what his standing may be, or how greatly he may be respected, he should be avoided.”2 I agree wholeheartedly.

Arrington goes on to say that “‘Objectivity’ for President Smith meant seeing that the history of the Church was presented in a positive light, rejecting the extreme and irresponsible charges of the Church’s enemies.” This is less clear; for it suggests that either the church (the larger Mormon movement in our case) is always positive, that extremes are necessarily wrong, or that non-positive statements about the church are either extreme or irresponsible. These positions do not seem defensible. My concern is not with Smith or Arrington—far from it. What does concern me, however, are these questions: questions of integrity and the integrity of questions.

Bushman in “Faithful History” brings the issue further to a head by saying that when a professional historian is being a good historian, he is being religious.3 I agree. I would also assert that when a professional plumber is being a good plumber he is being religious. The common term in both these cases is “good” not historian or plumber. To suggest that the religious conviction of the historian alters history is a fallacy. Such convictions may well change the shape of the future, but they only confuse the understanding of the present. History which depends on an individual’s faith becomes a proclamation of convictions, not a statement of the conviction of his or her inquiry. If we are interested in the former rather than the latter, then we should be searching for a pastor–not a historian.

We might profit here from distinguishing between a fairy tale and historical interpretation. The fairy tale represents permanent longings and concerns itself with traditional and unchallengeable convictions which are true despite evidence to the contrary. History begins with a willingness to consider the evidence, to challenge the story, to question the values, and to deal with the end as direction rather than conclusion. These two are often confused, and the confusion creates fallacies which denigrate the value of each.

Let me construct a hypothetical case aimed at no one but threatening us all. Many of the best things being done in Mormon [p.21]history are being done by professional historians who have made their mark on areas other than Mormon history. This is understandable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is economic. These men and women built their reputations by abiding by the rules of the academic disciplines to which they were subject or to rules they had publicly offered as their own. They played, in either case, according to a defined system which was subject to criticism and was internally defined by others playing the same game. Then these professionals, taking their credentials with them, turned their attention to the Mormon movement. In their new role they have focussed on concerns arising from their religious backgrounds and have produced works in a variety of media, all labeled “historical.”

Because of their reputations we listen and open our minds to their presentations, assuming that they will bring the same level of responsibility and respectability to Mormonism. Instead we often find that they use their faith as a club with which to beat their perceptions. They involve themselves in methodologies and interpretations that deny their training and reputation. They answer the questions of their inquiries with straw men and women who weep in the face of contradiction. They seem to believe what they wanted to know in order not to be forced to know otherwise. We find these historians have gone into history in search of a text for their sermons rather than for an understanding of the past.

I can understand this hypothetical problem. I think I have been guilty of it. But I deplore it; it cannot be justified. If the answer to historical contradiction is faith—if we believe regardless of the evidence at our disposal—then we do not need historians. In fact, we do not need theologians. We already know all we are willing to believe. If the justification for this selective methodology is that the questions being asked are beyond reasons, then readers have the same right of selectivity. There is no “reason” for asking a reasonable and/or responsible person to interpret an illogical world. If what we want are logs for the fires of our expectation, we who are still unsure need psychiatrists, not historians, in order that history might be constructed in the light of our needs.

Bushman states, “The facts are more like blocks which each historian piles up as he chooses, which is why written history is always assuming new shapes.”4 This adopts the attitude of English historian James A. Froude without his ironic pessimism; for his statement was, [p.22]”It often seems to me as if history was like a child’s box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.”5 I have no quarrel with Bushman as far as he goes, but it is the second part of Froude’s quote which is important. There are many Mormon historians who do not seem in the least chagrined when they discover that all the uncomfortably shaped blocks remain.

Bushman affirms that Mormon history cannot emerge from “theological doctrine.” This interesting statement is followed later by, “The Book of Mormon is a source of insight about the nature of history which Mormons have only begun to mine. Since it was written by prophets, we can assume the extraneous cultural influences were largely subordinated to faith.”6 This is a rather interesting assumption—one which would be seen by anyone else as a theological doctrine. With such a statement Bushman applies as a philosophy of history a theological assumption which is, I believe, inconsistent in terms of his essay. The role of the historian is not to prove religion. It is not, I believe, even to record the history of religion. It is to interpret the duration of a people who are, in this case, religious. Joseph Smith’s experience in the sacred grove is not to be proven. At this stage it can only be dealt with. The difference for the Mormon movement is often the difference between “sanctioned” and “suspicious” histories.

John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty—still the greatest piece ever written on intellectual honesty—suggests that freedom of thought must include protection against “the tyranny of prevailing opinion.” His argument for the necessity of freedom warns us that silencing an opinion puts us into the position of ignoring the partly true on the grounds that it might also be partly false. “True” histories, when the word means edited and accepted, add to the prevailing opinion of the age. In doing so they fail to challenge traditions or more important to challenge the age with the prospect of growth.

Remember Mill’s warning, “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” This is the danger of our “positiveness.” The greatest harm in persecution, particularly in the written word, is not done to those who are themselves heretics. Instead, as Mill has suggested, it is to those who are not heretics, because the mental development of the latter is stifled by fear of the position of heresy. [p.23]The danger of manipulated history is not really the danger that this year’s history is more myth than narrative but that this year’s historians will come to accept this myth as history’s only offering. For thinking people belief in the potential of their processes is their source of energy. It will die when they find that they can no longer follow the light of their inquiry, carrying with them the belief that it makes a difference. When thinking people discover that they have become simply the connection between yesterday’s prevailing concept and today’s popular acceptance, they have lost the source of their initial inquiry.

When it becomes necessary to adjust one’s thinking to the “truth,” there is no way to avoid the corollary consideration that “truth” is no longer subject to challenge, that it is infallible. The suggestion of infallibility is a strange and ironic position for a movement dedicated to the progressive nature not only of humanity’s involvement but, for portions of the movement, to the progressive nature of God.

The faith of historians is not faith that history will prove their point or that they can select events and parade phenomena to evaluate their longings. Nor is it obedience to a creed or a dogma. The faith of the historians of faith is that they believe in the unity of the world in such a way that whatever they discover in humanity, or in gods, good or bad, in support or in criticism of institutional views, their discoveries cannot help but express the divine nature of things and bring security to the dreams that are within us.

The problem is, however, more than just a question of integrity. It also deals with the integrity of questions. Much of what is being written in Mormon history answers questions that are no longer being asked. The expanded contribution we can make lies in understanding the nature of the questions to be asked. The concerns are not necessarily sacred grove experiences or missionary activities in England or lines of succession but problems that face the churches—questions which appear to this generation to be suspended in time. If ever people were in need of understanding both the legality of their doubts and the eternal nature of their paradoxes, it is now.

The answer appears to be, as Elbert Smith, oldest son of David H. Smith, used to say, that we stop setting the sun by our watches. We start to write history honestly. This means using as our restraints not the dictates of a traditional institution or heritage but [p.24]the character of our discipline that has grown and is growing through analysis and self-criticism. Be a faithful person, be a faithful historian, be a faithful creature of God, and it is hard, as the saying goes, “to be false to any man.”

A reevaluation of the questions being asked would alter the trends in the writing of Mormon history. I do not intend here a critique of Mormon historiography. For such a critique I would suggest readers consult works such as those of Robert B. Flanders or Marvin Hill.7 I wish, however, to make a brief observation about these trends.

The ironic aspect of these trends is that we have not related the lesson of our religion to the value of our discipline. We have not allowed the revolutionary nature of the movement from which we have sprung to make us revolutionaries. The one thing about which we might all agree concerning Joseph Smith is that he was not the usual sort of person. He did not approach life itself—or his religious commitment—in a usual way. Yet the character of our historical investigation of Joseph Smith and his times has been primarily traditional, unimaginative, and lacking in any effort to find or create an epistemological methodology revolutionary enough to deal with the paradox of our movement. The irony of our position is that many of our methods and interpretations have become so traditional that they can only reinforce the fears of yesterday rather than nurture the seeds of tomorrow’s dreams.

Many historians are asking us as a matter of pure historical credence to deny historical credence. None of us knows anything but second- or third-generation interpretations, and the basis from which we operate is one of historical acceptability. Our very involvement is evidence of the credibility of learning from and interpreting through history. We cannot assume that our discipline is unchanged if we study that discipline or that we can be Mormons and Mormon historians and not be changed by the fact that we are altering our present as we investigate our past.

My observation is that a good portion of our efforts are polemical. These works begin with the assumption that some people and some ideas are valuable in and of themselves as “recognized” masters of thought and action. Our histories are discussions of the correctness of these ideas. They appear designed to challenge not the idea but any suspicions that might arise about the ideas. Many discuss [p.25]developments of the institution from the view that each new thinker, each new idea, must be evaluated as being “good” or “bad” in relation to that initial record. Probably the best example of this is Inez Smith Davis’s history of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Story of the Church.8

One reason for this trend is that we act as if there were no permanent problems in Mormonism. The lack of perennial problems leaves the historian with the tendency to exaggerate individual greatness and to exaggerate the necessary contemporariness of even the most archaic of ideas and positions. An example of this is Stanley P. Hirshson’s biography of Brigham Young, The Lion of the Lord.9 Partial challenges have been the social and cultural histories such as those by James Allen and Marvin Hill, and the writings of Davis Bitton, S. George Ellsworth, Juanita Brooks, and Charles Peterson, and to a lesser degree by the articles appearing in The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History.10

Another trend consists of those works designed to tell us what “really happened.” These seemingly popular presentations bubble with the effervescence of “good faith.” Two varieties are obvious. The first is what I call doxographical history. One example will make my point—Pearson H. Corbett’s biography Hyrum Smith: Patriarch.11 This is the cut-and-paste method of writing, wherein all that has ever been said by or about some person or topic is collected, cut into pieces, and molded into a puzzle of the author’s peculiar design. It reports only what others have said and often tries to repaint old pictures using stiff brushes. Works of this kind simply confuse the issues, for in them truth appears to depend on the number of scraps of materials that can be collected.

F. Mark McKiernan’s biography of Sidney Rigdon is another example of this methodology.12 It is a valuable collection of information but only rarely a history, for it offers little interpretation. One suspects that each bit of information was collected and given importance simply because Sidney Rigdon’s name appears on it.

The second variety of this “really was” view is the retrospective. In these works, each period is seen as a contribution to the previous; thus the new cannot contradict the old, and all “growth” is seen as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Each bit of information is “yet more light.” The retrospective is too committed to determinism—often even to predeterminism—which is strangely [p.26]ironic for an institution in which agency is the clue to humanity.

One variety of the retrospection is the “speedy interpretation.” In this the author, called a “skimmer,” tends to run through the forests of facts making virgin pronouncements before really seeing the trees. An example of the “growth retrospection” is the seven-volume history of the RLDS church.13 These volumes make important contributions, for “Reorganites” have never maintained day books or statements of duration. However, they are not histories in the sense we have discussed; they are less than the Reorganization needs and less than the author could contribute if freed from the institutional format he inherited. Many problematic questions are easily avoided in selective piecemeal accounts.14

At this point may I encourage as an alternative the breakthroughs in problematic history of which Max Parkin, Leonard Arrington, Davis Bitton, Robert Flanders, Klaus Hansen, and Warren Jennings have been good examples. By this I mean the development of the historical investigation which arises from the fact that historians are puzzled human beings who are aware of the confusion of being contemporary men or women with a memory. These are people who ask themselves, “What is it that we are trying to understand?” and search and interpret in the realization of this query. But it is not just a question of being puzzled. It is more than that. We are talking about what it means to have the feeling of puzzlement. It includes the willingness to seek from the past and from the present and to do so in the hope that the search, even with some error, is the key to tomorrow. These people face the irony of the fact that Mormonism, which is integrated in its complexity, has been studied in such a disjointed fashion.

Such people leave the antiquarianism of their colleagues behind. They no longer delight in facts for facts’ sake or in artifacts for artifacts’ sake. They leave behind also scholastic pretense and have deserted their love for distinction. And they expose themselves to be the test of doubt in a world of assumed answers. So many Mormons who would be historians expend their energies in scholastic antiquarianism.

My third observation deals with the philosophy of history. Every attempt to sum up the totals of the past, to comprehend the past as a whole, to decipher or impose upon the past some ultimate meaning is a philosophy of history. To wait for an official philosophy [p.27]of history is itself a philosophy of history. Few historians write from any consistent philosophical system, but their investigations are influenced by implied metaphysical assumptions. This is not the time for an analysis of these implied philosophies, but I would like to make some general observations about Mormon histories, Mormon historians, and philosophies of history.

Let me begin with the obvious by distinguishing between the past and history. The past is yesterday. It is that series of events and reactions to events, as well as memories of the memory of the events, which cannot be retrieved. They belong to yesterdays; and, like yesterdays, they have no existence, not even their present, except through their relation to tomorrow.

History, however, is what has been done to the past by those to whom the past is meaningful enough to be interpreted. The historian is a person who does things to and with the past so that they (the past and the historian) develop significance in the present. The manipulation is not by historians but of historians.15 The mere massiveness of the past requires the classification and lumping of events and ideas, all of which are invented (like the term “restoration”) to simplify, codify, and classify. All of these activities are intuitive and being so are not in the same category as the events they are designed to classify and explain. Hence the irony: the more “subjective” the system must be, the more “objective” we are called to be with it.

Remember also that historians deal with human beings. They deal with those who have commanded the attention of an era and who have emerged as the leaders and the led. They deal with what people are supposed to have done, the thoughts they are supposed to have had, and the decisions they came to–or did not come to.

What historians really want to know–and what they often give the impressions that they do know–is forever gone, as is the past about which they abstract. The historians’ search for realities is a futile search, for what they find instead are Platonic images dancing on the cave wall. And their trauma is extended, for they are writing not only about strangers but for strangers. These readers are as incomprehensible in their own time as those about which we write.

So to round out the obvious, when historians try to present things they think they can say about the past, they must say it to humans who are strange, incomprehensible, predetermined in part [p.28]by their environment, and more than a little suspicious. Unless historians write only for other historians (a dangerous vocation at best), they must deal with the influences of history upon those for whom they write.

Richard D. Poll, at the time a professor of history at Brigham Young University, stated in his timely article, “God and Man in History,” that the Latter-day Saint church had no official philosophy of history. It seems to me he was telling us this as if it were in some way tragic. I view it as an evidence of modern miracles. Poll explains that by a philosophy of history he means “a central conception of what history is about. What does the process add up to?”16 Poll is correct in pointing out that any attempt to draw a philosophy of history from the “doctrine of the church” has never been done. He makes a beautiful case for the inconsistencies rampant in those doctrines and suggests that the LDS have a tendency to venerate rather than a commitment to a sense of history.17

One example that Poll did not mention is the utopian concept of history which plagues the discipline with self-doubts. This concept anticipates that historical inquiry will support the idea that the source of our end and the salvation of our times will in fact arrive outside of history. I do not want to debate the theological aspects. But I believe such an assumption is ironic if not unhistorical. This paradox asks us to discover from our history that in the long run, history has no effect. The role of the personally involved God dealing in history when he feels it necessary may well be true. That is not my question. But if it is true, then history can lay no credit to, nor draw information from, such mundane things as cause and effect, prescription, duration, and certainly not the assumption of historical indeterminism.

The problem is that for many historians not only is God working out his visions on the anvil iron of history but what is assumed to be God’s “visions” are often recorded as official truth. The historian is forced into the role of either anticipating history or remaking history. There is always the temptation as well—succumbed to in such works as Pearl Wilcox’s With the Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier18—to assume that “God wouldn’t do that” in evaluating evidence.

Linked with this utopian image is another related problem, for one of the dangers inherent in our movement is that many [p.29]historians take themselves far more seriously than they do their subject. Fawn Brodie, who is open for criticism from a dozen directions, seems to be most suspect when, as Rodman Paul points out, she is being sarcastic. Samuel W. Taylor is not always appreciated for his humor though it seems to me he is laughing at historians, not history. Gordon Mesley’s sarcasm in courage received more criticism than articles which questioned the historicity of the Book of Mormon.19 At this point the primary necessity is not a philosophy of history but a philosophy or a doctrine of humanity which, I trust, will include historians.

I believe that a doctrine of humanity must be understood prior to our ever assembling any very significant theories of history. In the meantime, we must deal with that approach which arises from our own training and which is expressed within an existing series of philosophical and theological contexts that most of us neither understand nor would accept if we did. History is a serious subject, but people are not necessarily serious or always dedicated or reverent. Thus the humor which speaks truth has much to say to us.

Still another related question concerns the scarcity of Mormon scholarship. Rodman Paul, reflecting surprise that so little first-rate work had been done in Mormonism, suggested that it might be due to lack of curiosity necessary to inspire students.20 I think an earlier comment in the same article might have been more indicative of the problem. First, it is true, as he suggests, that social scientists have rushed in where historians failed to tread. The problem is that they deal with Mormonism as a movement and then call it history. Thus what is known about us is descriptive of past behavior and is often considered prescriptive for future behavior rather than indicative either of present conditions or future extension.

I think sometimes sociological assumptions are decreed to be historical laws and then in turn philosophies of history. Empirical data, coming as they do from experience and observation of events, are called historical but are not until they include interpretation. They are only past—empirical past. A philosophy of history is not empirical. It does not try to tie events together by some external connection of these past events. Instead it tries to deal with all that is known in connection with some larger assumptions. These assumptions are a part of the imaginative nature of historians, assumptions which they cannot ignore, for they work within them to find meaning [p.30]from the chaos of their factual data. A philosophy of history does not postulate this unity of process.

Likewise the attempt to support any historical presentation by a philosophy of history which is “proclaimed” rather than emerging is in vain. At the root of most proclaimed philosophies of history is the attempt to collect an army of facts and information to proselytize an official view of the past—at least the past as is presently present. Poll suggests some paradoxical characteristics of Mormon theology which will make an “Official Philosophy of History” difficult if not impossible. I would go further to suggest that having once arrived at these truths the problem of an official philosophy becomes moot.

Poll does discuss how he as an LDS historian handles some of the questions of faith that stem from his vocation. He affirms that (1) God is present in history as organizer, definer of goals, director, and influencer to the extent he keeps us moving toward these goals; and (2) divine intervention is to be expected at those points where it can “be no other way.”21 While in no way disparaging Poll, might I suggest that this statement is a theology of history not a philosophy of history, the difference being that a theology of history is based on an ultimate commitment which one holds in such a way that it is the organizer of evidence not the result of evidence. Thus I agree with Poll there is no “official” Mormon philosophy of history.

Finally I would like to present a postulate for consideration. I recognize a good deal of German historicism in the writing of Mormon history. I mean that there appears to be little distinction between method, subject matter, and procedures of the natural and human sciences. I feel we have not found the epistemological method necessary to deal with our history honestly while providing the foundation for historical judgments. Wilhelm Dilthey, a nineteenth-century German philosopher, presented an epistemology that I think might well work for us, but few have recognized it and fewer still have paid any attention to it.22 Examining its scope and narrowing it in complexity, I would like to comment briefly on it here.

It is impossible to view the past as it “actually was.” Nevertheless, we feel some compulsion to deal with the now non-existent past with some sense of objectivity in order for there to be historical judgments rather than contemporary opinion. For both Dilthey and John Dewey this “empirical” judgment is made on the “inner or conscious side” of the no-longer-present. Leonard Arrington intro-[p.31]duced British historian and philosopher R. G. Collingwood and this general idea in an early issue of Dialogue.23 By “inner” they mean the objectivity available within our present experience when we are reliving to our fullest that which is no longer present. The empirical grounds for our past, says Dewey, must somehow continue to exist. And he found the clue to that in critiquing momentary experience on the basis of long, honest, and assimilated historical evidence.

Inasmuch as this is possible, the integrity of historical inquiry begins with the realization that momentary dropping into history—as is the case with our doxographical authors–prevents us from sensing, knowing, or understanding the consciousness of external events. Since there is no way to avoid the fact that judgments about the past are based on the contemporary us, it seems that objectivity must start with projecting our own subjective selves into those external objective events we must consider. It means thinking, feeling, fearing, questioning; it means inventive and imaginative interpretation; it means applying human, personal judgments to those feelings that arose from our study. This is one of the major justifications for Mormons writing Mormon history, because we can more easily arrive at the inner consciousness of our Mormon predecessors.

When I use the terms “inventive” and “imaginative,” I am not suggesting mystical daydreaming or myth-making. I am talking of imaginative minds as historically informed and molded minds which feel and sense beyond that which they can touch. Mormon historians must by all means take advantage of every disciplined means of self-correction and judgment possible. But having done that, they must not rest on the assumption that they have now been historians. For their job is not one of simply collecting but of appraising within themselves the meaning. There is more to being a historian than ascribing information; historians are people in time and as such they give human significance and divine involvement in time.24

History, I maintain, is a liberal art; and its contribution is not what it can find out but what it does to those who study it and are involved in it. Certainly it must be faithful to its own rules of research and evidence; and it must be free from the multitude of pressures which could twist the evidence, or the historians, to prove some position not subject to the quest. Historians paint on the canvas of life, but they neither make the canvas nor sell it. If historians are people of concern, commitment, faith, they will contribute such; they [p.32]do not need to write history according to policy. This commitment to involvement supports what we already know—that it is interest, love of the past, willingness to become half lost in the imagination of previous days that is the historian’s first tool and the one which few graduate students learn to use.

Of this kind of history Leonard Arrington writes, “Interpretation history must by its very nature be private and not a Church venture.” I must agree, but my agreement lies in the fact that the church must always be the collector rather than the interpreter of history. Arrington goes on to say, “The Church itself must not be burdened with the responsibility of weighing the worth of one interpretation against another. Contrariwise, the historian ought to be free to suggest interpretation without placing his faith and loyalty on the line.”25 Again I agree, but this seems to be only more evidence against any “official history,” for institutional histories are written by one person under different names.

In history the act of analysis is the act of synthesis. It is like passing through the countryside. The view is both witnessed and synthesized while passing. The knowledge we seek is to be acquired by penetration into the events; by living in the times; by assuming the doubts, the questions, as well as the joys of those who came before us. It is not, therefore, the result of either general laws of history or official philosophies of history.

Having said this, there may well be some doubt as to my faith. But let me leave this comment. I am both sinner and believer. Suspended as I am between the evils I point out and the visions I see, I do criticize but give voice to my faith. I am a faithful historian. I have faith in history. I also have theological faith. As well I have faith in the intellectual process and in the investigative outcome of that process. I believe that history investigated with integrity, fearlessly questioned, honestly systemized, and fairly presented is a far more ethical and rewarding road to mutual understanding and significant appreciation than are unchallenged and uninvestigated beliefs. I am not so unfeeling that I cannot understand those who fear the consequences of such open investigation. Yet I must assume such fears really are—paradoxically—a lack of faith. It is not difficult to become confused between faith and truth; but if I may, I would like to close with a quote from Sir Basil Henry Liddell-Hart, the British military historian and strategist, that bears some consideration: “Faith matters [p.33]so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more.”

PAUL M. EDWARDS, director of the Temple School, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri, is author of Preface to Belief: A Philosophical Inquiry into RLDS Beliefs. “The Irony of Mormon History” was first published in Utah Historical Quarterly 41 (Autumn 1973): 393-409.


1. Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Winter 1969): 11.

2. Leonard J. Arrington, “Joseph Fielding Smith: Faithful Historian,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Spring 1972): 23.

3. Bushman, “Faithful History,” 11-17.

4. Ibid., 14.

5. James Anthony Froude, Short Stories (London, 1888), 7.

6. Bushman, “Faithful History,” 16, 17.

7. Robert B. Flanders, “Writing on the Mormon Past,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Aug. 1966): 46-61; Marvin S. Hill, “The Historiography of Mormonism,” Church History 28 (Dec. 1959): 418-26. These are only two of many good works done recently.

8. Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1943).

9. Stanley P. Hirshson, The Lion of the Lord (New York, 1969).

10. To cite just a few works: James B. Allen and Marvin S. Hill, eds., Mormonism and American Culture (New York, 1972); Juanita Brooks, John Doyle Lee: Zealot, Pioneer, Builder, Scapegoat (Glendale, CA, 1972); and F. Mark McKiernan, Alma R. Blair, and Paul M. Edwards, eds., The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1973). Many others are making a like contribution.

11. Pearson H. Corbett, Hyrum Smith: Patriarch (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971).

12. F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1971).

13. Joseph Smith, Heman C. Smith, and F. Henry Edwards, History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 7 vols. (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1897-73).

14. Topics of significance have been suggested by many concerned with the development of Mormon history. James B. Allen and Richard O. Cowan, “The Twentieth Century: Challenge for Mormon Historians,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Spring 1972): 26-36, is one excellent source. Other suggestions can be found in the Utah History Research Bulletin published by the Utah State Historical Society.

15. Compare Fawn M. Brodie, Can We Manipulate the Past? (Salt Lake City, 1970); Marvin S. Hill, “The Manipulation of History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 (Autumn 1970).

[p.34]16. Richard D. Poll, “God and Man in History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Spring 1972): 101.

17. Ibid.

18. Pearl Wilcox, With the Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1973).

19. Gordon Mesley, “An Apostle Trips,” Courage: A Journal of History, Thought, and Action 3 (Winter-Spring 1973): 138.

20. Paul W. Rodman, “The Mormons as a Theme in Western Historical Writing,” Journal of American History 54 (Dec. 1967): 511.

21. Poll, “God and Man in History,” 105-107.

22. For the best discussion of the concepts suggested here, see Howard N. Tuttle, Wilhelm Dilthey’s Philosophy of Historical Understanding (Leiden, Neth., 1969).

23. Leonard J. Arrington, “The Search for Truth and Meaning in Mormon History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Summer 1968): 56-65.

24. Such a person is Alma Blair, whose years of interest and study have made him friend, teacher, and the professor of the church. His contribution has been as reflector, thinker, and as expounder and interpreter but most of all as a man to whom history has been his mentor.

25. Arrington, “The Search for Truth,” 59-60.