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Reeve and Parshall, Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia: Announcement

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 21, 2010

Announcing the publication of W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall, eds., Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2010. 426 p. ISBN: 978-1-59884-107-7.

An announcement like this comes with a lot of emotion: Relief that the work is done, pleasure that it’s out there (hey, look! my name is in print!), anxiety (did I misspell that name? what will people say? what if nobody says anything?), and steeling for the inevitable criticism (you forgot to include this! you’re nothing but a goody-two-shoes apologist!). But for today, at least, the chief emotion is gratitude, to Paul for inviting me to work on this with him, and to all the contributors – many of them bloggers, including a few whom you won’t recognize, since they blog under pseudonyms but use their real names in the book. I’ve posted a list of the articles and contributors for you to look for familiar friends.

ABC-Clio publishes reference books. Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia is the first volume (the only volume Paul and I will work on) in a new series on the histories of world religions. That’s a bit of good news, I think, that they think we’re interesting and significant and hot enough to want to start their series with us.

Warning: There is some seriously self-indulgent navel gazing ahead. Proceed with caution.

Because this is part of a series, and because the publisher has such a well-developed sense of what they want in a manuscript, this book is not entirely of our own design. That is, the publisher specified that it wanted so many biographies averaging such-and-such a length, and so many entries of this other length exploring the major issues of historical and contemporary Mormonism, and so on. Within that template, though, we were entirely free to choose the topics covered, and the voice, and the scholars who contributed.

That posed some challenges that you might want to think through yourself: If you were telling the history of the church and needed to choose 40 of the most important or most representative (or whatever other criteria you used) people, who would they be? We thought it a natural that each president of the Church be covered – a decision that made things a little more complex when President Hinckley died and President Monson was sustained midway through work on the book. That also took roughly a third of our slots right off the top. Who else to include?

We chose a number of general presidents of the women’s auxiliaries (Relief Society, MIA, and Primary), in part to be able to include women and address the issues that interested women during their administrations, and in part to give us more coverage of those auxiliaries when we couldn’t fit articles on each of them into our carefully rationed topic list. We chose Patty Bartlett Sessions and Martha Hughes Cannon as sort of representative every-women of the Church, although their accomplishments make them stand out from the crowd (otherwise, to get a true every-woman, we’d have had to profile our grandmothers, I suppose). Because the encyclopedia was historical, we included historians like B.H. Roberts, Juanita Brooks, and Leonard Arrington. Lowell L. Bennion represented the Institute program and gave us an excuse for talking about the development of a formal teaching program and manuals in the Church. James E. Talmage and Bruce R. McConkie represented the apostles of this dispensation – not-so-coincidentally allowing us to comment on the development of formalized theology at two different periods of our history. Other choices had other reasons – they gave us excuses to work in topics that otherwise would have been overlooked – but our reasons for choosing the subjects will probably not be obvious to anyone except Paul and me.

We got a little sneaky, too, including collective biographies – all the witnesses tot he Book of Mormon covered in a single entry, brothers Parley P. and Orson Pratt addressed together, and the Smith Family entry to discuss Joseph’s family members who had important roles in the Restoration but to whom we simply could not dedicate separate slots.

The “Events” category posed similar challenges. Many of our choices could not be properly called “events” – the Book of Mormon, Correlation, Youth Programs – but there was no other convenient place to address those topics that we thought were important to include. We also included some entries in this section that might seem to duplicate material in longer essays (Priesthood Revelation of 1978, or United States v. Reynolds) or which might seem relatively trivial (Seagulls and Crickets), but there were reasons for those, too – we wanted to highlight them with their own entries rather than make readers search for them in broader essays, or they were keywords that we thought readers might specifically hunt for.

The issues essays were among some of the most fun to design, and then to read what was contributed by our authors. This section of the book makes the Encyclopedia different, we think, from other available reference books. These essays are long enough to go into some depth about their topics, but are meant for the general reader, not the Mormon scholar – the kind of reader who might watch “Big Love” or read some wacky political commentary about Mitt Romney or by Glenn Beck, and care enough to pick up a library book to read something just a bit more reliable, and bit calmer.

And this book really is geared toward the general reader, not the scholar and not necessarily Mormons, although I think a lot of Mormons not deeply familiar with Church history could find helpful articles that organize and put into perspective the odd bits of history they have picked up over the years. The entries are meant to explain our history in an easy to understand format – the era essays pull things into chronological order; the issues essays explore interconnected ideas; the other entries, short and to the point, could define for readers with fuzzy memories who Smoot was and why his hearings were important, why there was a group called the Nauvoo Legion in Utah, and briefly who and what and when the Mormon Battalion was.

Scholarship is current, and although we don’t generally break new ground – the point of the volume is to help general readers understand our history, not dazzle professional historians – I think we do have some entries that organize ideas in new ways: Chris Jones’s article on the “Ungathered” (a term he coined, I believe, and that we wanted to promote) reminds readers that there have always been large numbers of Mormons who did not live in the central gathering places. The essay on “Mormonism and Men” by Jeffery O. Johnson and W. Paul Reeve looks at how the lives of men, their goals and the definitions of their success, is different within the Church than without.

There are some essays that will challenge some Mormon readers, if they take the time to read them. Robert H. Briggs’s essay on “Mormonism and Violence” looks at Mormon perpetrators of violence in our past, as well as the times we were the victims of violence. Andrea G. Radke-Moss has contributed a wonderful essay on “Mormonism and Women” that will probably not be adopted any time soon as the reading for your Relief Society book club – but maybe it should be. Armand Mauss contributed an essay on “Mormonism and Race” that is a sort of umbrella to other essays on “Mormonism and Blacks” (by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray – who else?) and “Mormonism and Native Americans” by Sondra Jones. And Kathryn M. Daynes and Lowell C. “Ben” Bennion go into greater detail about “Polygamy” than many Mormons have made the effort to understand. (Stop me before I list every article in the book!)

And of course now that the book is in hard covers, I can’t help but think about what we would have liked to have included but could not, either for reasons of time or space or lack of the right author to address them. I wish we had been able to include an essay on Mormonism and the Fine Arts, in part because I think we have such a history, and in part because I think other volumes in the series will address the arts in other traditions. I wish we could have given greater (any?) coverage to international Mormonism – but with the dictated space limitations, we had to focus on the “firsts” and on the points that set the patterns and exerted the influences, and in too many instances that meant overlooking the world wide Mormonism that came relatively late in time. And I suppose some critics will fault us for not including their revisionist claims – although in fairness to us, such critics should acknowledge how very many places our contributors acknowledged the existence of other arguments, other interpretations, while choosing to narrate history according to the theories our scholars do endorse.

First and last, thanks to both the acknowledged top-notch scholars and to the up-and-comers who contributed entries and essays to this volume. There’s not a single one of them that Paul and I aren’t proud to have included. Thank you. (And I haven’t run this announcement by Paul. Whatever is stupid, ugly, or of poor-report or fault-worthy, is my responsibility. Not his.)



43 Comments »

  1. I just blew the balance on my DB gift card not 15 minutes ago (on the new book on the Kirtland revelations).

    I will be adding this to my Christmas list…

    Comment by queuno — August 21, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

  2. Really interesting and great news. Congratulations! I can’t wait to browse through the entries; you’ve already mentioned a few I’m dying to read.

    I once worked on entries for a literary encyclopedia and found it to be one of the best writing experiences of my life. I learned a lot about improving my own writing when I had to pare three page drafts down to 500 words. And those “tiny” entries are still some of the writing I’m most proud of.

    Comment by Mina — August 21, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  3. I know fear is irrational – but surely you didn’t worry that no one would say anything! Look at all the people following you on this blog! :)

    I am also going to put this on my Christmas list and would buy it NOW if it weren’t for financial reasons I won’t explain.

    I look forward to reading this when cooped up indoors later this year.

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — August 21, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  4. Congrats! This is a lot of work and I look forward to seeing the final product. Well done.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 21, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  5. Congratulations, Ardis! I just ordered the book and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I’m especially glad you included LaVern Parmley–she’s both intriguing and, I think, less known than she should be.

    Comment by Kristine — August 21, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  6. Yay! Another book in the queue!

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — August 21, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  7. Congratulations on the achievement!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 21, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  8. Ardis, forgive my ignorance, but why is this book priced at $85, over twice as much as other recent significant works (i.e. Hearken O Ye People, Liberty to the Downtrodden, etc) of comparable page length?

    Comment by Bill west — August 21, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  9. Congratulations. I, too, look forward to reading it. If you ever do another volume and need something on international Mormonism, just let me know. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — August 21, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  10. Just pre-ordered my copy. Can’t wait! Congratulations Ardis and everyone else who contributed!!

    Comment by Randy B. — August 21, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  11. Many congratulations. What an honor to be part of the book. It is truly exceptional. I especially loved the blend of seasoned and up-coming scholars chosen as contributors. You and Paul did a wonderful job putting it together.

    Comment by Ben Park — August 21, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  12. Bill and others who wonder at the cost, the publisher didn’t consult us on price. I suspect the book’s target market being libraries rather than individuals and the use of a library binding are both factors in the rather heavy price.

    Perhaps I should also say that whatever Paul and I are going to earn from work on this book has already been paid — we will not be earning royalties, and my announcement here isn’t intended to push the sale of books for my own financial benefit. I can benefit financially only to the extent that publicity might bring me clients who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of me.

    Thanks to all of you for your congratulations and indications of essays that you particular look forward to. Now that it’s done, the work is starting to appear rosier in my memory than it probably was at the time. You know, where I forget that I wrote uphill both ways. In the snow.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 21, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  13. Congratulations!

    Comment by E — August 21, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  14. Ardis, congratulations on the book. It goes on my list immediately. I’ll have to see if I need to donate it to my local library.

    Comment by Paul — August 21, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  15. Congratulations!

    I was eager to see who the target audience is. After reading the description, I think I fit in that category of “Mormons not deeply familiar with Church history [who] could find helpful articles that organize and put into perspective the odd bits of history they have picked up over the years.”

    Comment by David Y. — August 21, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

  16. Congratulations, Ardis. This is wonderful.

    Comment by Ray — August 21, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  17. Congratulations!

    Comment by kevinf — August 21, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  18. Fantastic, Ardis. Well done.

    Comment by WVS — August 21, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

  19. Awesome, Ardis. Congratulations. I hope we’ll have more announcements of forthcoming books from you.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — August 21, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

  20. I’m excited to finally get your book, after hearing you talk about it for so long. You and Paul should feel very pleased.

    Comment by Maurine — August 22, 2010 @ 12:11 am

  21. Ardis, thanks for the explanation on the price. Based on the price, I kind of thought the target market was more institutional than amateur Mormon history buffs like myself. I really like the idea of general Mormon history volume arranged topically rather than chronologically, but at this price, there are so many other books I’d rather buy for less. Hopefully I’ll be able to check it out from the library.

    And congratulations! I really hope this leads to many new opportunities for you.

    Comment by Bill west — August 22, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  22. Congrats, Ardis (and Paul). You two did a terrific job and were a pleasure to work with. And thank you for plugging my entry on the “ungathered.” I do think the topic/concept deserves some attention, and the real pay-off for those interested will be in consulting the works on the topic I cite.

    And one small addendum: while I’m not aware of anyone else using the term “ungathered” in reference to those Saints located beyond the geographical center of Mormonism in public or print before a paper I delivered at MHA in 2009, the term came about during a private conversation on the topic with Spencer Fluhman. I do not know which one of us first suggested it, but it was very probably him, and I want to make sure and give due credit.

    Comment by Christopher — August 22, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  23. Ardis, congratulations! I’m looking forward to seeing this volume and your next book, too.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — August 22, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  24. A quick google search for

    “the ungathered” mormon

    suggests that it was used periodically in 19th century in a strongly disparaging sense. The rehabilitation of the term does seem attributable to the Jones-Fluhman encounter.

    Comment by smb — August 22, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  25. Congratulations, Ardis, on the book.

    Re “ungathered,” Leonard uses the term a few times in his Nauvoo book, although perhaps in a different sense.

    Comment by Justin — August 22, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  26. Then in the interest of political correctness, should {moves up hand up, partially concealing grin} it be, uh, changed to “otherwise gathered”?

    Comment by Hodgson-Burnett's Secret Garden — August 22, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  27. Shipps refers to ungathered members of the church in the 1830s in an essay published in her Sojourner book (294-95).

    Comment by Justin — August 22, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  28. After seeing the contributors, I’m even more honored to be included. Thanks, Ardis; thanks, Paul. I look forward to flipping the pages.

    Comment by matt b — August 22, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  29. That clinches it. Chris, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to recall all copies of the Encyclopedia and clip your entry out. Too bad, too, because I love the photo that illustrates it. ;) Still, whether he coined the term or landed on one already in use, Chris’s entry explores the novel — to most readers — idea that the ungathered were not an amorphous scattering of the somewhat unfaithful who failed to obey the call to gather, but were distinct, knowable bodies of believers who organized, worshiped, and laid the groundwork for a permanent Church presence in their neighborhoods. The stories of John the Baptist Gayler and Mother Bertrand and the Noblins are examples of the ungathered Saints of the South who have been featured on Keepa. They aren’t anomalies, and Chris makes that clear in his entry, which is why I love it so much.

    Thanks again for your congratulations and good wishes. Paul must be reading them too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 22, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  30. Congratulations, Ardis! I can’t wait to get it.

    Comment by Jared* — August 22, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

  31. I knew I was going to be in the nursery at Stake Conference today with my son, so I took my copy with me and read some of it. There are some really excellent articles. I particularly enjoyed Andrea Radke-Moss on “Mormonism and Women” and Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray on “Mormonism and Blacks.” The biographies were excellent, and I especially enjoyed the one on Patty Sessions by J. Stapley and the one on David O. McKay by Gregory Prince.

    Well, I could keep listing articles that I liked; the ones by Bruce Crow and Edje, for example, but I’ve only read a portion of the book.

    And a note in case the price of the book is a little too steep for someone: some public and academic libraries have a process for requesting the purchase of books. Ask at your local library if they’ll buy this for their collection.

    Comment by Researcher — August 22, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  32. Congrats Ardis! Looks very nice.

    Comment by Clair barrus — August 22, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  33. Awesome! Congratulations.

    Comment by SmallAxe — August 22, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  34. Shop around fans – Amazon is cheaper than quoted above and free shipping since it’s price is higher than their minimum to qualify.

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — August 22, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  35. Congratulations, looks terrific.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 22, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  36. Yes, I am reading them too. Thanks for all the kind words thanks to all the contributors.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — August 23, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  37. #26 Perhaps the more PC term is “less gathered” :-)

    Ardis,congratulations on completing what must have been a massive undertaking!

    Comment by Clark — August 23, 2010 @ 10:46 am

  38. Ha!

    I’d like to say that organizing a project that involved so many people was like herding cats, ’cause I like to herd cats, but in this case, almost without exception our contributors came through as promised with only the barest reminders.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  39. I still hate that garrish blue cover, Ardis, but I can’t wait to read your book. Congratulations!

    Comment by Roger Ekins — August 23, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  40. The cover actually came out purple, Roger — unlike the prose inside, I assure you!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  41. Someone has already put up a Wikipedia page for this encyclopedia, filled with links — thanks, whoever did that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  42. Congratulations!

    Comment by Keri Brooks — August 30, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  43. Thanks, Ardis, for your explanation for your decisions about inclusion and exclusion — I’m sure there were many difficult choices.

    I have to confess to thinking it was too short and wishing that some discussions could have been longer. But I know that those were limitations placed on you by the publisher.

    Here’s to looking forward to a later multi-volume edition — even if it’s years or decades in the future. I don’t see Mormon studies shrinking anytime soon so I think it will happen.

    In the meantime, the idea of donating a copy to your local library is a good one!

    Comment by Robert Briggs — September 9, 2010 @ 2:45 am

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