The second volume of the church history series Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days dropped last Wednesday, February 12th. No Unhallowed Hand covers the second half of the 19th century, from the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in 1846 to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893. One of my favorite aspects of the Saints project is the publication of accompanying Church History Topic essays going more in-depth on topics and individuals mentioned in the story. I’ve been looking forward to this new batch of topic essays ever since listening to Matthew McBride’s 2019 FairMormon address, “Answering Historical Questions with Church History Topics.”
Church History Topics essays are different than those in the Gospel Topics section as well as the more notorious Gospel Topic Essays. For more on the origin of these different collections, see my post from last February. The historical essays are meant to be a level deeper than the introduction offered in Saints, but not over the heads of the general membership. They often include video interviews with church leaders and members of the Church History Department. Other reading materials are listed at the end of these essays for those wanting to go deeper into either church or scholarly resources.
The first batch of Church History Topics essays was released with the publication of Saints Volume 1 The Standard of Truth in 2018. There were 118 essays in this collection as of last February. One Church History Topic essay was added last June, Young Women Organizations, but no other entries were released until last week.
So far, I’ve identified at least 62 new Church History Topics essays accessible via the Church’s website and on the Gospel Library app. Church History Topics are found in the app under both the “Topics” and the “Church History” sections listed on the home page. A complete list of all 62 new topics (with links) are at the end of this post.
Many topics are those traditionally found in discussions of United States History (American Civil War, California Gold Rush, Mexican-American War, etc.), Utah history (Utah, Utah War, Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane), and church history (Brigham Young, Crickets and Seagulls, Handcart Companies, etc.). I wanted to highlight some of the newer Church History Topics that we often don’t find in a traditional retelling of church history.
New topics on controversial issues: Mountain Meadows Massacre, Plural Marriage in Utah, and the Priesthood and Temple Restriction. I thought it was notable that the priesthood ban entry lists Quincy D. Newell’s 2019 book, Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth-Century Black Mormon, as a resource for more information. These new essays add to previous unusual entries on Mormon violence (Danites), plural marriage (Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, Fanny Alger), and an early black priesthood holder (Elijah Able).
New topics relating to women and women’s history: Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Ida Hunt Udall, Louisa Barnes Pratt, Pioneer Women and Medicine, Plural Marriage in Utah, Primary, Relief Society, Susa Young Gates, Women’s Suffrage, Zina D. H. Jacobs Young. Related is the newer topic entry on Young Women Organizations released last summer. Older entries on women from the first volume include Amanda Barnes Smith, Emma Hale Smith, Fanny Alger, Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Healing (mentions female healing blessings), Jane Elizabeth Manning James, Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, Lucy Mack Smith, and Mother in Heaven.
New topics relating to Native American history: Indian Slavery and Indentured Servitude and Sagwitch. Sagwitch’s entry includes his experiences with the Bear River Massacre and the involvement of Shoshone church members in building the Logan temple. These are a great addition to the older Church History Topic entries on American Indians and Lamanite Identity released with the first volume of Saints.
New topics highlighting the growth of the church and church members outside the continental United States: Colonies in Mexico, Growth of Missionary Work, Jonathan Napela (Hawaiian member), Mischa Markow (Eastern European member), and the Turkish Mission. Several new entries refer readers to global histories written by employees of the Church History Department: Denmark, Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and South Africa. These add to older Church History Topic entries on Canada, Dedication of the Holy Land, England, and French Polynesia.
- Have you read any of the Church History Topics?
- If so, are there any entries in the Church History Topics section that you find particularly useful or see cited more often?
- Are there any topic essays you’d like to see added relating to the history of the Church up to 1893 (the end of the second volume)?
Complete list of new Church History Topic essays: American Civil War; Antipolygamy Legislation; Brigham Young; California Gold Rush; Colonies in Mexico; Cooperative Movement; Crickets and Seagulls; Denmark; Deseret Alphabet; Eliza R. Snow; Emigration; Emmeline B. Wells; Endowment House; George Q. Cannon; Growth of Missionary Work; Handcart Companies; Hawaii; Heber J. Grant; Helen Mar Kimball Whitney; Ida Hunt Udall; Indian Slavery and Indentured Servitude; John Taylor; Jonathan Napela; Joseph F. Smith; Lorenzo Snow; Louisa Barnes Pratt; Manifesto; Mexican-American War; Mexico; Mischa Markow; Mormon Battalion; Mountain Meadows Massacre; New Zealand; Norway; Parley P. Pratt; Pioneer Settlements; Pioneer Trek; Pioneer Women and Medicine; Plural Marriage in Utah; Priesthood and Temple Restriction; Primary; Railroad; Relief Society; Retrenchment; Sagwitch; Salt Lake Valley; Samuel Brannan; Settlement of Joseph Smith’s Estate; South Africa; Sunday School; Susa Young Gates; Temple Building; Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane; Turkish Mission; United Orders; Utah; Utah War; Wilford Woodruff; Winter Quarters; Women’s Suffrage; Young Men Organizations; Zina D. H. Jacobs Young.
Lead image of Saints volume 2 from Church Newsroom.
I have yet to read the Church History Topics, although I have read all of the Gospel Topics essays. These publications are arguably the best the church has ever put out. They used to essentially hide their history, or only put out histories that were very sugar-coated. The seer stone in a hat used to be completely unknown. Now they are owning up to this historical truth more and more (although stopping short of sponsoring art that shows Joseph Smith with his head buried in a hat (which makes him look a bit delusional) opting for the more sophisticated Joseph looking at plates trying to translate them).
Now the church is a bit more open, and a bit more clever. The goal of the leaders now is to make it look like they are being completely candid about church history and even the more controversial aspects. Of course, they maintain that these controversial aspects are not important enough to feature in conference talks or lesson manuals (where members mostly inform themselves of the belief system), but they go ahead and print history books and essays in its website among dozens of other innocuous essays that would require many clicks to find and about which few bishops seem to know. Now with the Saints publications, the aim is to bury controversy in hundreds of pages of text that appears scholarly and thorough yet faith-promoting at the same time. They strongly encourage members to read it with the hope that if the members stumble upon something controversial or are approached by a non-believer or ex-Mormon on these issues that they will think themselves to be highly acquainted with church history (because, hey, they read Saints) and think that the person making the accusations doesn’t have the full story. Saints, in other words, might be prone to give believers a sort of illusion that they have a good knowledge of history (or least that the church is very forthcoming about its history) and that history is extremely complex and critics just have bees in their bonnets, thus inoculating the believers against history-induced faith crises.
Another new approach taken by the leaders with these new publications is to paint past leaders with a bit more fallibility, but not too much to induce cognitive dissonance. The hope is to reinforce a commonly heard trope that the church leaders, its leading thinkers and defenders, and other believers are nuanced, and therefore more sophisticated, in how they view their leaders (nevermind the regular hero-worship in conference talks and manuals), while critics are black-and-white thinkers whose supposed over-the-top expectations that these leaders be perfect (which couldn’t have possibly been built by the leaders’ discourse over decades) are dashed upon hearing about some small flaws like secretly marrying 14-year-old girls or possibly having a role in one of the largest massacres in American history. The rank-and-file member, who is too busy to bother looking into history and goes through the motions and only makes time to read scriptures and go to church, is to believe that we are to treat the leaders as infallibles and never question. But those who start venturing off and reading beyond what average members read are led to believe a new narrative about leadership fallibility. They are to be doublethinkers and believe that leaders are both fallible and infallible at the same time, it just depends on the context. When talking with a non-member/investigator or making a comment in a church class, the sophisticated thinking member is to toe the line and treat the leaders as infallibles for whom we should only be grateful and praising. But when talking with a fellow member who has questions, then the sophisticated thinking member is to emphasize fallibility and softly and passive-aggressively ridicule the questioner/doubter for expecting the leaders to be perfect if they do not let go of a pesky doubt.
Nice write up, Mary Ann. If some of us onliners sometimes give the Church a hard time for weak and misleading curriculum materials, then we really ought to give the Church some credit when it comes out with better materials like these Church History Topics essays.
It would be nice if these essays were featured more prominently in the Sunday School curriculum. Who knows, maybe they will be used more directly in the new Come Follow Me manualon the D&C and LDS history that will be the course of study for 2021. If so, maybe teachers will actually read the essays. If so, maybe the class members will listen and learn, or maybe even go read the essays themselves. But that’s a lot of maybes. And most people, including most active Mormons, just aren’t that interested in history, including Mormon history.
This morning the thumb up or down records on comments old and new disappeared without any corresponding change to the commenting policy which still suggests a thumb up if you like a comment. Is there a secret handbook? Was there a revelation? Maybe it just takes months to change the “handbook” — others have done so.
And now they’re back!
O don’t know what happened to the buttons. We didn’t do anything as far as I know.
I have been really impressed with the podcast to volume 2 so far. I am not as familiar with church history following the death of Joseph Smith and have been impressed with the Candor of historians on the podcast. Episode 5 had a terribly non descriptive name, but the historians there acknowledge mistakes by church leaders with regards to the race ban. I was pretty surprised.
So just to get this straight, you didn’t talk at all about the text, just the essays about minor topics for many saints, only tangentially related to the book, that happen to be your pet projects? Thats not a very good book review Mary Ann. It might have made a good post on another topic.
Interested parties who actually want to know how the volume is, might benefit from my review of volume one located here: https://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2018/09/book-review-saints-volume-one.html
The second volume is just as solid as the first. Though of course, it won’t please everybody, or even get a mention in its own review at Wheat and Tares!!
Morgan, it wasn’t meant to be a book review. I was really excited about the new Church History Topics Essays and still am. They deserve to be celebrated in their own right. The headline states the topic of the post. Not sure where you got confused on that.