LDS scholar and researcher Greg Prince has donated his ten thousand volume collection of Mormon books, documents, and artifacts to the University of Virginia. And you thought you had a lot of Mormon books! Details in this story from ABC4.com: “How this university became top site for study of Mormonism outside of Utah.” I own four books that Greg has authored. I have read them all and they are outstanding. I invite any readers who have read one of his books to chime in with a comment below.
This UVA collection will be a marvelous resource for anyone on the East Coast studying Mormonism. It also gives a real boost to UVA’s Mormon Studies program. You may recall that Thomas Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia. Jefferson also established the Library of Congress by donating his private library of books to get it started. Prince’s generous act does the same thing for Mormonism. We now have a Library of Mormonism — and one that lets you see all the books, not just some of them.
Here are a few random thoughts before I turn you loose in the comments:
- I have a hard time giving up one or two of my books, even old ones. I’m just amazed someone could part with such a large and treasured collection. I stand in awe of Dr. Prince.
- I hope every reader will give him a big shout out in the comments. Blogs, boards, and social media are a form of Mormon discussion for the common folk like you and I, but much of what you and I can read and talk about comes from the upper echelon of Mormon studies, scholars like Prince who research and publish.
- With this excellent collection (which will no doubt be added to over the years by the program), grad students in the program, and visiting scholars, I expect UVA will become a site for Mormon scholarly conferences. We need more conferences, which are always quite welcoming to visitors.
- I hope this large donation gets enough publicity that others who hold rare LDS books, documents, and artifacts, will look to UVA as a possible donation recipient.
Let me just throw in the first comment right here. The first Prince book I read was Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood (Signature Books, 1995). It was the first book I read that made sense of LDS history as pertaining to the priesthood. Which is to say it jettisoned the LDS textbook version and used source documents to show the actual chronological development, with the various twists and turns in the development and evolution of LDS priesthood. It makes early LDS history and the D&C more comprehensible, as far as the priesthood enters into the story. Development is still happening. Just a couple of years ago the venerable office of high priest was more or less abolished; everyone’s an elder now, although anyone called to higher leadership still gets an honorary “high priest” promotion. And the ages for young men to receive the Aaronic Priesthood offices were juggled a bit. They were always rather arbitrary anyway.
So: Three cheers for Greg Prince. Good news for the UVA Mormon Studies program. And good news for students of LDS doctrine and history back East, who will soon have a very accessible resource for their work.
If I were able to donate my books to a library (yeah, like that’s going to happen), it might be helpful to think of it as storage. As in “oh, that book is stored at UVA”.
Hurrah for Dr. Prince! This will go a long way toward educating young students. At least those with the ability and inclination to read.
My daughter attended UVA and took a class from Kathleen Flake (google her if you don’t know who she is). The class was fantastic and my daughter experienced something you could never experience at BYU. I think you know what I mean. This donation from Dr. Prince will only enhance UVA’s already terrific Mormon Chair.
As a graduate of both BYU and UVA, I’d like to offer a separate but related comment: BYU and UVA are both named after men who we consider controversial today for obvious reasons. But there is a stark difference between UVA’s approach towards Thomas Jefferson and BYU’s approach towards Brigham Young. UVA is not afraid to thoroughly examine the private life of Jefferson. In fact, it is NOT considered inappropriate at UVA to openly criticize him. Meanwhile at BYU, one must exercise much more caution when discussing Young. I’m not saying a student can’t be critical of Brother Young. But there are definite limits in what can be said. Also, Thomas Jefferson is highly respected by most students at UVA but he isn’t glorified the way Brigham Young is at BYU.
Defenders of the faith will justify these limits and differences by reminding us that Mormons believe Brigham Young was a prophet of God, so we must therefore be respectful. But the consequence of these limitations is that the average student at BYU has very little exposure to the private life of Brigham Young. That’s a real shame because students at both UVA and BYU should all know details about the life and times of Thomas Jefferson and Brigham Young. I’m afraid that’s only possible at UVA unless a student is willing to teach himself at BYU.
JCS: Most college students, esp. those at a place like UVA, have “the ability and inclination to read.” I’d advise avoiding such snarky comments directed towards young adults; they already get too much of such rhetoric thrown their way as it is. And most of my students can think circles around people who are decades older than they are, despite many older people being dismissive of the young.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
We should give some info on Kathleen Flake, who, according to Wikipedia, is “a historian, writer, and attorney and is currently the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia.” I believe Prince’s gift to UVA was partly based on confidence in Kathleen Flake and how she has built up the program there. And as long as we’re talking about books, everyone should read her book, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (UNC Press, 2005).
So I have mixed feelings about the books that Greg Prince authored. They are a wealth of extremely useful information, and have lots of potential insights, but the organization is kind of chaotic. It feels like the third draft of a paper where you have all the great information, but you still haven’t quite got the outline right yet. But the information is really what I prize, so they are great references. I found the McKay book particularly helpful and have lend it out several times. So I am excited that he is donating his collection.
Although I don’t see eye to eye with Kathleen Flake on LGBTQ issues at all, I will credit her with keeping me in Mormonism for 15 years longer than I would have otherwise, allowing me to have some very meaningful spiritual experiences that I would have missed otherwise. In particular, after GBH, who I had trusted to be a thoughtful and progressive leader (i.e. not the far right leader that was ETB during my youth and mission), gave his 2003 conference address claiming the U.S. invasion of Iraqi’s oilfield on the (obvious to me) false pretense of weapons of mass destruction was morally justified and that those that opposed the invasion would have to answer to God, I was shook to the core. I remember sitting in her office in the Vandy div school and asking how could a man claiming to have regular communion with God be so easily misled by Donald Rumsfeld and go against every principle about just war taught by the BoM and the D&C? And she laid out the case for the Restoration having spiritual value, even if the men who led it were deeply flawed and viewed things through the lens of their conservative politics.
Maybe now in hindsight, I wasted those years by staying, but she did give me a path and a model to stay authentic in my Mormonism as I more fully developed my own theological understanding. And she was a great sounding board to work through ideas I was wrestling with, so I am thankful to her, even if in the end I have come to see the LDS faith as too flawed and toxic to be worth continuing to invest time and energy in. So I am glad UVA is getting the books and I think Kathleen will be pointing lots of bright students to meaningful projects using them.
I loved Dr. Prince’s book on the “prophet of my youth” David O. McKay. The story of how he got the source material is amazing – and it will likely never happen again.
The book “Gay Rights and the Mormon Church” will, I believe, be foundational in the church’s slow march into social modernity.
34% of the way through “Power from on High”.
His has been a powerful voice – I hope this gift amplifies it.
I admit I have not read his books, but I have listened to probably dozens of hours of interviews with him. Big fan. Someday I’ll get to the books.
Greg Prince books, podcast interviews, radio interviews, and videos of speeches are worth the time. His straightforward approach to difficult issues is something most of us can gain from. He and Matthew L. Harris are two scholars within the church who are highly worth hearing from. Their perspectives are invaluable.