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Historians to discuss Joseph Smith’s polyandrous children, Mormons on YouTube, and Winston Churchill’s investigation of the LDS Church

Did Joseph Smith have a child with a woman who was married to another man? Why did Winston Churchill launch an investigation of the LDS Church in England? And other highlights from this year's Mormon History Association conference.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s that time of year again, when Mormon historians gather together to present their findings and learn from each other at the annual Mormon History Association meeting.

This year, the conference will be held in Snowbird, Utah, June 9-12. It looks like a compelling event this year, especially as Laurie Maffly-Kipp and J.B. Hawes explained in this KSL interview on Sunday, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it . . . especially since I heard that there is supposed to be a totally informal Hamilton sing-along one late night by the piano. (I’m not sure if that’s just a rumor, but I’m enamored with the idea of it in any case: Mormon historians! Belting out Hamilton! We are not throwin’ away our shot!)

Aaaanyway, this is the last week for the early bird conference registration rate, which expires on May 7.

logoIn case you’re wavering about whether to attend (and the Hamilton promise wasn’t enough to excite your anticipation), Joseph Stuart, a doctoral student in history at the University of Utah, offers some of this year’s MHA highlights.

Joseph’s top picks:

  • Those interested in Mormon history will want to attend the session where Ardis Parshall shares her research on Winston Churchill’s governmental investigation of Mormonism. How seriously did he take accusations that Mormon elders were kidnapping boatloads of young English girls to stock Utah harems? Parshall knows who Churchill talked to, what the elders’ landladies said, and exactly what happened to the “missing” girls.
  • Ugo Perego and Don Bradley will present research on a reputed child of Joseph Smith’s sired through polyandry. Perego’s prior research concluded that children believed to have been fathered by Joseph Smith were not blood relations.  He promises to reveal whether or not another child, linked to Joseph Smith by historian Fawn Brodie, was fathered by Mormonism’s founder. Bradley will provide the historical evidence surrounding the mystery.
  • Brian Hales’ discussion of polyandry in Doctrine and Covenants 132 also promises to be a fascinating panel. The prolific writer and researcher will speak about an alleged “offer” surrounding Emma and Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Hales has written widely on polyandry—which has caused a lot of discussion among Mormon historians.
  • The panel featuring Kenneth Alford, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Bill MacKinnon on the Utah War and Utah women also looks fascinating. Alford and MacKinnon have written extensively on the Utah War and Godfrey has co-edited a book on Mormon women. Each will examine the lives of Mormon women; Alford and Godfrey will each take a closer look at the ways women participated and responded to the Utah War.
  • Andrea Radke-Moss will present the second portion of the research she debuted at the BYU/LDS Church History Department Symposium on rape in the Mormon Missouri War and in broader historical contexts. At the Symposium, Radke-Moss spoke about incidents of rape during the Mormon exodus from Missouri, and how Mormons sheltered women from public ridicule and shame by declining to disclose names or let women share their traumas. Piecing together previously unpublished sources, Dr. Radke-Moss revealed that Eliza R. Snow was most likely the victim of a vicious sexual assault. In her presentation at the Mormon History Association, she promises to add more to the story and discuss further conclusions.
  • A panel featuring up-and-coming scholars Jeff Turner, JJ Feinauer, Jordan Bratt, and Kris Wright will tell us more about what scholars can learn about” lived” Mormonism through YouTube videos and metrics. (“Lived” Mormonism refers to the ways that Mormons live their lives, not judging Mormonism by what is taught from the pulpit, alone). Turner will discuss stories of de-conversion from ex-Mormons, and Feinauer will look at how fundamentalist Mormons discuss Mormon history to reinforce their religious views. Then, Bratt will explore what researchers can learn about Mormonism from YouTube’s public metrics and Wright will analyze what publishing the opening of mission calls says about modern Mormonism.
  • There is also a plethora of papers addressing broader ideas in academia. A panel on Mormon ritual and liturgy featuring Kathleen Flake, Jonathan Stapley, and Ryan Tobler will no doubt add context and insight to understanding Mormon polygamy, ordination, and history-keeping.

In addition to papers, there will be a workshop on African American history in Utah led by Darius Gray, a workshop on material history (history through objects) led by Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a concert by The Lower Lights, an awards banquet, and a presidential address by MHA President Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp.