By Alexander L. Baugh
Professor of Church history and Doctrine, BYU
It’s obvious that historians write about history—the events that shaped it and the people who made it—but they rarely write about themselves. However, I discovered that historians are much more open when it comes to talking about themselves and their approach to history. So with that in mind, over the course of several years, I arranged to have some of the most prominent and productive Mormon historians interviewed. From these interviews came some wonderful compelling life stories and experiences that shed light not only on the how they came to view and interpret the Mormon experience but also their own journey of faith. I, along with Reid L. Neilson, my coeditor, former colleague, and the current managing director of the LDS Church Historical Department, are most appreciative that BYU’s Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book agreed to the publication of Conversations with Mormon Historians. The book is the first of its kind, and because of its unique genre, we feel the book makes a unique and significant contribution to Mormon history.
The sixteen historians featured in Conversations come from various academic and educational institutions. Thomas G. Alexander and James B. Allen were professors of history at BYU. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Milton V. Backman Jr., LaMar C. Berrett, Robert J. Matthews, and Larry C. Porter were faculty members and administrators in Religious Education at BYU. Dean C. Jessee and Carol Cornwall Madsen both held academic rank in the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at BYU and also research positions in the LDS Church Historical Department. Also featured is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, distinguished professor of history at Harvard and the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1991. Renowned American historians Richard Lyman Bushman and Claudia Bushman both taught at a number of prestigious academic institutions before ending their careers at Claremont Graduate School. Representing the broader spectrum of Western American history are Charles S. Peterson and Stanley B. Kimball, from Utah State University and Southern Illinois University respectfully. And finally, Max H Parkin and Kenneth W. Godfrey, both PhDs, each taught for some forty years in LDS Seminaries and Institutes. Sadly, since these interviews were conducted, Berrett, Matthews, and Kimball have passed away.
Understandably, there are literally dozens of Mormon historians who could have been interviewed and included in such a compilation—Ronald W. Walker, Ronald K. Esplin, Jill Mulvay Derr, Kathryn M. Daynes, William G. Hartley, Richard O. Cowan, David J. Whittaker, Glen M. Leonard, and Richard L. Jensen, to name just a few. We need them to share their life story, academic journey, and their perspective on researching, interpreting, and writing Mormon history. Perhaps another book could be forthcoming, and I know the title—Conversations with Mormon Historians, Volume 2. Why not?
See the Deseret News review by Margot Hovley here.
To buy a copy or write your own review, visit here.