Assistant Church Historian Honored by National Group

  By Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 16 January 2014

Assistant Church historian and recorder Richard E. Turley Jr. displays historical documents during a press conference in Salt Lake City on September 4, 2013.   Photo by Ravell Call.

Article Highlights

  • Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant Church historian and recorder, received the 2013 Herbert Feis Award.
  • The award is offered annually in recognition of distinguished contributions to public history.

“Richard E. Turley Jr. … has guided the Church’s significant history operations, including archives, museums, 25 historic sites, and a vast records management system.” —Carroll Van West, Feis Award committee chair

The largest association of historians in the United States, the American Historical Association, has honored Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant Church historian and recorder, with its prestigious 2013 Herbert Feis Award.

The award is offered annually in recognition of distinguished contributions to public history.

Brother Turley, who has served in his current position since 2008 and has led the Church History Department since 1986, received the award January 2 at the association’s 128th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Richard E. Turley Jr. … has guided the Church’s significant history operations, including archives, museums, 25 historic sites, and a vast records management system,” said Carroll Van West, this year’s Feis Award committee chair and director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. “His actions stand as a beacon to others.”

When appointed in 2008, Brother Turley was the first person to hold the office of assistant Church historian in 26 years. Fifteen men preceded him: Wilford Woodruff, Franklin D. Richards, John Jaques, Charles W. Penrose, Andrew Jenson, Orson F. Whitney, Amos Milton Musser, Brigham H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, A. William Lund, Junius F. Wells, Preston Nibley, Earl E. Olson, James B. Allen, and Davis Bitton.

Prior to his appointment, he served for 14 years as managing director of the Church Historical Department, four years as managing director of the Family History Department, and eight years as managing director of the combined Family and Church History Department.

In his various roles he has overseen the Church Archives and Records Center, the Church History Library, the Museum of Church History and Art (now the Church History Museum), and the Church’s worldwide family history operations.

In a 1992 interview with the Church News, Brother Turley said he had aspirations in high school to do two things: become a lawyer and be a Church institute teacher.

As it turned out, he graduated from the law school at BYU in 1985, practiced law for a few months, and then went to work for the Church. Though he didn’t become an institute teacher, he is serving where his heart is.

“Not everyone can have a profession that reflects his great interest, and I have that,” he said in 1992. “Although I very much enjoyed practicing law, it’s unlikely I would have spent a great deal of my free time reading law books for pleasure. I do spend a lot of my free time reading Church history books for pleasure.”

While working in the Church History Department, he has written or edited several books. Two of them have had an exceptionally high profile: Massacre at Mountain Meadows (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard) and Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).

During his time as a leader the Church History Department, the department has formulated and implemented high-level standards focusing on the acquisition, organization, preservation, and dissemination of materials relating to the founding and development of the Church.

In recent years, that work has included the Joseph Smith Papers project, a multiyear initiative to research, collect, and publish all manuscripts and documents created by or under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The Herbert Feis Award, established in 1984, is named in memory of a public servant and historian of recent American foreign policy. It was initially awarded for books by historians working outside of academe. But in 2006, its scope was changed to emphasize significant contributions in the field of public history.

The American Historical Association is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies. It has more than 14,000 members and serves historians representing every historical period and geographical area.