Mormon History Association Convenes for 50th Year

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 4 June 2015

A bronze statue depicting the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.

“We invite you to explore the dynamic byways as well as the prominent monuments of the Mormon past and to look beyond familiar corridors into vital new sites of growth.” —Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, this year’s association president

The Mormon History Association is holding its 50th annual conference this week, and for this landmark occasion, it returns to Provo, Utah, one of the cultural centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where it convened on three previous occasions.

In fact, the theme of this year’s gathering is “Mormon Cultures/Cultural Mormons,” a concept that “emphasizes the diversity of expression that has shaped Latter-day Saint history,” wrote Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, this year’s association president, in the conference program.

“We invite you to explore the dynamic byways as well as the prominent monuments of the Mormon past and to look beyond familiar corridors into vital new sites of growth.”

Bronze statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum riding out of Nauvoo toward Carthage.

The association convenes Thursday, June 4, through Sunday, June 7, in the Utah Valley Convention Center, 220 W. Center Street, in Provo.

As reflected in the conference theme this year, the association, which is independent and nondenominational, has an eclectic appeal, welcoming Mormon history enthusiasts of various stripes and persuasions. Officers and staff of the LDS Church History Department are extensively involved and supportive. So are members of other churches and faith traditions who trace their origins to the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who profess no religion at all.

The Joseph Smith home in Palmyra.

It was Leonard J. Arrington, LDS Church historian from 1972 to 1982, who helped to establish the Mormon History Association and served as its first president. One of six panel presentations at this year’s conference will honor Brother Arrington’s legacy.

Board member Jonathan Stapley said the Mormon History Association was formally organized December 28, 1965, at the American Historical Association meeting in San Francisco, California, and, for the first seven years, it operated as an affiliate of the AHA.

Then, in 1972, it became an independent organization with its own annual conferences and publications. Today, it has some 2,000 members.

Events this year include the association’s birthday party at the opening reception on Thursday evening.

The membership luncheon on Friday will feature a panel discussion of “the culture of the early Mormon History Association.”

Sessions that may be of interest to Latter-day Saints include a presentation chaired by Richard E. Turley Jr. on Friday in which panelists will discuss the immigration to and settling of the Great Basin.

Other sessions will focus on insights from the Joseph Smith Papers, the dynamics of scriptural canonization in the Church, the Relief Society, pioneer temples in the Church, and the new international history efforts of the Church in Mexico.

In the opening plenary session on Friday, Colleen McDannell, a professor of religious studies at the University of Utah, will discuss the Relief Society, Catholic nuns, and the creation of hospitals in Utah.

For more information on the conference or association, go to the website at mormonhistoryassociation.org.