In this two-part episode, Lindsay Hansen Park, Brian Whitney, and Jon Grimes join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of how Mormon history is understood and engaged with among typical Latter-day Saints. How do non-historians understand the nature of the historian’s task, about how many different approaches to understanding history there are, each with its own types of lenses, each with different goals? In talking about particular incidents in the Mormon past, is the history book or article we are reading trying to tell a no-frills and highly detailed account of what transpired, or are they more interested in using that event or series of incidents to illustrate larger themes—or even to teach moral lessons? No historical text is “innocent”—every one reveals assumptions, methodologies, goals, and many other motivations in the historian’s mind alongside its accounts of whatever it is describing.
With websites such as MormonThink and documents such as the Letter to a CES Director by Jeremy Runnells making such an impact on so many Latter-day Saints, it’s high time for discussions like this. In these influential presentations, who is present in the story, and who is not? What questions are being asked? Are they the best ones? What else might one ask the story or teaching under question? What assumptions lie below the approach? And perhaps the even more important to ask are questions of ourselves. Why are we reacting the way we do to these storytellings? Are our responses purely from the power of the textual presentations themselves, or are they validating for us deeper things that we’ve already been feeling, or are these texts helping us continue the important processes of breaking out of un-examined understandings? In many ways, history is a Rorschach test!
We very much hope you’ll listen and then share your comments and questions in the discussion section below!