Joseph Smith and the Creation of Mormon Religious Traditions
The Mormon History Association (MHA), which was incorporated in 1965 to "promote understanding, scholarly research, and publication in the field of Mormon History," holds an annual conference for scholars and laypersons to present papers on topics related to Mormonism. The conference site changes each year to provide an interesting historical backdrop for each conference and an opportunity for sightseeing. Typically conferences are held in the Western United States, but conferences have also been held in cities such as Kirtland, Ohio; Nauvoo, Illinois; Independence, Missouri; Oxford, England; Washington, DC; and Copenhagen, Denmark.
Not surprisingly the 2005 MHA conference will have a Joseph Smith theme and will be staged, appropriately enough, in Vermont--Joseph Smith's birthplace as well as Brigham Young's. Like previous conferences, the 2005 conference will feature a Tanner Lecturer, in this case Professor Charles L. Cohen, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At least one class of his, Readings in American Religious History to 1860, features a section on Mormonism with readings from Jan Shipps, Richard Bushman, John L. Brooke, Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, and Steven Harper (see page 11 of the syllabus). Another class of his discusses Mormonism along with the Shakers and the Oneida community as examples of Religious Communitarianism". (As a side historical note: Elder Ezra Taft Benson famously voiced his dislike for, without naming the books, James Allen and Glen Leonard's 1976 book The Story of the Latter-day Saints and Arrington, Fox, and May's Building the City of God because they, among other things, seemed to blur what he saw as the clear line between the law of consecration and the united order and other communal societies and arrangements.)
There will also be plenary sessions featuring Richard L. Bushman, emeritus professor of history at Columbia University and scholar with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History, and Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, who is the new Executive Director of the Family and Church History Department and will speak at the Sunday worship service at the Joseph Smith memorial in Sharon, Vermont.
Tours of the area will be available, including visits to Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain; Middlebury, Vermont; Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Salem, Mass.; Lexington and Concord; and Boston.
Additional details about the conference will be available here in the next month.
The October 2004 MHA newsletter provides some further information on the conference:
"Susan Rugh, Killington, Vermont Conference Pro-gram chair has identiﬁed the focus of the conference by establishing the following goals and objectives.
As the birthplace of the ﬁrst two Mormon prophets, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the state of Vermont was the seedbed for Mormon history and culture. The state also warrants the attention of historians because Vermont congressmen Justin Morrill and George F. Edmunds authored significant anti-polygamy legislation in the late 19th century. Vermont became important as a destination for Mormon pilgrims after 1905, when Utah Mormons erected a monument at the birthplace of Joseph Smith. While today there are proportionately few Mormons in the state, it remains important as a historical site for Mormons. Speciﬁcally, the goals of the conference are:
To familiarize MHA attendees with the environment, culture, and history of Vermont and New England.
To examine the history of writings about Joseph Smith, and to nurture new approaches to that history.
To provide opportunities for MHA attendees to visit sites important to the birth and early life of founding prophet Joseph Smith.
To create a venue for the presentation of the most recent research in the ﬁeld of Mormon history, and to honor strong scholarly contributions to that history.
To generate interest in Mormon history among scholars not previously associated with the ﬁeld.
To build bridges with the Vermont Historical Society and other local historians."