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Adventures of a Church Historian Hardcover – May 1, 1998
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This book is first an explanation and defense of the "new Mormon History." Unfortunately, there is no real consensus on what this term means. Arrington believed that it represented a fundamental shift away from the use of history for polemical purposes, in either attacks on or defenses of the Mormon movement, something that had dominated historical writing in earlier generations. He sought to move beyond the assumptions of faith to embrace a larger understanding and in the process a larger faith. In so doing, he believed, historians could do their work fully aware that their faith was personal rather than historical.
This approach has created problems for historians who are seeking to discover the church's past, and Arrington came to fully appreciate it. From almost the beginning of what has been called the "new Mormon history." of which Arrington was one of the founders and intellectual leaders, a debate has been raging in Mormon intellectual (and in some not so intellectual) circles about the nature of Mormon history. Richard L.Read more ›
The book is an autobiography of Leonard Arrington who was primarily a historian, but also an economist. Along with serving as Church Historian during the mid 1970s, Arrington was also highly influential in the creation and perpetuation of several early organizations interested in the scholarly study of Mormonism, including Dialogue and the Mormon History Association.
The book focuses on Arrington's scholarly work and his time spent as Church Historian, but also incorporates brief sketches of his family life and some of the things he did outside of work - though they are mostly Church related.
This book is a fascinating look inside the Mormon Church, specifically its Salt Lake based hierarchy and their policies concerning history and scholarly analysis of Mormonism. For the most part the book is well-written. The biggest problem on this front is that the book could have used at least one more editorial pass as there are numerous typos and even one section where Arrington describes an event in almost identical fashion within three paragraphs (p. 87 "After the session where we were sustained, many friends and former associates came up to congratulate us and shake our hands..." repeated on p. 88).
There are only two other critiques I would level at the book. First, the book jumps around quite a bit, from his academics to his family and back again, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. I understand the difficulty in trying to report both dimensions of one's life in a coherent picture, but it made for difficult reading at times. Second, there are several points when the normally lucid writing turns into a bibliography.Read more ›
He had a difficult assignment in being directly affiliated with the Church and yet being tasked with producing professional history. For the Church, the hand of God is a reality in all things. But that kind of explanation doesn't hold any water in the halls of academe. This required a special person to be able to walk that very thin line (since it was indeed the Church Leaders who gave him this almost self-contradictory assignment).
It was inevitable that there would be some who would take exception to this or that and at times there was more than exception taken. Arrington put it well on page 144 "... trying to do a job under conflicting instructions or pressures, was like a mouse crossing the floor where elephants are dancing." I love this image and understand exactly what he means.
And there is a glorious chapter giving the background on the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Just terrific insights and enriching information.
I do wish, however, he had taken a few pages showing examples of historical writing that did go beyond fair professionalism and into being against the Church. Clearly this writing does exist and probably did at least as much to undermine the purposes for which his office was originally set up as the complaints of the literalists.
This was a very enjoyable read and the background it provides makes it very worthwhile.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Leonard Arrington (1917-1999) was the founder of the Mormon History Association, and was the Church Historian from 1972-1982 (when the Church transferred his History Division to... Read morePublished on March 4, 2011 by Steven H Propp
This is an excellent book about the pleasures and travails of being a church historian by a man who occupied the post for a decade. Read morePublished on November 1, 2010 by John Elsegood
Here is an honest appraisal of some difficult situations faced by a hard-working scholar whose motives and work product were not always correctly perceived and appropriately... Read morePublished on February 11, 2007 by J. Brian Watkins
Definitely a unique person and a unique story. And there are a couple of chapters that are real page-turners. Read morePublished on September 17, 2002 by Kolby
I know that many will be most interested in the account of Prof. Arrington's dealings with the leadership of the Church and of how that impacted his historiographical work (not... Read morePublished on April 28, 2001