New Mormon history

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New Mormon history refers to a style of reporting the history of Mormonism by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars which departs from earlier more polemical styles of history. Rather than presenting material selectively to either prove or disprove Mormonism, the focus of new Mormon history is to present history in a more humanistic and dispassionate way, and to situate Mormon history in a fuller historical context.

Because it is a break from past historical narratives, new Mormon history tends to be revisionist. In many cases, the new Mormon history follows the perspectives and techniques of new history, including cultural history. Mormon historian Richard Bushman described it as "a quest for identity rather than a quest for authority". New Mormon historians include a wide range of both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, the most prominent of which include Bushman, Jan Shipps, D. Michael Quinn, Terryl Givens, Leonard J. Arrington, Richard P. Howard, Fawn Brodie, and Juanita Brooks.


The term was originally published in 1969 by the Jewish historian Moses Rischin in his article "The New Mormon History."[1]

Although Rischin coined the term, D. Michael Quinn dates New Mormon History as beginning in 1950 with Juanita Brooks’ publication of "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Stanford University Press. He notes, however, that it had been gaining momentum even before that, citing that B.H. Roberts—Church historian from 1901 until his death in 1933—"exemplified much of the philosophy later identified with the New Mormon History."[2] Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., credits Leonard J. Arrington, beginning in the 1950s, with having "led the charge" of New Mormon History, with non-Mormon scholars Thomas O'Dea and Whitney O. Cross responding in kind with "less prejudiced and more informed monographs on Mormonism" (Forsberg 2008).

New History[edit]

New Mormon History is but a reflection of the change in writing history overall that took root in the 20th century. Quinn states that "the New Mormon History includes all of the ingredients of the 'new history' in America at large but has one crucial addition: the effort to avoid using history as a religious battering ram."[3]

The new historical movement's inclusive definition of the proper matter of historical study has also given it the label total history. The movement was contrasted with the traditional ways of writing history which particularly characterized the nineteenth century, resisting their focus on politics and 'great men'; their insistence on composing historical narrative; their emphasis on administrative documents as key source materials; their concern with individuals' motivations and intentions as explanatory factors for historical events; and their willingness to accept the possibility of historians' objectivity.

Differences from traditional Mormon history[edit]

Quinn, referring to Brooks’ history of the Mountain Meadows massacre, states that New Mormon History began with her in that she "avoided the seven deadly sins of traditional Mormon history." Quinn identifies these "sins" as:

  • Shrinking from analyzing a controversial topic;
  • Concealing a sensitive or contradictory interpretation;
  • Hesitating to follow the evidence to "revisionist" interpretations that run counter to "traditional" assumptions;
  • Using one’s evidence to insult the religious beliefs of Mormons;
  • Disappointing the scholarly expectations of academics;
  • Catering to public relations preferences;
  • Using an "academic" work to proselytize for religious conversion or defection.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rischin, Moses. "The New Mormon History." The American West (Mar. 1969): 49.
  2. ^ The New Mormon History. Ed. D. Michael Quinn. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992. (vii).
  3. ^ The New Mormon History. Ed. D. Michael Quinn. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992. (viii).


Forsberg, Clyde R., Jr. (2008), "Lying for a Good Purpose: Book of Mormon Apologetics Over the Years", Proceedings, 2008 International Conference: Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and "the New Spirituality", London, UK: Center for Studies on New Religions .