In 1979, Richard Bushman proposed the idea of inviting eminent non-LDS scholars whose work paralleled the research being conducted by historians of Mormonism to spend a year researching a Mormon topic and present their finding at the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. It was hoped that an outsiders’ perspective would bring fresh, critical, and engaging analysis that might be overlooked by those inside the Mormon fold. As Bushman writes, “By bringing fresh eyes to Mormonism, historians with less personal attachment identify the oversights.” The idea for the lectures was well received, and Obert C. and Grace Tanner agreed to provide financial support for the annual lecture, thus the title.
This volume is a collection of the first twenty-one Tanner Lectures, bringing difficult-to-find papers into one volume. The lectures are organized into three broad categories: first, Beginnings; second, Establishing Zion; and third, Mormonism Considered from Different Perspectives. The three divisions are prefaced with essays by Richard Bushman, Thomas Alexander, and Jan Shipps, respectively. The introductory essays provide a discussion of the general topic and summaries and critiques of each lecture. Each lecture brings a different perspective, a different lens to the Mormon past. Reading the essays in order, Shipps points out, reveals not only the findings of the studies but also something of “the history of the doing of Mormon history across twenty years.”