Charles C. Rich

Mormon General and Western Frontiersman

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Few trends in recent western historical writing have been as important or as encouraging as the boom in Mormon studies, and in this boom the Mormons themselves have played the principal role. As if tired of waiting for non-Mormons to provide objective new insights into the often controversial history of the Mormon people, young Mormon scholars have plunged enthusiastically into research and debate over their group’s past.

In their efforts they have been helped greatly by several institutional changes. One was the founding of Dialogue in 1966 as a journal for serious and open discussion of the big intellectual uncertainties, including historical interpretations, that intelligent younger Mormons face as they carry into the late twentieth century a pattern of beliefs and attitudes that reflect the early nineteenth century and that came into being among a simpler, less educated population than today’s oncoming generation. Almost simultaneously the Mormon History Association was established to provide a forum for consideration of historical issues, and to draw together the growing number of scholars with a special interest in that particular subject. A third change was the wise decision of the Church authorities to open the Church’s rich archival collections to scholars, so that henceforth books and articles could be based on solid research rather than on inference and legend. Equally important was the decision to appoint as Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington, the ablest and best-known Mormon historian and the first professionally trained scholar to be called to that post. Along with Arrington’s new Church position has gone a “name” chair in western history at Brigham Young University and the directorship of the Center for Western History at that same university, so that Arrington now has an opportunity to exert a wide influence.

As part of his program to develop modern Mormon scholarship, Arrington has established a new Church-sponsored “Mormon Heritage” series, under his own general editorship, while at the same time he has contributed the present biography of Charles C. Rich as the first volume in Brigham Young University’s new series, “Studies in Mormon History,” which is under the general editorship of another well-known scholar, James B. Allen. Parenthetically it should be remarked that these two series take their place alongside a veritable galaxy of already existing publishing outlets at Salt Lake City, Provo, and Logan, with the result that there are more opportunities for publishing in Mormon history today than in any other field of western history. What’s more, since the Church authorities have permitted Arrington to recruit a good-sized staff of professionally trained historians, in addition to those who were already on the faculties of Utah’s several universities, there are probably more Utahns studying the Mormons today than there are Texans studying cowboys!

 

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