Almanacs in the New England Heritage of Mormonism
This daily feature is an introduction to a full article by David J. Whittaker. Each Wednesday we focus on an aspect of church history, beginning in New York in the early 19th century and progressing throughout the year to Utah in the 20th century. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.
The products of early Mormon writers can be classified into twelve main categories: proclamations and warnings, doctrinal treatises, petitions for redress, histories, accounts of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, scriptural guides and helps, replies to anti-Mormon attacks, almanacs, newspapers, hymns and poetry, exposes by former members, and special publications. These constitute a large body of source material for those who wish to probe the intellectual and cultural history of early Mormonism. This essay examines the history, context, and content of almanacs in early Mormonism and shows how such a study can assist us to enter more fully into the cultural milieu of early Mormonism. In their earliest form, almanacs were calendars. As calendars, they can be found in the earliest societies in the ancient world. They were thus tied into the very cycles of nature and from earliest times were both descriptive and predictive. Until the invention of the printing press, their use was restricted to elite political and religious leaders. After the fifteenth century, almanacs became a staple in the printing business. It is estimated that by 1600 there had been over six hundred different almanacs published in England alone and that by 1700 about two thousand had been issued by about two hundred authors. It seems clear that in seventeenth-century England there were more almanacs than Bibles sold; in fact, as students of the almanac have pointed out, the almanac functioned as the secular Bible. Where the Bible told people how to behave on Sunday, the almanac served as a guide during the rest of the week.