History of the Church Series
This daily feature is an introduction to a full article by Leonard J. Arrington and James B. Allen. 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.
In the fall of 1967 a small group of Mormon historians met in Salt Lake City to discuss the problems involved in writing the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were concerned with the history of the Church and its background in New York from 1820 to 1830, the decade which may be called the period of Mormon origins. Well aware that most books and articles on Mormonism say something about the period, they were also aware that no searching, in-depth analysis had yet been made of the entire decade. It was apparent that all periods of Mormon history were crying for more study and fresh historical analysis, but New York seemed the logical place to begin.
The five men formed themselves into an organization called "Mormon Origins in New York," with Truman G. Madsen, director of the Institute of Mormon Studies at Brigham Young University, as chairman or director. The purpose of the organization was to promote studies of all phases of Mormon history in New York. Mormon scholarship seemed to have reached a point that it should be concerned not only with "proving" the claims of Joseph Smith, but also with recognizing the human side of Church history. With respect to possible new evaluations of Joseph Smith, for example, Dr. Madsen later wrote, "Now that the anti-Mormon will to exaggerate, and the pro-Mormon will to gloss are antiquated, we can perhaps see Joseph Smith as he saw himself: both as a Prophet and as a growing, not infallible, human being." The human failings of many early Mormons, leaders and followers alike, have frequently been irresponsibly exploited by anti-Mormon writers. Evidence of these failings needs to be more responsibly analyzed and clarified, as does evidence of their more commendable qualities, in an effort to achieve the proper historical balance of all aspects of Church history in this early period.