Zelophehad’s Daughters

Bored by Church History

Posted by Eve

There. I said it.

The flaw is in me, not in the discipline of history, which I just don’t have much of a mind for. Kiskilili and Elbereth–who study very different aspects of it in very different ways–both have a much better intuitive sense of history than I do, and Lynnette earned a couple of degrees in it before finding her calling in theology. Me, I’d rather wander around in the abstractions of philosophy than have to deal with the tedium of what actually happened.

My family moved to Utah right before I started fourth grade. I believe I was forever scarred by those grainy photographs of pioneers bravely conquering the desert, eternally grim and stalwart in their long black outfits. Also, the pioneers are the sacred bogeyman of every Mormon child. If you ever complain about being hot in the back seat of the car on some long trip, someone inevitably points out that the pioneers didn’t have air conditioning when they crossed the plains.

But I can’t blame it all on hagiography. Strike two is polygamy. It’s hard to deal with a version of marriage that essentially continues, in terms of our temple sealing practices, and that has such uncomfortable orignary authority. I’m descended from lots of polygamists, so I owe my existence to the practice, but I can’t say I enjoy examining the grim and dirty details.

In the end, all hagiography and polygamy aside, I’m just bored by it. I think it’s great other people love it. I think it’s great there are–evidently!–so many fascinating conversations going on in the LDS world about our history. I have nothing but the profoundest respect for Dave of DMI, the range of whose knowledge and whose civilized tone are my ideal of what the Bloggernacle should be. I think it’s great there are books like Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview and Mormon Enigma and In Sacred Loneliness and Rough Stone Rolling. I just can’t make myself pick them up. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I end up reading Harry Potter instead.

I wouldn’t deny history funding if I had lots of money. I would just want other people to do it, not me.

Further confessions of my general unfitness to be a Mormon intellectual, coming soon!

4 Responses to “Bored by Church History”

  1. 1.

    Eve, you so-called “intellectual,” I do hope you realize that you’re going to have to spend time in purgatory reading things like all six volumes of B.H. Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church.

    Truth to tell, even in my former life as a would-be historian, I was never terribly interested in LDS history. I think that for me, the hagiography aspect you mention was a big part of that. Making history “faith-promoting” had, at least in my experience, the effect of making it incredibly boring.

    But as you say, there’s a lot of good, thoughtful, non-whitewashed stuff out there. Like you, however, while I respect the work, I find that I have a hard time personally getting into it. So I’ll join you in opting for Hogwarts over Nauvoo.

  2. 2.

    Eve, Lynnete, I agree with you both, if you are speaking of church history as an academic discipline.

    But there is an aspect of our history that I find fascinating, and that is the immediacy of it. I didn’t care much for civil war history until I visited Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, now I bore people to tears with longwinded talk about Little Round Top and the Bloody Angle. Living where I do in the center stake of Zion, I find I have almost a compulsion to discover details. A friend and I have found what we think is the place on Fishing River where Zion’s Camp was miraculously saved from confrontation by the rapidly rising water. One of my great great greats was in the Mormon Battalion, and if they marched from Ft. Leavenworth where they were outfitted to the Santa Fe trail on the most direct route, I have stood within 15 or 20 feet of where they came. Details like that thrill me. I-80 more or less runs parallel to the pioneer trail for most of Nebraska’s 480 miles, and whenever I drive west, I like to get off the interstate and look at all the roadside markers. Usually it is just somebody’s cornfield or a truck stop now, but those were my peeps, and I feel connected to them in some visceral way. Go ahead and roll your eyes, my kids do! :-)

    Did you know that the visitor’s center in Independence has a map of Kansas City overlaid on a map showing the original settlements and land holdings of our people? Through examination of the map, and by a careful reading of an ancestor’s journal, I found out that he was the original settler on land that is now prime, and I mean PRIMO, real estate. I’m thinking about getting a lawyer and settling a few old scores.

  3. 3.

    You may have a point there, Mark. I have to confess that U.S. history, which I’ve also not been terribly interested in, suddenly came much more alive for me after a visit to New England a few years ago.

  4. 4.

    I agree, Lynnette. Mark reminds me that history and geography really get fascinating when you’re actually there. I suppose in an ideal world that would be the way to teach them–take the kids from place to place, and take them exploring–but of course that’s prohibitively expensive.
    Still, the history and geography of a place have become much more interesting to me when I visit. (A good example of the significance of the physical that S mentions in her post above. There’s a kind of knowledge possible only through physical experience.) And as one who’s driven the length of Nebraska way too many times, I have to say that pulling off and looking at the trail markers might be a good way to pass the time.

    Better that than all six volumes of B.H. Roberts in the next life!

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