45 years ago today - Dec 1, 1973-Saturday

[Leonard Arrington]
It is clear that the position of Church Historian in an ecclesiastical sense has diminished or declined. With Joseph Fielding Smith, who was known as Church Historian perhaps more prominently than he was known as an Apostle, the position had power and terrifying influence, respect and recognition. After two years, and despite my appearances to thousands of audiences here and in Idaho, California, and Arizona, it seems clear that very few persons know the name of the Church Historian, and remain half skeptical when someone introduces me as Church Historian. It's like a seminary teacher in California expressed it to me: "You are a Church Historian, of course; but you aren't the Church Historian, are you?" Some of this will be remedied as we publish books and articles. But we shall never again, I hope, have the "cult of personality" connected with the office that we have had with George A. Smith, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph Fielding Smith. The move to a professional historian is good and makes the history stand on scholarship and judgment rather than on the basis of the authority of the Historian. ... What happens when we publish books including material which they have studiously avoided including in church magazines? What happens when we revise standard accounts of church history? What happens when we have treatments of polygamy? There are three topics which the church magazines studiously avoid: polygamy-any mention of plural wives; masonry-any mention of the extensive masonry activities of Nauvoo; and such other controversial items as Mountain Meadows Massacre, Negroes and the Priesthood, and practices connected with the temple. There are persons who tell me that it is impossible for a Mormon, let alone a church employee, to write a reasonably objective and complete history. This must be done by a non-Mormon, because he has neither internal nor external restraints on what he writes. Some time ago, at my suggestion, Dean Jessee prepared an article for the Ensign on Brigham Young as a writer. A splendid article. The Ensign accepted it, and it now turns out that through the influence of Doyle Green, and correlation, Dean must eliminate references to the plural wives of Brigham Young and must correct the spelling mistakes in his letters and diary excerpts. But if we were publishing it, we would leave both in. Should we fight these changes or accept them? I took the attitude that we should concede to them the right to establish their own policies for publishing in church magazines. We should not appeal. If we did so, then higher authority would enter into it, and the first thing we knew, they would be telling us how we should publish as well. I should prefer for us to be left independently. If we had to go through correlation and get approval from higher ecclesiastical authority for all we publish, then we might as well close up shop. If history is going to be an aspect of doctrine and missionary work, then our department should not exist. ... In 1974 we shall publish Letters of Brigham Young to his sons, and, hopefully William Clayton diaries and the biographies of Charles C. Rich and David Eccles. ...

[Confessions of a Mormon historian : the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997, Gary James Bergera, editor, Signature Books, 2018]

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