My friend and colleague Ben Park reviewed Race and the Making of the Mormon People at the Junto blog on early American history. (Ben’s new book, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in an Age of Revolutions, looks very promising).
Though I’m both a historian and a “religious studies scholar,” that’s the end of my quibbling with Ben’s thoughtful review! Relatedly, perhaps, Ben rightfully highlights the tension between the theory and history that the book tries to engage with:
On the one hand, this theoretical framing was provocative and engaging. Even as someone familiar with the relevant literature, I learned a lot that was new. On the other hand, the analytical interventions could at times feel distracting. It seemed that Mueller, at certain points in this story, was really writing two books: one on the experience of non-white Mormons, and another on how those experiences were recorded. The book argues these two can only be understood in tandem; but, at least in this packaging, the tale can become quite disjointing. Take for example the fourth chapter, which looks at the Nauvoo era and focuses on Jane Manning James: in order to discuss both James and the politics behind her reminiscent narrative, Mueller jumps back and forth between the 1840s, when the events happened, and fifty years later, when James told her story. The intricate details and close analysis found in other areas of the book, which I thought to be the strength of the volume, gets lost in the attempt to appease two timelines.
For sure, the retrospective nature of James’s autobiography was one of the toughest parts for me to narrate. You should have seen all the previous drafts! But showing the (theoretical) seams was part of the deconstruction of linear narration that I was hoping to engage with, especially in terms of race (and gender).
Read the rest here.