Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Official History vs. Real History

I was a history teacher for a few years. Frankly, I stopped looking for objective, official history long ago, when I realized how much more fun, entertaining and exciting real history is - to study and to teach. Journals and letters and unguarded communications are SO much richer than textbooks - the account of the winners' most elite element. Academicians brought us the flat-earth theory; sailors knew better for many, many years.

If you want to know what "Mormonism" really is (or was at any given time), at its most basic level, read the writings of the lay members of that time. The General Conference talks and official pronouncements tell what the global Church teaches; the various interpretations show what the local Church actually believes.

The gap is fascinating.


adamf said...

There's a book called "Saints Without Halos" by Arrington that illustrated this nicely.

Journals can be fascinating--even those of church leaders. I have Hosea Stout's journal, and he mentions working the rounds in Nauvoo as a some kind of policeman, then hitting the bar after work with one of my ancestors... ostensibly something you are not going to find in a CES manual. :) I love history as well. Have you read Howard Zinn? He wrote a nice history of America from the "lay members" perspective, i.e. Columbus from the point of view of the natives.

Jami said...

I have always enjoyed history, but I love it now that I read first person accounts.

I wish that we had access to the daily thoughts of the stand-bys and walk-ons in ancient scriptures. Those would be some fascinating gaps.

Scott Hales said...

I agree with a lot of what you say here. One thing I've always found interesting in Nauvoo is the part of the town up on the bluff, which surrounds the temple. My ancestors lived up there, and many of the original homes are still standing. At times we forget that Nauvoo was much larger than what has been restored by the Church and C of C.

Unfortunately, my ancestor's home was recently leveled and (poorly) rebuilt by a hotel company that is trying to cash in on the Old Nauvoo legacy. So, for something like $450 a night I can stay in a badly rebuilt copy of my third great-grandfather's home (complete with a big flat-screen TV). Oh well. We've got to do something with history these days.

Anonymous said...

Ray, you *know* I like nuts-and-bolts history, the stories of individual lives and the bits and pieces that show us how our people really lived. Some people call that "warts and all" history -- I don't like that term, because I don't think what we're seeing is warts at all. It's quirks and passions and hopes and struggles. What you've called official history is the goal they were striving for, just as we have ideals and patterns; "real" history -- like today's real life -- is how people live(d) while trying to reach that ideal. Hurrah for us!

Anonymous said...

Yeah....try to get hold of it here in France: IMPOSSIBLE!
Although I must say that we are not so much fascinated by what strikes americans (such as WoW issues) because we just have no problem with imagining saints having a cup of coffee after lunch. I am often surpirsed and slightly amused by the reaction of american members about certains subject that are plainly no issue to us.
We have other that would drive you up the wall, though ;o)