SL10122: Authors meet the Critic

This discussion brings together scholars and thinkers to discuss two books: Gary Topping’s Leonard J. Arrington: A Historian’s Life and Polly Aird’s book about Peter McAuslan entitled Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861. Through the publication of his groundbreaking Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints and numerous other works, Leonard Arrington established the dominant interpretation of the Mormon experience. Yet until now, there has been little analysis of his contribution to Western history. Gary Topping re-examines Arrington’s role in founding and promoting what is known as the New Mormon History. Arrington has been criticized for relying on the assistance of staff members in the Church’s history division, but Topping shows that this collaborative approach is in keeping with the cooperative spirit of Mormonism. Polly Aird’s biography describes Peter McAuslan’s conversion to Mormonism in 1848 and journey to Utah in 1854. In the next four years, the Mormons experienced natural disasters, the Mormon Reformation, the handcart disasters, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the Utah War. These events and the insistence on absolute obedience to Church leaders tore at McAuslan’s faith. In 1859, he and other members of his extended family applied for an army escort out of Utah. In spite of abandoning the faith he once loved, McAuslan never lost his regard for the Mormon people.