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June 24, 2014

Awesome day!

This morning bright and early I picked up a couple fellow seminarians and a baby, and off we went to Zion. I felt powerful in the HOV lane, zooming past all the other cars, and even better, the Conference Center parking was free today. Wahoo!

Today we went here

LDS Church History Library photo by Maithe38

LDS Church History Library
photo by Maithe38

and here (but just for lunch)

LDS Church Office Building photo by Ricardo630

LDS Church Office Building
photo by Ricardo630

and here.

LDS Church History Museum

LDS Church History Museum


And today, even after the sorrow of yesterday, I came out feeling not just grumblingly accepting of this church as so many seem to be on blogs and Facebook of late, not just content, but straight up excited. I liked the people I met, and I liked that they got hired.

At the church history museum we were first taken to a place I don’t know the name of. Let’s call it the Place of Super Cool Media Technology.

old media technologies ch library 24jun14


Two nice guys showed us all the cool media they have to work with that they are conserving, digitizing, and transcribing. For example, I heard a wax cylinder played for the first time as well as a wire. A wax cylinder. It blew me away.

Wax cylinder player

Wax cylinder player


Wire player

Wire player. I didn’t even know these things existed. I’m still not sure I have the right name for it.


Tip: they say to make lotsa copies of your archives in lots of different media and to recopy burned CDs every 3-5 years. Those just don’t last much longer.

Then they took us into a room to see film footage from circa 1916 of Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, James E. Talmage, J. Golden Kimball, and general conference. What?? Have you ever seen Joseph F. Smith smile? I did today. He’s charming. We saw when Thomas S. Monson was called as an apostle in 1963. Oh, and we heard a recording of Wilford Woodruff giving his testimony of (I think) Joseph Smith when he was 91. Wilford Woodruff!! Back in 1898!


Church History Library conservation room (1 of 3)

Church History Library conservation room (1 of 3). That’s Russ on the left.

Next in the conservation lab Katie and Russ showed us around. Russ showed us how, presto-change-o! He saves another negative from obsolescence. Katie just pulled out a stack of weathered papers and said they just came in. They’re ledgers from the Grandin family store. Yep, same Grandin family who owned the press that first printed the Book of Mormon.

katie w grandin ledgers ch library 24jun14

It’s a nice space they’ve got there. North-facing windows have the least direct sunlight, all light is UV-blocked or filtered, and it’s a lovely view of the state Capitol.

conservation room ch library 24jun14

They also said that often the old models of equipment work the best. Here’s to lasting design.

After conservation, they ushered us into a room where we sat for nearly two hours, and the time flew. Robin showed us several different documents and books, but two that I liked best were courtesy of Wilford Woodruff again. Here’s personal copy of the Book of Commandments.

WW Book of Commandments

Wilford Woodruff’s Book of Commandments. It’s open to notes in his handwriting at the back.


Apparently when you bought a Book of Commandments back in the day,  you had to bind it yourself. So this is also WW’s handiwork. It’s worth about $2 million, by the way. We also saw his first journal begun in 1834. This journal goes to 1837 and features his awesome handwriting and page design. Robin floated the question: in binding his own Book of Commandments of current and incoming revelations and keeping his own journal, what kind of relationship did WW see between scripture and personal history and recordkeeping? I like chewing on that.

Wilford Woodruff's journal, labeled 1833-37

Wilford Woodruff’s journal, labeled 1833-37

The director of the entire church history department spoke to us, and I had no idea how big the department is. Between employees and volunteers/missionaries, they’ve got hundreds of people working around the globe. Recently Elder Holland spoke to the department and charged them to be honest, professional, and faithful.

Then, still in that room, three historians who really impressed me talked to us for at least an hour. They were all still in the beginning to middle stages of their careers, all had impressive academic credentials and experience, and they were working on such awesome projects! Anything from the answers to gospel questions series (for example this or this) to the Relief Society papers. Somewhere in the discussion they said that the women generally keep better minutes than the men do, but I think we expected that, right?

The thing that really struck me was that I walked away really liking and really respecting these people. They were candid, scholarly, enthusiastic, and wanted to get to truth. They acknowledged that their work in the church history department cannot be entirely their own, that it will be filtered through the corporate and hierarchical channels of the church. But they seemed pleased with the church’s current commitment to being forthright and hopeful that such a commitment will stick and spread. And they were generous to all of us, encouraging us to be in touch with questions and ideas. After so much online clamor over the past several days, this perspective on the goings on of the church felt like needed and welcome sunshine to me.

We went to the Church History Museum too, which was also awesome. I was so impressed with the curator of the current exhibit, Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God. She’s a younger mother, articulate and progressive, and she’d put so much thought and care into every part of the exhibit. For example, she talked about the consistent and mundane qualities of practicing, how it is us as we are day in and day out, how it captures what we experience, especially as women. She let the art speak on its own terms. She loved juxtaposing this dailyness of a woman’s experience with in the tropes in the art that draw from classical traditions, deconstructing those norms. For example, the first paintings in the exhibit are a series of Madonnas or representations of Mary that draw from Renaissance and other classical depictions of Mary in the postures and subject matter. But these also rework those positions and motifs, casting normal, everyday women in their quotidian beauty and not necessarily an idealized femininity.

Anyway, I’d love to write more about all of that, but it’s late, and I need to go to bed. One of my favorite LDS artists, Brian Kershisnik, has several pieces from the exhibit. I really can’t recommend his work enough. Seriously. Go check out his site. Go. C’mon, GO! Okay, well, here’s his series on Ruth at the museum.

Ruth series Kershisnik

Also, I loved this interview with Mr. Kershisnik. And I loved that when I look at his art, I get this very sense he describes. (And I was happy that he kept the full beard for this interviews sponsored by the church. 🙂




From one of the historians we spoke with: “We try to recover a lost tradition that’s actually out there, and it’s a richer tradition.”

Regarding the debates about the church’s former policy on race and the priesthood, one of the historians said the following (I should note–this wasn’t an evasion. It was just an acknowledgement that history can only resolve so much when it comes to questions and choices of faith.): “Is it the province of history to settle a debate like this? … Personally I have my doubts that history has that power.”

Claudia said to me, “Do you know Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe?” I confirmed that I did. She pointed to Dormientes Musici, perhaps the most prominent piece at the exhibit, and said, laughing, “That’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe but with clothes on.”

Dormientes Musici

Dormientes Musici


Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe

Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe

She laughed pretty hard at that joke, and I did too. I’ve heard her and Richard say that that is what they do together: go to museums.



Just that this car was parked in the conference center parking garage. That is all.

in the conference center parking lot


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