Barbara Jones Brown began her tenure as the new Executive Director of the Mormon History Association on May 1, 2018. Several of the historians she considers mentors have shared a few thoughts for an upcoming feature in the Deseret News.
The full text of comments by Rick Turley, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Bob Goldberg are available here.
When did you first meet Barbara Jones Brown? How would you describe her to someone who doesn’t know her?
Rick Turley: I met Barbara at a Mormon History Association annual meeting. She was covering the meeting for the Deseret News and asked her father, a long-time friend of mine, to introduce us so she could interview me. As it turned out, I had spoken with her earlier when she worked for the Ensign magazine and phoned me to double-check facts in an article.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: I think I met her when I attended a session at MHA in which she was participating. Then later we served on the MHA board together. I was delighted to discover that we are both descended from early Mormon pioneers–Hezekiah Thatcher and Alena Kitchen. So we call each other cousins.
Bob Goldberg: I first met Barbara when she entered graduate school in History at the U, working on her Masters degree. I served as her chair.
Barbara is not someone who can be overlooked! She is a diligent researcher, passionate about history, and has a sense of people that gives her creative insight into why men and women act as they do.
Her Masters thesis was a highly original piece of work on the evacuation of the Japanese from the West Coast during World War II. In opposition to the standard interpretation that saw the evacuation as an emotional reaction to Pearl Harbor, Barbara traced the origins of the plan to World War I and the interwar years when American planners devised the strategy in the event of war with Japan. She also found that the evacuation of Japanese was not confined to the US West Coast, but included Latin America and immigrants from other Axis nations as well.
Describe the Mormon History Association for a layman.
Rick Turley: The Mormon History Association is an open membership organization whose members are united by their interest in the history of Joseph Smith and the Institutions that claim descent from him. Most, but not all, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: It is a scholarly organization that promotes the study of Mormon history, publishes a journal on that topic, and has an annual meeting. It welcomes amateur historians as well as professionals and is non-denominational. It also encourages good scholarship by giving awards for outstanding books, articles, and student papers.
Bob Goldberg: The MHA is one of the few historical organizations that enables novices, buffs, and nonprofessionals to join with professional historians as seekers of the past. They are all bound in their interest in Mormon history, forming a community of men and women dedicated to learning about the past. You can feel the energy of engagement and zest for history at these meetings.
How does MHA affect your scholarship and that of Mormon history?
Rick Turley: The Mormon History Association is the largest scholarly organization focused exclusively on Restoration history. The association’s journal and annual conference provide an outlet for cutting-edge scholarship.
What would be the state of Mormon history without MHA?
Rick Turley: History research and writing would continue, but with less support.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: In many ways, scholarship is a collaboration. The conferences provides a setting where people can try out and sometimes debate ideas. The journal provides peer review of work in progress and editorial support and the opportunity to publish.
Why do you think Barbara Jones Brown is a good fit for MHA?
Rick Turley: Barbara has the skills and contacts needed to help the organization succeed. She has known most of the key figures in the association for years. She is an academically trained historian, an excellent researcher, and superb writer.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: Barbara is an energetic and imaginative leader who has a strong background in public relations, is an excellent writer, an indefatigable networker, and a skilled researcher. She understands history, and she gets things done! She is also a “people person” who isn’t afraid to ask other people for help.
Bob Goldberg: Barbara brings to the MHA not only an expertise in history, but an enthusiasm that is infectious. She simply loves to talk history to anyone. On top of her first rate people skills, Barbara has the ability to organize events, direct programs, and motivate individuals to their very best work. Hers is a combination of smarts and heart with an eagerness to work the elbow grease.
Is there a book or article Barbara Jones Brown has written that especially affected or impressed you?
Rick Turley: The book we’re coauthoring right now. But all of her writing is interesting. Her master’s thesis, which deals with Japanese internment, breaks new ground on the topic.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: I was very impressed with the first paper I heard her deliver–which dealt with the Indian Placement Program. She was content editor for “Massacre,” the definitive work on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and with Richard Turley is currently putting the final touches on the sequel. Her plenary lecture at the recent MHA conference provided an impressive sample of that work.
Any other comments about Barbara Jones Brown or MHA?
Rick Turley: Barbara is a person of great integrity whose life is driven by the high values she espouses. She is a people person who cares about others.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: MHA has no institutional funding of any kind. It depends on the generosity and commitment of its members. Barbara’s knows the organization well, through her three-year service as Membership Chair and because of her longstanding involvement as a scholar.