BOISE, Idaho — At first glance, the Gem State’s capital city seems a curious locale to host the annual conference of the Mormon History Association.
This year, of course, marks the 40th anniversary of the revelation opening the blessings of the priesthood and the temple to people of African descent. That monumental change originated from church headquarters in Salt Lake City — some 350 miles southeast of Boise.
And even Idaho’s rich Latter-day Saint history is most prominent in the eastern part of the state in cities such as Rexburg and Idaho Falls.
But Boise has long been known as hub for culture and diversity. (More than a century ago, famed American lawyer Clarence Darrow deemed it the “Athens of the sagebrush.”) So perhaps it’s apropos that the four-day (June 7-10) MHA conference is being held here during a historic year of Church inclusivity and global growth.
More and more people are interested in church history, especially at at time when the church has expanded globally and to different populations, said MHA president Patrick Q. Mason said, pointing to this year’s broad list of offerings.
The independent historical organization, which is not affiliated with the church, was formed over a half-century ago, in part to build bridges between people of various faiths — and with people who espouse no religious beliefs.
This year’s conference includes some three dozen sessions featuring presenters from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Conference-goers include well-published academics and plenty of amateur history buffs. It’s not unusual to find a General Authority taking a seat in a session besides a college-age Mormon history lover.
A glance at the offerings of sessions speak to the range defining the conference: Borders and Boundary Crossings for Mormon Feminists; LDS Scripture, Education, and Science; Crossing Boundaries: Colonization of Southeastern Idaho; or, perhaps, The Unfolding of the LDS Church in Three Non-Western Countries.
Plenary gatherings included Saturday’s lecture on the Mountain Meadows Massacre delivered by historian Barbara Jones Brown.
The church’s 1978 revelation played a key role at this year’s MHA conference. “We wanted to recognize the anniversary and how important it is in the history of the LDS Church, and also how the church has changed since the revelation,” said Mason.
The discussions overheard at the conference are reminders that “Mormon history” is not the sole claim of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt or Eliza R. Snow. There’s plenty of history from the 20th and 21st centuries that demands examination and discovery.
Each iteration of the MHA annual conference doubles as a reminder that history remains essential, added Mason. “History matters. History is relevant. History should inform the conversations we’re are having ... . We want to reflect on the meanings of history and not just assume that it’s frozen with nothing to tell us now.”
The 2018 MHA Annual Conference is still underway, but organizers are already planning next year’s conference slated for Salt Lake City. The 2019 gathering will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
“We will be looking at what that event meant for Mormon history and the church’s integration into the national culture,” said Mason.