Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian

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9781560851134: Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian
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"In the 1990s I have seen the rise of anti-intellectualism within Mormonism, including but not limited to BYU, to a degree that I would not have believed possible thirty years earlier. Perhaps those earlier beliefs that all truth was essentially harmonious were naive, but I see the new anti-intellectualism as driven by a fear fo losing adherents that seems to be a revelation of profound uneasiness on the part of Mormon leaders."

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From the Publisher:

As he approaches the end of a long and distinguished career, veteran historian Brigham D. Madsen turns and eye toward his final research subject, himself, with equal candor, aware of the same possibility for controversy, that has characterized his other works. Raised in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time when automobiles were just coming into fashion, Madsen’s first real encounter with the outside world was on a Mormon mission to the Cumberland Mountains. He faced an even more daunting transition when he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he eventually received a Ph.D. in history. From there to Germany as chief historian for Patton’s Third Army, he observed the War Crimes Trials in Nuremberg, among other significant experiences.

After the war he accepted a faculty position at Brigham young University in Provo, Utah, a small school at that time, just beginning to emerge as a regional academic center. However, his curiosity about Mormon history soon brought him head to head with the limits fo academic freedom there, resulting ultimately in his resignation and forcing him to work in construction for seven years until Utah State University position opened.

Throughout this period he retained his idealism, especially in responding to President John F. Kennedy’s call for Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s. Madsen signed on and became a program administrator in Washington D.C.—a circumstance which brought him to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Martin Luther King’s famous speech.

Returning to Utah, Madsen turned his attention to Native American history. In Pursuing the truth about the 1862 military campaign against the Northwestern Shoshone, he discovered the amazing "revelation ... that the engagement was not a ‘battle’ but a brutal slaughter." His dogged persistence in this area resulted in the establishment of the Bear River Massacre National Historic Landmark. By contrast, when he found that the alleged massacre of white settlers, memorialized by a nearby monument, never happened, this produced not only displeasure but denouncements from the majority population.

Review:

This book is an autobiographical odyssey of a carpenter-administrator-historian written in his twilight years. It is an account of a life rich in experience, tempered by a skepticism born of the author's family background and western pragmatism. As Brigham Madsen presents it, his life was an attempt to find a balance between idealism and hardheaded skepticism, evidenced by his interests in the construction business and in the world of the university. What makes these memoirs such interesting reading are his bifurcated accounts of the various worlds he inhabited: his mission for the Mormon church but lack of a personal testimony for its basic messages; his skill as an artisan and his scholarly training as a historian; and his long career as an effective administrator-scholar in the world of university academics. --David J Whittaker, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

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