Today we talk with scientific researcher and historian Gregory Prince, who earned his graduate degrees in dentistry (DDS) and pathology (PhD) at UCLA. He pursued a four-decade career in pediatric infectious disease research. His love of history led him to write three books: “Power on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood,” “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism,” co-authored with William Robert Wright, and “Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History.” Gregory Prince is winner of the 2017 Evans Biography Award for this latest book. The Evans Biography Award is administered by Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, a program and research area in USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
We’ll talk about issues in the study of the history of Mormonism and issues raised in Gregory Prince’s recent talk in Salt Lake City titled “Science vs. Dogma: Biology Challenges the LDS Paradigm,” which addresses homosexuality and LDS doctrine.
Leonard Arrington is considered by many the foremost twentieth-century historian of Mormonism. He played a key role in establishing the Western History Association and the Mormon History Association, and more than a half-century after its publication, his revised doctoral dissertation, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900, remains a standard. But Arrington’s career was not without controversy. Gregory Prince takes an in-depth look at this respected historian and, in telling Arrington’s story, gives readers insight into the workings of the LDS Church in the late twentieth century.
In 1972, during a major reorganization of the LDS Church, Arrington was asked to serve as the official church historian, thereby becoming the first—and thus far the only—professional historian to hold that title. He immediately set out to professionalize the entire Church History Division and open its extensive archives to scholarly researching. While the output of and from that division moved Mormon studies to a new level, the shift of historiography from faith promotion ecclesiastical, to scholarly and professional research and analysis was unacceptable to a handful of powerful senior apostles. In 1980 the History Division was disassembled and moved to Brigham Young University. That led to a shift in the professionalization of the Church History Division and Archives and in Arrington’s career but not to a loss of his broad influence.
This biography is the first to draw upon the remarkable Arrington diaries (over 20,000 pages); it is supplemented by the author’s interviews of more than 100 people who knew or worked with Arrington. The book is of additional significance given continuing battles between the LDS Church and scholars, which frequently gains national attention because of excommunications of prominent intellectuals.