Greg Prince’s landmark biography of Leonard Arrington will be available at the end of May. Leonard Arrington and The Writing of Mormon History is the first biography to draw on Arrington’s 20,000 pages of journals. Of particular interest is Arrington’s time as Church Historian, from 1972 to 1980. Tonight I had the privilege of attending a presentation where Greg talked about his new book.
1972 ushered in a time of significant restructuring in LDS Church leadership. The Prophet and First Presidency had previously led the Church as a nearly flat organization, with little intentional coordination between individual fiefdoms. The apostles, for example, were merely charged to bear witness to the world, which largely consisted of presiding at Stake Conferences.
President Harold B. Lee wished to see more coordination (or correlation) between the different instructional aspects of Church hierarchy. At the same time, the Church had requested a study of the organization, asking how its management structure could be updated to reflect best practices. One of the notable recommendations was a true historians department, one that was not merely an adjunct responsibility of an ecclesiastical leader with no formal history training.
President Lee decided to heed the recommendation, and selected noted historian Leonard Arrington as the first “real” historian for the Church. The grand experiment would fail in less than 10 years. Continue reading