The Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture has its roots in Richard L. Bushman’s work on the landmark biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. In 1997, a group of graduate and advanced undergraduate students convened at Brigham Young University’s Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History to help Bushman mine archives for relevant source material.1
Initially, the seminar was tasked with creating an “Archive of Restoration Culture” featuring “sermons, newspapers, journals, pamphlets, books, artworks, and private diaries from the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s.” All this in order to flesh out the cultural environs of the early Restoration.2
Participants cataloged around 3,000 items totaling over 1,600 pages before the archive was discontinued. It was largely superseded by the advent of better digital technology like Google Books.
The yearly seminar became one of the most fruitful opportunities for young Latter-day Saint scholars to network while researching questions about Mormon history, faith, and scholarship. It has branched out to include participants from beyond the United States and from LDS Church membership. Terryl L. Givens began alternating with Bushman as director, all under the chief sponsorship of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.
In 2006 the Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture moved to BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Students and scholars convene each summer to study Mormon history, belief, and practice. They prepare presentations for a public symposium. Originally, these “Working Papers” were collected and published by BYU Studies.3
With the rise of digital distribution, it has proven more effective to provide access to these papers on the Institute’s website. They represent the nascent and unedited work of individual scholars working in tandem with their colleagues. The Institute offers them here to document the Seminar’s history and to inspire and inform scholars who wish to expand on their work.4
4. J.B. Haws presented a basic history of the seminar for the Mormon History Association in 2015. See R. Scott Lloyd, “New generation of historians presenting a better view of Mormonism to the world, speaker says,” LDS Church News, June 6, 2015.