Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History

Review of Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History

By Brandon S. Plewe, editor-in chief; S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, Richard H. Jackson, associate editors.

BYU Press, 2012.

272 pages, maps, figures, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, index. $39.95, hardcover.

ISBN 978-0-8425-2825-2

Review by: Russell S. Kirby, University of South Florida

Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History

The history of the rise, migration, and spread of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereinafter referred to as LDS) has fascinated historians, geographers, and the general public almost since the emergence of this faith in the mid-nineteenth century. This atlas, prepared by eminent historians and geographers, while not intended as a comprehensive history of the LDS, casts light on a wide array of topics of central interest, as well as some of more pedantic interest. That the book has succeeded in meeting the needs of its market may be reflected in the fact that the initial print run was exhausted shortly after publication; a revised printing was published in late 2014.

This atlas contributes far beyond the Historical Atlas of Mormonism (1994), a scholarly work with which many of the editors were also involved. Mapping Mormonism is organized in four main sections, focusing respectively on “the Restoration,” “the Empire of Deseret,” “the Expanding Church,” and “Regional History.” Each of these sections is subdivided into 14 to approximately 25 distinct topics, comprising two to four facing pages. While the topics generally follow events in the history of LDS, some of the information presented in the later sections also provides historical context from periods covered in earlier sections. The sections on North American regions provide both current and historical perspectives on church expansion and membership over time. Likewise, some topics presented in earlier sections provide a forward look to the present. For example, although included in the second section, the topic of church headquarters provides information on the headquarters as it appeared in 1860, 1900, 1950, and 2012.

Mapping Mormonism is an attractive atlas, printed in hardcover on high quality paper. The maps and graphics are very colorful, and utilize a variety of cartographic methods and techniques for enhanced data visualization. There is scarcely a topic in which a reader might have an interest relating to the LDS and its history that is not covered somewhere within its pages. One particularly interesting section compares the growth of the LDS with that of Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses from their origins to the present day. The sections depicting the international distribution of LDS adherents and the locations of stakes, districts, and temples also hold considerable interest.

While Mapping Mormonism has very specific objectives, these objectives intersect with many related issues and domains. The editors have done an excellent job in maintaining their central focus while at the same time providing information on what might seem at first glance to be ancillary topics. For example, the topic of political affiliation is presented on pages 188–189. On these facing pages, data on global political office-holding of LDS members, party affiliation and political ideology of Mormons and non-Mormons, and the outcome of statewide and national elections in Utah from 1900 to 2008 are presented, together with sufficient narrative to provide a broad context. Not only is this very well done, it raises numerous intriguing questions for those interested in developing a deeper understanding of the relationship between religious belief and politics. As the Rolling Stones once sang, “Well, it just goes to show, things are not what they seem.”

How does Mapping Mormonism fit within the genre of historical atlases? Surprisingly well, in this reviewer’s opinion. There is no question that this atlas will be the definitive resource on its subject for some years to come. Atlas developers will find that the editors make use of best practices in cartographic technique and data visualization, but also employ many innovative approaches to display of complex information in its pages. The atlas also includes an index, bibliography with an extensive list of key documents, books, and scholarly articles, and a glossary to ensure that readers with limited familiarity with the LDS and its traditions can understand the usage and meaning of common terms such as elder, pioneer, auxiliary, and stake.

Mapping Mormonism should be added to geography and map library holdings focusing on the North American continent and will also be of interest internationally. Those interested in the cultural historical geography of the American West should also consider adding it to their professional libraries. Aficionados of fine examples of data visualization will also find Mapping Mormonism a delightful read that they may wish to refer to from time to time.

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