Allyson Mower (Head of Scholarly Communication and Copyright in the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library) recently wrote an article on the history of the University of Utah, demonstrating that some of the commonly-held assumptions about its origins weren’t exactly correct. She submitted it to several journals that deal with Western US history and Mormon history, but all of them turned her down — interestingly, without telling her what was wrong with her research (beyond one of the editors simply saying “one of my colleagues says you’re wrong”). But what’s more interesting is the way she has decided to disseminate her article: instead of turning it into a blog posting or just putting it in the library’s institutional repository, she created a website where she has posted a summary of the paper and invited readers to request a copy. I thought this was a really intriguing approach, so I decided to ask her some questions about it and share our conversation here in the Kitchen.
Give us a quick overview of what your paper is about, and what your findings were.
My paper is about the University of Deseret, which was the original name of the University of Utah. I researched how and why the university was established. The Mormon founders of Salt Lake City had envisioned a national university for a proclaimed nation-state. My paper focused on the unique wording of the charter used to establish the University, the committee involved in drafting the document, and the ideas that motivated the community. I also detailed the University’s early curriculum and its published works and examined the institution in the context of two other similarly-situated colleges in America in order to form a case study.
What do you think was the most interesting finding in your paper?
Essentially, I argued that a religious community didn’t start a religious school but started a secular, research school to support a global, liberal, and theocratic government. The institution matched the political goals of the community that created it. I hadn’t known that the Mormon community had the political goals it did, and I also didn’t know that schools were basically a free-for-all in 1850’s America. Our modern-day schools are heavily regulated, but that was not the case before legislation like the Morrill Act of 1862. Communities started schools based on what they valued and thought would be best for them. The Mormons who started the University of Deseret wanted a practical school before there were practical schools, but they wanted it for very lofty purposes, which is unique, in my opinion.
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