Richard Bushman


Publications of Richard Bushman
Autobiographical Information

I did not begin college with an interest in history. In my first two years, I intended to be a scientist of some kind—perhaps a physicist or a mathematician. Some of the social science courses at Harvard had shown how theory can figure in the analysis of human society, and that made the subject more interesting. Besides, after differential equations, mathematics was too hard and too abstract. I took my degree in the History of American Civilization at Harvard, writing on eighteenth-century society in Connecticut during the Great Awakening. I liked the revivals because they afforded a momentary glimpse into people«s souls, like listening to speakers in a testimony meeting. At that time, I thought I would study American culture in the period roughly from 1700 to 1840 with the idea of preparing myself to write about Joseph Smith. Strange to say, it has all worked out that way—not the usual outcome of big plans.

Along the way, I did not consciously choose topics connected to Joseph Smith—except the study of farmers which I took up while working on Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. For the most part, I have written on subjects that seemed interesting at the time. The study of Massachusetts political culture in the eighteenth century, King and People in Provincial Massachusetts, was a follow-on to my first book on Connecticut. I turned to gentility, the subject of The Refinement of America, because I was teaching students who were in training to become curators of American decorative arts. In a way, I have been opportunistic, picking up what was at hand rather than following a systematic plan. My wife, Claudia Bushman, has influenced my thinking all along the line, not only as a critic of my writing and thought, but in the subjects I have worked on. Our article on the history of cleanliness in America began as her research. Now we are both working on Mormon topics, though her period is the 1870s and mine is earlier. You can be sure that her fingerprints will be on every page I write about Joseph Smith.

Current Projects and Interests

My front-burner project these days is a cultural biography of Joseph Smith, continuing the study I began in Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. I am trying to locate Joseph Smith in the culture of his times by examining how the people around him thought about priesthood, temple, Israel, Zion, and the multiplicity of other topics associated with Mormon belief. I have been helped immensely by the Smith Institute Fellows who have been sifting through nineteenth-century materials for the past three summers and making entries in the Archive of Restoration Culture, a Smith Institute database. On the back burner is a study of eighteenth-century small farmers in North America which goes under the working title of "Farmers in the Production of the Nation." I am examining the actual conditions of life for small farmers in the North and South in this century and then looking at the idea of freehold family farming in the imagining of the nation. I try to turn out an article a year on farmers.






Copyright ©2006 Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History