Jared Farmer, author of On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, has just been honored with the Francis Parkman Prize by the Society of American Historians.
Utah Valley has been the subject of several studies by local historians, but it has never been the focus of a volume that goes beyond the valley’s geographical confines to uncover how stories about local peoples and landscapes connect with larger American trends. On Zion’s Mount has done this, and has done it successfully.
At its core, On Zion’s Mount is about historical forgetting. The book begins with the Timpanogos band of Utes who lived on the shores of present-day Utah Lake, once a bountiful source of fish that effectively supported the band. When Mormon settlers appeared in the valley in 1849, things changed. First, the white settlers competed with the Timpanogos for the valley’s natural resources, including the lake’s fish. Then the settlers made war on the Timpanogos, and eventually forced the Utes into exile on a reservation in eastern Utah.
With the Utes’ compulsory move east, the new inhabitants of Utah Valley–the Mormon settlers and their descendents–chose to forget the historical existence of the Timpanogos Utes and their shared use of the once flourishing lake. The region’s white population now turned their attention to the mountain that loomed over the valley, referring to it, ironically, as “Mount Timpanogos,” and began investing it with pseudo-Indian legends.
Farmer’s book is a model of how local history can be written with national context in mind. In its pages, local historians will find concrete ideas for better contextualizing their own work and making it more relevant to wider audiences. Moreover, Farmer’s blending of extensive research in archival collections and a close reading of relevant local histories should be an inspiration to local historians who wish to produce and publish accurate work.
Farmer is a native of Utah Valley. As such, he shares the love other local historians have for their native places. But he does not let his respect for Utah Valley turn history into hagiography. Instead, he leavens his love for the region with a critical approach. This makes the book all the more enlightening and interesting.
See the announcement of the prize on the Harvard University Press publicity blog.