A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman

By Underwood, Grant; Stout, Harry S. et al. | Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman

Underwood, Grant, Stout, Harry S., Wood, Gordon S., Kelly, Catherine, Maffly-Kipp, Laurie, Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought



Among Latter-day Saint academics, few have achieved the professional stature or exerted the intellectual inf luence of Richard Lyman Bushman. Gordon Wood, a member of the blue-ribbon panel featured here and a scholar with few peers in the historical discipline, calls Bushman "one of our most distinguished American historians." Generous and dignified as well, Richard Bushman is the proverbial "gentleman and a scholar." His words and deeds have touchedmany lives across the span of his more than fifty-year academic career. To commemorate that career on the eve of his eightieth birthday, it seemed fitting to honor him among his professional colleagues and friends at the January 2011 annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA).

Richard's years in the Boston area as both student and professor, his scholarly attention to New England, and the 2011 conference theme "History, Society, and the Sacred" combined to make the 2011 AHA meeting in Boston an ideal venue for a session titled "A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman." The American Society of Church History and the Mormon History Association were both anxious to co-sponsor the session with the AHA. Not surprisingly, when it came time to start, virtually every chair was filled. It is common in academic conferences for people to come and go, listening to a speaker in one session and then darting off to another concurrent session to catch a different presentation. In this case, however, few left. Those who trickled in ended up on the f loor but, like the rest, remained for the duration of a most engaging session. To enable the many well-wishers afterward to pay their respects to Richard and Claudia Bushman, a lovely reception was held that was ably organized by Sheree Underwood and generously underwritten by the Mormon History Association, the BYU History Department, and the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A native son of the West, born in Salt Lake City and raised in Portland, Oregon, Richard Bushman headed east for his college education. A decade later, he had served a mission, married Claudia Lauper, begun his family of eventually six children, and earned all three of his degrees from Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. in 1961 from Harvard's pioneering, multidisciplinary program: The History of American Civilization. His Doktorvater was the renowned Harvard historian Oscar Handlin, for whom Bushman later edited Uprooted Americans: Essays to Honor Oscar Handlin (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1979).When Bushman was ABD (all-but-done) in his Harvard program, he accepted a position at Brigham Young University and taught there for a half dozen years in the 1960s. That period was interrupted by a two-year stint at Brown University as an interdisciplinary fellow in history and psychology.

In 1968 the Bushmans left Utah for good, returning to Boston where Richard accepted a position at Boston University. His award-winning book From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967) had been published the year before and had garnered both the year's Phi Alpha Theta Prize (Phi Alpha Theta is a national history honor society) and the coveted Bancroft Prize in American History. In his mid-thirties, Bushman was already a rising star. During his nine years at Boston University, Richard wrapped up work on the Great Awakening, publishing a volume of documents on the subject that is still in print (Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 [New York: Atheneum, Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1970; rpt., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1989]), and then turned his research interests to Massachusetts during the Revolutionary period, launching a study that culminated some years later in King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985; rpt.

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