Accidental Institutional Skills, Like Genealogy

Strange thing: Simply by working to accomplish their primary mission, large institutions develop skills and capacities somewhat or even entirely unrelated to that primary mission. So, for example, the US Army is very good at education, because it has to teach thousands of average (or less) students how to do complicated tasks like repairing a tank or hitting the right sequence of buttons to fire an advanced weapons system. Now the LDS Church is a very large and well-funded organization that has developed a number of institutional skills or capacities largely unrelated to its primary religious mission. The more you think about that, the longer the list becomes. But first, some background.

I ran across this interesting idea reading historian Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (WW Norton, 2011). The book recounts the discovery, publication, and impact of On the Nature of Things, an Epicurean philosophical text in poetic form written by Lucretius, a Roman. I first read it in a philosophy class at BYU, of all places. The text, you see, was lost for a thousand years until rediscovered in a dusty old monastery library in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini, a talented scribe who rose to become a papal secretary. Late in life, he turned to hunting ancient manuscripts. But in the course of adequately recounting that series of events, Greenblatt covers a lot of the culture and history of the early modern period, particularly details of how manuscripts were produced, copied, and stored. Here is the interesting quote, from pages 28-29, explaining how the Catholic Church got into the book business:

[M]onastic rules did require reading, and that was enough to set in motion an extraordinary chain of consequences. … [R]eading required books. Books that were opened again and again eventually fell apart, however carefully they were handled. Therefore, almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks repeatedly purchase or acquire books. In the course of the vicious Gothic Wars of the mid-sixth century and their still more miserable aftermath, the last commercial workshops of book production folded, and the vestiges of the book market fell apart. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks carefully preserve and copy those books that they already possessed. But all the trade with the papyrus makers of Egypt had long vanished, and in the absence of a commercial book market, the commercial industry for converting animal skins to writing surfaces had fallen into abeyance. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks learn the laborious art of making parchment and salvaging existing parchment. Without wishing to emulate the pagan elites by placing books or writing at the center of society, without affirming the importance of rhetoric or grammar, without prizing either learning or debate, monks nevertheless became the principal readers, librarians, book preservers, and book producers of the Western world.

For the LDS Church, skills and resources in genealogical research stands out as an example of this dynamic. There was never a revelation on genealogy, but the existence of temples, the doctrine and practice of sealing as it evolved over the course of the 19th century, and the emerging 20th-century need to provide thousands upon thousands of names of deceased persons to dozens and dozens of LDS temples every day just to keep them operating has, almost inadvertently, pushed the Church to acquire genealogical expertise. I’m no more familiar with the actual operation of the LDS program that the average Mormon, but I think that at the very least this has meant gathering documents from all over the world; learning to microfilm (now digitize) and store millions of documents; building and operating a huge climate-controlled bombproof (think nukes) storage site somewhere up Little Cottonwood Canyon to safeguard all these records; and now extending all these resources to the Internet in an accessible and usable app that allows Church members and others to go online and construct their own genealogical history. It is a huge commitment of time and money that has, over time, resulted in the Church possessing an unrivaled array of genealogy skills and resources. Almost by accident.

You may think this is an example of God moving in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Or you may think it is just a colossal example of mission creep, always more of a problem for not-for-profit enterprises. As the quotation shows, this phenomenon is not limited to the LDS Church or to churches in general.

Can you think of any other examples of institutional skill and capacity that the LDS Church has developed over the years?

35 comments for “Accidental Institutional Skills, Like Genealogy

  1. Handcart manufacture and repair? (j/k)

    The whole food production/preservation/distribution supply line probably counts. While a lot of charitable organizations are involved in preparing and serving meals, and maybe in gathering and distributing commodities at food banks, we’ve learned to grow wheat/raise cattle/manufacture gelatin, then preserve it, then get it into the hands of the hungry using a combination of professional, volunteer, and clerical help in a way that is probably unique to us and that is effective, even if perhaps it isn’t always as efficient as commercial operations.

  2. “There was never a revelation on genealogy”

    Sure there was. In a meeting the day before April 1894 General Conference, Wilford Woodruff told his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve, “The Lord has told me that it is right for children to be sealed to their parents, and they to their parents just as far back as we can possibly obtain the records…”

    A couple days later in the April 8 session of General Conference he told those assembled: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it…This is the will of the Lord to this people.”

    The story of the development of family-based genealogy and temple work, in all its intricate detail, is told in articles by Samuel M. Brown and Jonathan A. Stapley in the Journal of Mormon History 37:3 (Summer 2011) and in James B. Allen, Kahlile B. Mehr, and Jessie L. Embry, Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah.

  3. I don’t know about the Church as an institution, but I do know that Mormons have inadvertent skills. The big two I can think of are event planning and public speaking.

  4. Amy, I’m talking about canonized revelations. Revelations presented to the membership and accepted. If uncanonized revelations as perceived by this or that leader count, then you have to give due considerations to things like John Taylor’s 1886 revelation that polygamy would never be “abrogated or done away with.” Plus, 19th-century LDS leaders used the word “revelation” rather loosely. But thanks for the references.

  5. Interesting idea, I can see how this could be a “chicken or egg” argument. But the premise that that “there was never a revelation on genealogy” may be a manner of semantics. There have been many recent conference talks about the Spirit and Work of Elijah and Joseph Smith’s visit from Moroni in which he quoted Malachi comes to mind. The fact that this has been a institutional priority coming down from the top may in fact be evidence of the sought for revelation.
    Another example would be the adoption of the Scouting program filling a need to teach boys ambition and advancement to become future leaders.

  6. Foreign language instruction.

    Real estate management.

    Salesmanship and marketing.

    More recently: Information technology (the shift to tablets for scriptures).

    Vertical authority over dispersed bureaucratic entities (wards, stakes, institutes, missions, etc).

    Stuff like that?

  7. Leadership development: The Church needs to produce a large number of leaders (Bishopric, EQ, HP, YM, YW, RS, Primary, Ward Mission, etc) for every congregation in the world, who will serve effectively with limited time and no monetary reward. For every man selected as a 70, there are a dozen equally capable that could serve. For every mission president, at least a hundred.

    Legal Expertise: Brigham Young condemned all lawyers. By the 1880s, they were seen as a necessary evil. But in the 20th Century, we embraced the profession, with numerous legally trained GAs and a well-regarded law school at BYU. I suspect that among the 12 and 70, lawyer is the most common profession, and the Church is now one of the best legal/political lobbyist organizations around.

    Construction Management: The Church averages more than 350 new meetinghouses built each year. When GBH announced 100 temples in 5 years, the membership didn’t even break a sweat.

  8. Food storage (bishop storehouses, farms) Not to mention peronal storage and gardening
    Pioneering (in its day)
    Banking — Although maybe we haven’t always been great at this one
    Underwear manufactoring — this one still needs to some work
    Mall Building :-) (or on a more serious note might be classified as investing)

  9. Trek has become like a business with DB selling all kinds of unique good for those planning to participate. I can imagine expertise on skills long fallen into disuse have been honed again to make many a trek possible.

  10. Entertainment: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the BYU Channel, Cougars football and basketball, publishing, film production, etc.

  11. The 1894 revelation ending the practice of adoption and instituting genealogy is in no way equivalent to the 1886 “revelation” to John Taylor.

    The 1894 revelation was:
    * presented by the President of the Church for approval to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,
    * presented as revelation to the membership at General Conference,
    * published in the reports of General Conference,
    * followed by immediate public action of the Church (incorporating the Genealogical Society of Utah, now FamilySearch),
    * and has been and continues to be taught as the doctrine of the Church.

    The 1886 “revelation” didn’t follow any of that procedure, and as I understand, has been denounced by the First Presidency.

  12. It’s interesting a lot of these developed after big problems from the late 60’s through early 80’s. Building used to be embarrassingly bad in many way. (I still remember all the chapels built in Canada using American blueprints that didn’t account for the colder weather and needed significant renovations)

    Genealogy is interesting since I suspect within a decade or two so much western genealogical work will be done about as well as it could be. (Obviously for other regions like Asia this isn’t the case – although of course records are possibly worse there for many limiting what can be done) Even right now it seems a constant problem is people changing dates for many events (birth, christening, baptism, marriage) for people who already have correct dates. That is there’s a certain “noise” as people try to do the work but aren’t as skilled and who just don’t have much else they can do.

    I bring this up because I suspect the implication is that doing genealogical work (as opposed to temple work) may become a dead skill within a couple of decades.

  13. On the tangent of the 1886 Taylor revelation, it’s worth noting that the meaning of the document is up for grabs due to ambiguity over the meaning of New and Everlasting Covenant. Apologists frequently point out that ending the mortal practice of polygamy doesn’t in any way contradict Taylor’s comments. The revelation also adds

    “All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.”

    Again this can be read in multiple ways but the common apologist way of reading it is that those sealed are sealed but it says nothing about ending the practice if commanded. (Which would line up with Jacob 2 of course) Also again the meaning of New and Everlasting Covenant is a bit ambiguous. We still say we are living that of course as we’re sealed in the temple. (And as our more secular critics continually point out multiple sealings still go on, just not among multiple living people)

    I believe there’s still some debate over the document, the original of which isn’t available for examination. While it appears to be in Taylor’s hand there are still a few skeptics. (I assume it’s legit, but thought I should add that)

    Dave’s point about loose 19th century use of the term “revelation” is worth keeping in mind. I’m not sure it applies in these cases. Going back to what prompted the tangent, I’d think that the theology of Adam ondi Ahman pretty well requires genealogical work. It’s worth noting that the Church does push the Woodruff genealogy revelation a fair bit in its teaching materials. Woodruff also announced the revelation during General Conference. While perhaps not quite as strong as a published revelation in canon that’s then accepted by the membership, it comes pretty close. Admittedly some things by Brigham Young one could argue have been rejected even though offered in a similar way. But the fact those things were rejected while this as been overwhelmingly accepted and promulgated seems an important fact.

  14. Central and South American archeology. In early days, irrigation. Emergency and disaster planning and clean up.

  15. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    The language of the 1886 revelation is a bit vague about plural marriage because all public Mormon discourse about plural marriage was a bit vague. That was intentional. [I’m not arguing for the 1886 revelation, just using it as an example of why putting forth this or that purported “revelation” does not generally settle any relevant questions.]

    As long as we are on the subject, let’s talk about Pres. Woodruff’s 1890 “revelation.” That, too, was a bit vague. Members who heard his initial pronouncement (1) did not recognize it as a revelation, as opposed to a policy announcement; and (2) did not know whether this announcement was just more doublespeak on the topic of plural marriage to throw off the feds or whether it was actually a decision by the Church to terminate the practice. It was certainly not a repudiation of the doctrine. It was not even an unambiguous directive to the membership of the Church to cease practicing plural marriage. That is abundantly evident from the contemporaneous confusion by members of the Church as to what the announcement meant; by initial plans of LDS leaders to continue the practice once statehood was achieved (they rather naively thought they could do this); and by post-1890 plural marriages performed in Mexico with the permission and under the direction of LDS leaders.

    One helpful detail to focus on is whether there is a written text purporting to be a bona fide revelation. Wilford Woodruff never produced (to my knowledge) a written text constituting the purported 1890 revelation. All we have is the press release and other contemporary commentary. When there is no text presented as “the revelation,” my suspicion is there was simply a decision or policy change, then to support that decision the term “revelation” gets attached at some later point to bolster a weak or problematic policy. The same dynamic is observed more recently in the November Policy, which started as a policy then was later classified as a revelation by Elder Nelson. But no text has presented as “the revelation.” Contrast this with John Taylor’s 1886 revelation, which at least has a text purporting to be “the revelation.”

  16. To Clark Goble:
    You may be correct as to genealogical research eventually becoming obsolete because of a dearth of new records, but I see no evidence of that happening anytime soon.
    I believe we currently have records for over 10 billion people, including billions of Indian cremation records. Most remain unindexed.
    We are currently indexing Italian civil records for over 100 million people. But those are the civil birth, marriage and death records and go only back to about the 1830’s. Catholic Church records in Italy, some of which go back another 500 years are not available.
    Just this year, Ancestry and Find my past indexed 25 million Irish Catholic records. They stop at 1880. The ones after that are unavailable.
    And many Chinese families possess family books, some of which go back over 2,000 years. I have a ward member whose Middle Eastern family book covers 1,500 years. We know that there are huge numbers of names in the books we do not have. All will require transcribing.
    And indexing is only the beginning of the genealogical research problem. The records all need to be tied together into family groups. Computers can provide hints, but dreadful errors occurred when too much reliance was placed on their matching abilities during the new family search experiment. That took four years to straighten out and was only taken out of commission this summer.
    Also, we have hundreds of people out copying records all over the world right now. Many countries with vast record collections are only opening up now. Many record collections, such as the majority of Catholic records, are not available, sometimes even if you visit personally.
    As someone who has spent decades doing genealogy, I think the expectation of genealogy going by the wayside soon is premature.
    The truth is that each active Church member would need to organize records for about 20,000 people to organize what we now possess. I understand only about three to four percent of Church members ever prepare a name for the temple. Getting the membership up to 1,000 names apiece, something completely doable if you are trained and willing to commit some serious time, will require a totally different level of commitment than we now possess.

  17. TJay, what you’re seeing now is people more of less assigned to do entry and relations. But for individual members doing their own family tree you’re seeing less of that. As to how long it’ll take people with callings or quasi-callings to do genealogical work with the data we’ll eventually have, that’s an interesting question. If you have thousands of people doing it in retirement for 30 years, I’d be shocked if they don’t complete what is doable in 20 – 30 years. But my primary point is about personal genealogy.

    Now as new records not yet had become available that may push things out somewhat. But I’m skeptical it’d be a huge issue for most western members. As I said Asia is quite different from the west in terms of what records are available but also how many members there are. So that, I suspect, will primarily be handled via callings rather than individuals doing their own genealogy.

    Regarding the other points, while some have records going back a long way typically these are just important lines such as royalty. Also often there are very solid reasons to be skeptical of such lines. Most lines just don’t go back in a trustworthy way before the 1600’s. Some do but then the recorded lines typically don’t branch much in terms of recorded data. In any case they’re very much the exception and not the rule. I doubt most people can connect to more than one of these lines and those lines are often already done.

    There will be a lot of genealogical work in the future but it’ll primarily be temple work rather than getting the lines. Then whenever the millennium happens and we have communication in a robust form across the veil there will be a ton of work fixing all the errors and then setting up new marriages. Presumably at that time there will be a lot of adoption too, although it’s not clear how that’ll be figured out. (When is the “end time” for deciding whether to be baptized and go to the temple vicariously on the other side of the veil? Yet presumably there will be some end time determining whether people are sealed to parents or adopted to someone else that has to happen prior to an individual’s resurrection.)

  18. Dave (18) “When there is no text presented as “the revelation,” my suspicion is there was simply a decision or policy change, then to support that decision the term “revelation” gets attached at some later point to bolster a weak or problematic policy.”

    I suspect most revelations don’t have a text. I bet if we’re talking about personal individual inspiration it’s very rarely textual like but is a prompting or vague idea. Even a lot of Joseph’s major ideas don’t have clear textual revelations. Typically we have at best presentations to the inner circle with fragmentary notes (some of which get expanded to sections in the D&C obscuring that the really is no revelatory text behind them). Put an other way I think it’s far more common to the have things like Joseph’s King Follet Discourse or Sermon in the Grove than to have things like D&C 88 or 76. Now of course there are elements of the KFD the church largely rejects, such as the nature of the resurrection of children. But there are elements that it largely accepts. Then there is the blurry middle ground.

    I’d also question the distinction between policy and revelation. Surely temporary policy changes can be revealed. The category of policy vs. doctrine just seems deeply problematic. (When Moses went back to the Lord after he saw the Golden Calf was that a policy change or doctrine?)

    With regards to D&C 132 or the John Taylor 1886 it seems to me the key question is whether established sealings are valid. Either they are or aren’t. Ditto for sealings since (including remarriages). I think the answer has to be that they are. (I recognize this is not something people who think there’s no multiple valid marriages in the hereafter accept – but I think that’s a pretty difficult position to defend theologically) The main point of difference between the Church and the various breakoffs after Woodruff is whether it’s required to be polygamist here and now in the flesh with living people. However again given Jacob 2 and the fact lots of people died without being such makes it difficult theologically to argue that it is. The John Taylor 1886 revelation definitely doesn’t establish that (or even addresses it).

    An interesting but rarely discussed issue is also how literally dictated textual revelations, like many Taylor produced, actually is. That is how much is a “close enough” textual position with various expansions or errors by the receiver. (As opposed to say how Muslims perceive the Koran to be dictated by God typically)

    I think that we tend to privilege text far more than is justified, perhaps due to influence by the non-mainline protestant figures that largely became Evangelicalism in the postwar era. I think it undeniable it shaped a lot of early Mormon apologetics and theology (especially in the era from the 1920’s through the 1980’s). I’m just not sure that privileging of textuality is warranted even with clear scripture let alone over Prophets making changes and claiming revelation. (We should note there’s no text for the 1978 revelation on priesthood either)

  19. Clark Goble,
    I may have missed something but I do not know of any current church projects that tie people together in families (doing relations). I believe that is being left to the individuals.
    I know when I questioned whether or not familysearch had some plan in mind to help us just to eliminate the duplicates as we put together family members into families, these being records for individuals that had been extracted and the temple work already done or partially done, I was told online on familysearch that this was the individual family’s responsibilty.
    This was so even though each family was taking me four hours to fix. I was collapsing the records of 16 people into two records so that the children would show together. Also the system will not allow you to complete the temple work until you eliminate the duplicate records.
    I then asked if familysearch was planning on providing any help by sorting the 115 million Italian records into families and was told no. This was the responsibilty of the individual families, working one person at a time.
    So I am not seeing what you suggest being done by retired people for other people’s families.
    Also, as a person with over 40 years experience at this and willing to devote hours a day to it, I do not think I could create actual families out of indexed records faster than 2,000 people a year. ( I did 1,500 last year.) Again, that would take me and every active LDS adult in the church 10 years to do the records we have now, working two to six hours per day.
    And that assumes you possess a lot of genealogical knowledge. There is an ongoing problem the Church is facing now where the experienced genealogists have begun posting their questions on the problem feedback page rather than ask for help from the family history missionaries assigned to help them. I have read multiple complaints that the researchers just cannot get the help they need from these missionaries.
    And do not even consider the work required to straighten out the records with patrynomic naming conventions. Anyone touching these needs a great deal more knowledge than the average teenager assigned to find family names when they do baptisms for the dead. Generally they, and other inexperienced people, end up creating more of a mess than they know. This is also a constant refrain from the experienced genealogists. They are spending all their time trying to stop others from destroying the research they spent decades doing.
    I witnessed this problem as well when I was a volunteer in one of the big family history libraries. The wards had called a number of people as service missionaries, but they simply lacked the knowledge necessary to actually help people. And it was not a matter of a few months training. The people there who could actually help others had all been researching for over 20 years. They finally assigned these new people to index. They were too old and usually too uninterested to take the time to be fully useful in their calling.
    I simply do not see what you are expecting being doable in a small time frame. Nothing less than 100 years.

  20. TJay, I meant people doing other people’s genealogy work of making connections. Not their own. My dad does that and probably puts in 20 – 30 hours a week doing that. He is also part of that project to enter in data. I don’t recall the details but I know there’s a website he goes to do the work. I’ll try and remember to ask him for the details.

    Regarding numbers at 1,500 per year it’d take 30,000 people only 22 years to do a billion records. I’m not sure how many retired members there are in western areas with extensive internet. Pew puts it for the US at 15% which given Pew’s self-identification numbers is around 4 million in the US. That’s 600,000 although you have to assume many in that group are unwilling or unable to do significant amount of genealogy. Let’s be safe and say half won’t/can’t. Likewise lets assume many can’t get close to as fast as you and put an average rate at around 700 (since these individuals will get better with time) So 300,000,000 people doing 700 families per year for around 30 years (although US Mormon population is growing, so there’d actually be many more over time) That gives us 6.3 billion names just by Americans over 30 years.

    If you assume that over that period more of the world will gain internet and that the Church has modest growth (we’ll ignore Europe which I suspect will have negative growth) then 10 billion seems pretty achievable. That’s without assuming any technical innovations that would increase efficiency.

  21. Just to add. I’m completely willing to concede I may be misinformed on some issues. I’ll try to talk to my dad who is much better informed. I may be mangling in my memory things he told me. (It wouldn’t be the first time)

    The back of the envelope numbers though which don’t even include under 65 or non-Americans doing work makes me think that in a few decades we’ll be done. But even if it’s a decade or two more, that’ll be a significant shift. As I mentioned I think the shift regarding people’s own families for most American Mormons is starting to happen already. I know lots and lots of people who’ve gone back as far as they can and now are going forward from their far back ancestors. (My dad is doing that) Or else even doing other people’s work within reasons.

    The church for good reason has limits on what people can do they aren’t directly related to — although I confess I did the temple work for a ton of scientists and philosophers before the new rules became enforced. In particular Gauss was one I really felt a strong spiritual connection to. (He’d tried to gain what we’d call a testimony most of his life but despite seeking God and being a fairly religious person never achieved it. Unlike many scientists who weren’t exactly sociable or necessarily good people, he really was an amazing guy and did a lot of work to get women into science at a time it was unheard of.)

  22. Clark Goble,
    I would love to know the name of the program where people are connecting other people’s genealogy. I am on familyseach at least five times a week and have never heard of it. You might be referring to descendency research where people add descendants down from a common ancestor, so maybe it is just semantics as to are they your relative.
    I too believe American and Canadian and probably British research could be substantially finished within 20 years. We possess many of the records now.
    But the big numbers are in Asia, China and India in particular. That is where the billions come in. These records require language skills out of the reach of most Mormons. If we do well in converting substantial numbers of people in these countries, we could take a giant leap forward.
    Even Russian records require the ability to read not just modern Russian but a Russian that has letters no longer in use. I lasted about four hours in my attempt to do that.
    The problem with much of Europe is that many of the records we really need are in Catholic Churches. If Rome changes their policy and allows us to copy them, yes, we could finish Europe in a few decades. Without them, no, we cannot finish Europe.
    There is a problem that exists in indexing, most likely the program your father participates in, to create indices for all the records on microfilm and digital images, in that most of the indexers speak English while most of the unindexed records are not in English. Many index outside their language but the work is always better if you can read the document you are indexing. If more non-English speakers sign up to index, I agree we could at least index the records we have within a few decades. But that would require a huge increase in non-English speakers.
    There are two additional problems not mentioned. The easy adding of names from online sources goes very quickly. As I said, I can add over 1,000 a year. Really researching a family requires much more than that, consulting all the records that are not online and sometimes visiting the places in person to consult local sources and meet distant relatives and to pay for death, birth and marriage certificates that are not online. I have spent over $10,000 to do my direct line. I would not do that for descendancy research. To actually finish will require real research and that is usually only done by direct family members.
    The second problem is the number of competent genealogists in the Church willing to devote hours a day to this work. Perhaps I am cynical, but most of the people I have helped, who want to get their family research done, are just not good at this task. Those willing to take classes and spend real time understanding what records are needed to be reasonably certain you have the right family are few. I have spent too much time at family history libraries where people express the belief that three hours of their time was just as much as they want to give to believe we are anywhere near being done.
    I do not remember what the percentage of church members one of the General Authorities mentioned as having not even entered the names of their parents into the database, but it startled me because it was so high. It is not as if this actually required research for most people, just 15 minutes of typing.
    As this said, I agree wholeheartedly that we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just a few years ago. And I am sure the Lord has a plan for us to get where we need to be.

  23. The language issue is a great point I’d not thought of. Although that seems to more or less make my point better. As a practical matter most members don’t have the language skills to do Asian genealogy which means genealogy will cease for most members within a few decades.

  24. A bit of a sidenote about The Swerve.

    It’s a great story, but it’s important to know that the story is wrong, Pulitzer Prize aside. Its depiction of the Middle Ages and book culture has been thoroughly dismantled by medievalists and modernists alike. I don’t know if I can post links here, but if you google it, it’s easy to find a good review essay in the LA Review of Books, the academic blog In the Middle, and a modernist’s take on it in n+1.

    (I’m sure that I can draw some sort of meta-conclusion about this, related to the real topic of the post, but I will just say that it’s interesting how The Swerve reinforces Greenblatt’s view of the Middle Ages, driven by his hatred of religion, and the Mormon view of the Middle Ages, driven by our own religious narrative.)

  25. In my quick scan of the comments I didn’t see anyone mention these (and apologies if I missed them):
    –Agricultural skills, particularly gardening
    –Canning & preserving
    –Playing the piano and organ – and instruments/singing/music in general (I’m always shocked at how few non-Mormons I meet who play piano)
    –Cultural negotiation

    Dave, you should emend the post to include a list at the bottom of everything mentioned.

  26. Teaching classes

    Organizing parties for 100 plus people (the non-LDS people I know are always astounded when I mention that I am cooking for 100 this weekend)

    Writing skits and roadshows

    Baking bread and all kinds of specialized cooking skills I have been taught in homemaking, everything from deboning a chicken while leaving it whole to making sushi rolls to making cream puffs

    Cooking with food storage supplies

  27. Clark Goble,
    Maybe instead of doing less genealogy we will be asked to develop the institutional skills of reading Chinese and the languages of Asia.

  28. LOL, if the Church can teach over 65s to read Asian languages enough to do genealogy then that would be quite the feat!

  29. When my parents divorced and my mom needed to find a job after 30 years as a SAHM, her resume was an impressive collection experience all listed under the category of “service”. Much of their married life had been spent attending branches and my dad was often the branch president. As his unofficial branch secretary, she taught herself word processing to type the bulletin each week, formatting for the branch newsletter, and how to print address labels for mailing them out. She organized a branch fundraiser (back in the day when we had to raise money for the budget ourselves). That involved working with a large airline, receiving long narrow boxes and boxes of their used tickets, checking them out to branch members, carefully tracking who had which box, processing numberless boxes herself which involved thumbing through every ticket individually looking for tickets that belonged to other airlines, then checking processed boxes back in. This went on week after week, month after month. She was in charge of a food co-op to help make bulk purchases of food cheaper to buy in a small town. She updated and printed order forms each month, passed them out, collected orders and money, collating it all, then receiving the semi truck from Sysco with the food delivery, dividing up the food (not just by item, but sometimes 2 families would share a case of something and she’d have to divide that up) and then give the right order to reach family as they showed up that day. This was in addition to her VTing and regular callings. In one very tiny branch she was the primary president, pianist, and chorister rolled into one.

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