InVisible Culture: Building Zion

By Dai Newman
InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture

Building Zion by Thomas CarterThe standard narrative of the settling of the Great Basin by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that the Mormons moved west to craft a radically different society. Polygamy, theocracy, and communal economics dominate an understanding in which Mormons only acquiesced to American norms after intense outside pressure. The railroad came in 1869, followed by a federal crackdown on polygamy, which swept through the territory until the practice was officially abandoned in 1890. In Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement, architectural historian Thomas Carter hopes to add nuance this story, showing that Mormons actually experienced Americanization rather slowly and were never really as far from the mainstream as the stories about them suggest. Mormons were building their “Zion,” but the material world of Zion’s cities looked similar to the rest of America. Carter openly admits he is not the first scholar to claim Mormon difference was never as stark as prior rhetoric suggested, but rightly highlights the lack of reception for the refrain.

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