Interview: Celebrating Utah History Month

In recognition of Utah History Month, we are proud to present the following interview transcript of our conversations with Dr. Holly George, the Editor of Utah Historical Quarterly; Mark Melville, the Assistant Editor; and Dr. Wendy Rex-Atzet, the Public History Manager State Coordinator for the Utah Historical Society.  

Continue on to read the interview, or listen on our podcast, The UPside. 

University of Illinois Press (UIP): Utah Historical Quarterly is the official journal of the Utah Historical Society, and we couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate than bringing in experts from both sides to talk about how they work together in the preservation and promotion of Utah’s rich historical heritage. 

Let me first start by telling you a little bit more about the journal, in case you’re not familiar. Utah Historical Quarterly, or UHQ for short, has been published on behalf of the Utah Historical Society since 1928. It’s mission, from its earliest issues to the present, is to publish articles on all aspects of Utah history and to present Utah in the larger context of the West. UHQ’s editorial style emphasizes scholarly credibility, accessible language, and variety. The journal is filled with articles, book reviews, and photographs, as well as field notes about documents, artifacts, historiography, oral history, and public history. You can learn more about it, including where to read the latest issue or submit your own work, on our website at

With that, I do believe it’s time to pass the mic, so please join me in welcoming the first two of our special guests today: Dr. Holly George, the Editor of Utah Historical Quarterly, and Mark Melville, the Assistant Editor. 

Holly George (HG): Hi! Thank you so much for having us. 

Mark Melville (MM): I’m glad to be here, too. Thank you. 

UIP: I’m going to ask you both to introduce yourselves now, and then we’ll bring our final special guest in for her introduction so we can jump into our questions.  

Holly, could you please start by telling us a bit about your background, including how and when you became involved with the journal and the society? 

HG: Yeah, thank you for asking. I grew up in Idaho. I got my doctorate at University of Washington, and then I’ve been here at the Society and the Quarterly both since 2013, so almost 11 years now, and it’s been a great privilege. 

UIP: Thank you! Okay, Mark, you’re up. Could you please introduce yourself to our listeners, tell us a bit about your role, and how you became involved? 

MM: Yeah, so I’m assistant editor, which means I do a lot of the copy editing and the source checking, and I ask people to write book reviews. My background is in editing, but I took a detour into history, and I’ve been working with Utah Historical Quarterly since March 2023. 

UIP: Excellent, thank you. Now, as I teased earlier on, this is going to be a joint conversation about the journal and the Utah Historical Society.  

The Utah Historical Society, founded in 1897, encourages the research, study, and publication of Utah history. From its modest beginnings, the Utah Historical Society has grown to several thousand members, developed a research collection of over a million items, published over 300 issues of the Utah Historical Quarterly, led the historic preservation movement in Utah for nearly fifty years, created energetic antiquities and museums programs, and much more. For more information on the society, check out

Now that we have that context for the society and its connection to the journal, it’s time to bring in our third and final special guest for our conversation today: Dr. Wendy Rex-Atzet, the Public History Manager State Coordinator. Thanks for joining us today, Wendy. 

Wendy Rex-Atzet (WR): Thank you, I’m excited to be part of this conversation. 

UIP: Like with Holly and Mark, I’m going to ask you, Wendy, to please tell us a bit about your background, including how and when you became involved with the society, so we can get to know you better. 

WR: Well, I’m a public historian, and I come to this work with a background in history of the American West. I am a native Utahn, but I received my doctorate at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I joined the Utah Historical Society just after Holly did in the fall of 2013. I now manage our public history team and I coordinate our K-12 education programs, including the National History Day program for Utah. 

UIP: Thank you. Since January is Utah History Month, I think it’s important to include some of that history in this conversation. Does anyone have a fun fact, interesting story, or historical tidbit they’d like to share to get us started? 

WR: We hold Utah History Month in January, because there are two deeply significant events in our state’s history that both occurred in January: the Bear River Massacre of 1863 and statehood, which was achieved in 1896. 

I’ll tell you a little bit about the Bear River Massacre. This was actually the largest killing of native people by the US Army west of the Mississippi. An army unit from Salt Lake City attacked the Northwestern band of the Shoshone tribe, who were in their traditional winter camp location on the Bear River on January 29th, 1863. So, this was a military campaign, but it was really due to the expansion of Mormon settlement into the region as the new farms and the livestock economy really eliminated crucial Shoshone food sources and raised tensions between indigenous people and the new settlements.  

Today we know that at least 400 Shoshone people were killed, including women, children, and elders. But these casualties were really underreported for a very long time. At the time the US was much more focused on the Civil War. So, this massacre was not widely known even in the nineteenth century. For more than a century since then, this event was called the Battle of Bear River by local communities in Utah and in Idaho. In recent decades the northwestern band of the Shoshone nation has worked very successfully with a number of local partners to change that narrative and to really begin to reshape historical understandings of that event and bring in multiple perspectives. 

MM: The other date we observe in in January is January 4th, which is when Utah became a State in 1896, almost 50 years after Mormon pioneers first settled in Utah in 1847. Early Latter-day Saints petitioned the United States government to become a state. They wanted to be the State of Deseret, but instead, the government created the Territory of Utah in 1850.  

One of the consequences of being a territory rather than a state meant that the citizens of Utah did not elect their governors or other officials. The federal government appointed the governor and the territorial judges. Utah had a sizable Latter-day Saint population, and the rest of the United States disagreed with them on a number of issues, including what they perceived to be a theocracy and the practice of polygamy, so it took a long time for Utah to finally achieve statehood in 1896. 

UIP: As you were sharing that, I was thinking about how someone, like me, who is outside the state or less familiar with the history, might just assume that statehood is the reason for January being Utah History Month and then miss the other significant contexts that add to the selection of this month for recognizing the history of the state.  

While we’re on the topic, are there some other common misconceptions or stereotypes about Utah that you think deserve clarification or debunking? 

WR: Yeah, I would love to start, to talk about that question because one of the things I love about Utah history, and about Western history generally, is the interplay between popular myths and the actual history. There are so many frontier myths and stock characters that have been recycled for over 150 years in popular culture and literature, film, TV and theatre—all of the familiar tropes of the Wild West.  

But I like to say, check your stereotypes at the door, because Utah history will continually surprise you and confound your stereotypes. 

MM: When you talk about stereotypes in Utah, one of the biggest is that of polygamy, and this stereotype has existed for about as long as there have been Latter-day Saints in Utah. 

In the nineteenth century, there was a lot of negative press and negative political cartoons that portray polygamists in Utah as like a dirty old man enslaving young girls. In reality, polygamous marriages were more common among Latter-day Saint leaders. There were many Latter-day Saints who had monogamous marriages. For those who did practice polygamy, they had a wide range of experiences. Some hated the practice and really struggled with it, but for some it was a meaningful part of their religious experience, and it was really difficult for them, they struggled when it was phased out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  

Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not practice polygamy. There are some sects in Utah that still do practice polygamy. We need to be careful not to assume stereotypes about their practices based on the kinds of things that we see on TV. 

HG: Yeah, I’ll take it a little further and say, there’s a very common misconception that Utah history is synonymous with the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Latter-day Saint story is important, and there are many, many other aspects of the state’s history. 

One of our favorite artifacts of the Historical Society is a multilingual sign from the early twentieth century that was used at a mine west of Salt Lake City in Tooele County. It’s written in English, Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Japanese, and that fact gives you just a little hint at the many streams and sources that come into our past. For decades UHQ has published that kind of history, as well as the history folks might more readily assume is going to be in Utah Historical Quarterly.  

What’s more, because Utah is so often connected to Latter-day Saints, it can be really difficult for other people to identify with Utah history. A colleague of ours, who grew up right in Salt Lake City, didn’t really see herself as part of the State until she was in college and took a Utah history course. This journal and the Utah Historical Society, we feel, really have the opportunity to tell a lot of stories, and we very much appreciate that opportunity. 

UIP: Thank you all. Consider all of those stereotypes checked at the door for the rest of the conversation now. Utah history encompasses, as you’ve been saying already, a vast range of time periods and themes, but there are of course key moments in Utah history that require frequent scholarly attention or updates. What are some topics that come up often, either in the published journal or in submissions? How do you juggle featuring important cornerstones to Utah history with new perspectives and directions? 

MM: When I was in first grade in 1996, we observed Utah’s Centennial with a musical program called Utah, This Is the Place. This program followed a common outline of Utah history: starting with native Americans going on to Spanish explorers, fur trappers and traders, Mormon pioneers, then the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. And then it basically stops. In this framework, there really isn’t much Utah history in the twentieth century. All those nineteenth century events are important, and we need to talk about them. But there is so much more to Utah history, and one of the things that I have appreciated with UHQ is that so many of our authors are writing about the twentieth century, and those are stories we need to be hearing. 

HG: We had a really great opportunity in 2021. Dr. Spencer Stewart contacted us about analyzing the entire 90 year run of UH Q with his digital history students at the University of Utah, and of course we said: “Yes, please. Please do that.”  

So, last year Stewart and some of his students published their analysis in UHQ, and what they found really wasn’t too surprising. For instance, the most mentioned person across all volumes was Brigham Young, and in the early decades of the Quarterly the writing tended to be on nineteenth century history, also not surprising.  

But at the same time, we can say has been publishing women’s history since the early 1970s. That’s in part because of the history of the suffrage movement in this state, which is a very is a fascinating history, and also because of that of Latter-day Saint women, their stories. And again, all of all those stories matter.  

We always appreciate authors sending us new information on the cornerstone topics, but at the same time we are actively, always actively trying to mix up the pipeline of authors by encouraging and mentoring university students or other people who might be working on new topics. 

UIP: What are some current areas of focus or topics that could use more attention and further study? Please feel free to add what that specifically could look like for the journal or the society, whether it be a special issue, new project, etc. 

HG: Yeah, I love this question. I’m a cultural historian, and so I always want to see more of that. But honestly, Utah’s cultural past and present are completely fascinating. There’s a really rich tradition here of dance and music that goes back well over a century and further back. Of course, the film industry is a big thing here. Utahns today love, love, love, fantasy, literature, comics, board games, all of that and so we need to develop a stronger literature on that.  

Separately, we don’t have enough literature on the history of social welfare topics like, say, juvenile justice. Outside of discussions of polygamy, there’s not enough writing on family and on divorce. Personally, and professionally, I always hope for more on disability history, say on like the impact of the ADA in Utah. And a final thing I was thinking about is technology. Technology is a major part of present-day Utah, of our economy, of our focus. And we just need more history of its past. 

MM: Another thing we need to study more is environmental history. That’s something that is especially important now, as we’re trying to stop the Great Salt Lake from shrinking and as we worry about other environmental issues. Connected with environmental history is outdoor recreation. Utah is a wonderful place for outdoor recreation of all kinds. We have several companies based in Utah that cater to outdoor recreation communities, so we need to see more studies of that. That also includes the Olympics, which we hosted in 2002, and we look forward to hosting again. I’d like to see more Olympic histories. 

UIP: So prospective authors, take note, Holly and Mark have just given you hundreds of ideas there that you can just have a field day with and write all those papers for the Utah Historical Quarterly. So now, Wendy, could you please tell us about some of the society’s other initiatives, projects, and awards? 

WR: Yeah, thank you. There is so much happening in the Historical Society right now, and we’re really excited to share this work. Our library and collections, which was the first component that was started by the Historical Society, are finally getting a new state of the art facility and a new building that will also house the new Museum of Utah. This will be the first museum in the state dedicated to sharing the whole history of Utah. This new building, which will include the museum and our new collections facility is slated to open in 2026, which is also the year of America 250, when we will all be celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

In tandem with the museum and the new collections facility, we have a new community history initiative called “The Peoples of Utah Revisited.” This involves partnering with various ethnic, rural, and religious communities around the state to build new collections and generate new research on Utah’s many peoples.  

We recently added the Utah Women’s History initiative to our team, which supports and shares women’s history in a variety of ways.  

We are also proud to be the home of Utah’s National History Day program, which reaches schools in all corners of the state. 

UIP: There’s so much going on now, and even more to come, too. To bring us back to the journal, how does Utah Historical Quarterly help the Utah Historical Society’s mission, and what role does the society play in the publication process, if any? 

WR: As you mentioned in the introduction, the Historical Society was started right around the time of statehood in 1897, and they focused on building a collection first. Looking back at the last 50 years of settlement in Utah, and realizing that if action wasn’t taken to preserve and collect those stories could be lost.  

Once they had the collection established, the journal came next. Utah Historical Quarterly began publication in 1928 and has been published continually for almost 100 years now. At so many moments in the Society’s history, UHQ has been one of the leading initiatives of the Historical Society and really has published so much, very timely and cutting-edge historical work: The turn to social history and ethnic studies and labor history in the ’70s. The rise of women’s history and political, interdisciplinary history, cultural history, all of these fields of history have found a wonderful home in the Quarterly.  

Today, the team that generates the Quarterly, Holly and Mark, are involved in all of the Society’s current initiatives. They really work to bridge the publication and its legacy with the new initiatives and public outreach that we’re so excited to be a part of today. 

UIP: Thank you, Wendy. Now, Holly and Mark, could you provide any additional insight into who UHQ authors are, what the process of peer review entails, and how you handle editorial decision-making? 

MM: We have a diverse group of authors. We have tenured PhDs and professional historians, but we also have students and citizen historians. We welcome all of them. When an author submits a manuscript, we review the manuscript, and we also will send it to other scholars to review. After these reviews we decide whether we want to publish it, and then we return the reviewer’s comments to the authors so that they can make changes because we want the author’s work to be the best that it can be. 

UIP: Absolutely, and that’s another reason that the journal is such an important part of the academic community. 

I’ve always loved seeing the new covers on each issue of UHQ. I started at the Press last summer when the current issue was Volume 90, Issue 3, a beautiful oil painting by Mabel Pearl Frazer called Sunrise, North Rim Grand Canyon from 1928. More recently, in Volume 91, Issue 2, the illustration of the yellow rose by Mary Lawrance definitely sticks out in my memory.  

Can you share some information about how those cover images are selected? 

HG: Yeah, thank you. That’s my favorite task. It’s not a task; it’s a joy. What we do is think about the themes from that issue. Sometimes they’re more apparent than others, and then just look far and wide for images that represent those themes. Again, I love doing it.  

The yellow rose on that spring issue was special. In that issue we had the opportunity to interview our state’s Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson about the power of women’s history. That’s something dear to her heart. She has a degree in history. Henderson talked really briefly about yellow roses, about a symbol of women’s suffrage, and how they had been used as a political symbol in the state’s past, and so that cover illustration was a nod to Henderson, and just to Utah women generally. It was fun to do. 

UIP: That does sound like fun. Thank you for answering that so now I can stop wondering every time I see a new cover and instead start identifying those common themes and looking for connections. 

Lastly, a two-part question to help our listeners continue learning about the state’s history: how can our listeners engage with the Utah Historical Quarterly journal and the Utah Historical Society to further explore and appreciate the history of Utah? What kind of resources do you recommend to those interested in Utah history, in addition to things we’ve already discussed? 

HG: Well, the first thing I would recommend is a digital subscription to UHQ. That begins at $30 a year, and it provides highly searchable access on the Scholarly Publishing Collective platform. Really highly searchable access to over 90 volumes of the Quarterly. It’s a good resource. 

Separately, the Historical Society has digitized over well almost 300,000 photographs, manuscripts, and films. Those are freely available to the public. I love them. And again, it’s from all throughout the range of Utah history.  

Another really good resource about a difficult point in Utah history is from the University of Utah, the Downwinders of Utah Archive. And I’d recommend really going to all of our university partners, their special collections websites, to see what digital exhibits and special digitized collections they have. 

A lot of our partners’ resources are excellent. There’s a resource called Mountain West Digital Library that lets you search through different collections in the region, their finding aids. Mark is going to talk about some other ones, but one I love is the Outdoor Recreation Archive from Utah State University. They’re on Instagram and people from the fashion world follow it. It’s a really good resource.  

So, with that I’ll hand it to Mark. 

MM: Some of my favorites are Utah Digital Newspapers. So if you go to, or just Google “Utah digital newspapers.” You have access to dozens of newspapers from all over Utah since 1850. It’s all for free, and some of them are searchable.  

Additionally, the Church History department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many important sources available. They have many original sources digitized in their online catalog, which you can access at And also they have the Church Historian’s Press website, which is, where they have transcribed many important nineteenth century documents, such as a journal of George Q. Cannon and the diaries of Emmeline B. Wells.  

I just really appreciate that I get to be working in history at this moment in time, because so many of our important sources are online. I have so much respect for the previous historians who did their work without searchable databases. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that. 

WR: I love that, Mark. I will just add, you know we’re still a few years away from having a museum that you can walk in the front doors. But if you visit our website, you can make a donation to the Historical Society. You can subscribe to the Quarterly. You can get information about volunteering for National History Day. You can go right into our digital collections to do research. And you can learn more about the full range of the programs and services that we offer right now. 

UIP: All these are super helpful resources for students, scholars, anyone interested in Utah history. You all hit on exactly—the technology and all the doors that opens for us. In addition to the 90 plus issues of the Quarterly, with all those other online resources we could read about Utah forever, which would be great. 

I think it’s about time for us to wrap up for today, so I wanted to say again what a pleasure it was to have all of you here with me today to talk about the Utah Historical Quarterly, the Utah Historical Society, and Utah history more generally. It’s a great way to start the year by recognizing all that the state has to offer.  

Thank you to Dr. Wendy Rex-Atzet, the Public History Manager State Coordinator of the Utah Historical Society. As a reminder, you can find out more about the society at It was really great to meet you, Wendy. 

WR: Thanks so much. It was really nice to be here. 

Additional thank yous to Utah Historical Quarterly Editor, Dr. Holly George: 

HG: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. 

And to Assistant Editor Mark Melville. We really appreciate you all taking the time to chat with us today. 

MM: Thank you for having us. 

UIP: Finally, to you, our readers. Thanks for celebrating Utah History Month with us—whether you’re reading in January or at any other time of year—we appreciate you taking the time to learn more about the state’s history and the role of Utah Historical Quarterly and the Utah Historical Society in promoting and preserving that history. To learn more about Utah Historical Quarterly, you can visit us online at  

The University of Illinois Press publishes a wide range of journals and books on various topics related to American history. You may also be interested in checking out one of these journals: Journal of American Ethnic History, Journal of Mormon History, or Mormon Studies Review. Our journal Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is freely available online as an open access journal. 

You can learn about all of these and more at Thank you.

About Kristina Stonehill