When Kathryn Daynes began working on her doctorate at Indiana University, her focus was on British history.
After a change of course, however, she found a home in the Mormon History Association.
Daynes, a BYU associate professor of history, is president-elect of the organization "dedicated to the study and understanding of all aspects of Mormon history," according to its mission statement. Daynes became involved in the MHA while she was raising a family and studying in Bloomington, Ind. Daynes, who is married to BYU political science professor Bill Daynes, had given birth to a child with a handicap. At about that time, a friend at church invited her to attend an MHA meeting.
"I loved the meetings," she said. "When it became clear to me with my family situation that I could not go to England to do my dissertation ... (my department) allowed me to move to Mormon history, and I started being a regular attender."
This May, the Mormon History Association will convene in Sacramento for its annual conference, and Daynes will replace current president Paul L. Anderson. In 2009, the MHA will meet in Springfield, Ill.
Daynes said the study of Mormon history is something that "resonates at a very deep level" intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Being part of the MHA gave her an opportunity to interact with other scholars working in similar fields. The organization is home to not only LDS scholars but also to secular scholars as well as members of the Community of Christ. In fact, some MHA members have no affiliation at all with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"It's a place where people can come together who are interested in the study of Mormonism," Daynes said. "It's a good place to learn, and certainly it's a good place to associate with different people who have that same interest as you do."
According to Daynes, MHA meetings are at "the forefront of what research is being done about Mormonism." The 2007 conference in Salt Lake City was the largest ever held by the organization. It's a place where scholarly papers are presented and important announcements are made. Last year, filmmaker Helen Whitney, who produced the PBS documentary "The Mormons," attended the conference. The organization also produces a newsletter and a quarterly journal Daynes calls "one of the best if not the best."
Daynes, whose work focuses on U.S. social history with an emphasis on 19th-century plural marriage, said being involved in a leadership position with the MHA takes some work but is also an honor. The MHA president is chosen by a nominating committee within the organization."I was very flattered to be asked," she said.