R. Davis Bitton was a professor of history, an Assistant Church Historian in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a charter member and president of the Mormon History Association.
He was born on February 22, 1930, in Blackfoot, Idaho where he was raised. He studied at Brigham Young University for two years prior to his full-time service as a missionary and later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. He received a master’s degree and his PhD in French history from Princeton University.
Bitton was a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin until 1961, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara until 1966, then a professor at the University of Utah until his retirement in 1995. He was a visiting professor at BYU-Hawaii from 2005 to 2006.
He served as Assistant Church Historian to Leonard J. Arrington from 1972 to 1982 and published several works with him. He was consultant for BYU with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for two years before the position was terminated. He was an original member and founder of the Mormon History Association in 1965 and served as president from 1971 to 1972. He was presented five awards by the MHA for his publications:
- His first award granted by the MHA was in 1975 for the Best Article By A Senior Author for his works Ritualization of Mormon History and The Making of a Community: Blackfoot, Idaho, 1878 to 1910. Two years later he won the Outstanding Bibliography Award for his Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. In 1979, Arrington and Bitton were given the MHA Best Book Award for The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latterday Saints. For his biography on George Q. Cannon, Bitton was honored with the MHA Best Book Award in 1999; in 2006, the Mormon History Association awarded Bitton the Leonard J. Arrington Award for "distinguished and meritorious service to Mormon history.”
Additionally, Bitton was given the "Silver Award" from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought for an essay on B. H. Roberts and his biography of George Q. Cannon was described by the Deseret News "as a definitive study of one of the most important of all Mormon leaders.”
Bitton served in the United States Army during the Korean War. He also was an accomplished pianist. He and his wife JoAn served as Temple Square guides for five years.
He died on April 13, 2007, in Salt Lake City, and wrote his own obituary.