Paul Reeve

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Image of Paul Reeve courtesy Colter Peterson/Deseret News

W. Paul Reeve is the Simmons Professor of Mormon Studies in the History Department at the University of Utah where he teaches courses on Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the U.S. West.

Reeve holds a PhD in history from the University of Utah. He also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Brigham Young University.

Reeve was raised on a farm in Hurricane, Utah. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an interview with Lee Benson of the Deseret News, Reeve recalled,

“I was the nerdy one, the bookworm, always asking the deep questions. I’m not sure I was always choosing to study history, but by the time I was in high school it was a subject I didn’t need to spend a lot of time in. It came easy to me. And I really enjoyed the way it helped me to figure out how we got to where we are.”
His social studies teacher at Hurricane High, J. Wayne Edwards — LaVell Edwards’ brother — was the first to inspire him to become a historian.
“I remember him pulling me aside and saying to me, ‘You should really think about going into social studies, you’re good at this.’ I just kind of blew it off at the time. When you’re a teenager in high school you’re not thinking, ‘How in the world would I ever make a living going into social studies?’”

Benson wrote that Reeve’s father, Leo, did not graduate from college because he couldn’t get away from the farm. “Determined that wouldn’t happen to his kids, every year he’d give Paul and his brother each a steer to raise and sell at the county fair. All the money went into a college and mission fund. That fund paid for Paul’s mission to Toronto and carried him all the way to the last semester of his senior year at BYU before he needed to find work as a clerk at 7-Eleven. BYU then awarded him a scholarship and a teaching assistantship to work on his master’s.”[1]

Reeve held a teaching position with Salt Lake Community College prior to working on his PhD at the University of Utah. His mentor was Dean L. May. Reeve taught at Southern Virginia University while retooling his dissertation into the volume Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes. After May’s untimely passing in 2003, Reeve was offered the position.

His book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, (Oxford, 2015) received the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award, the John Whitmer Historical Association’s Smith-Pettit Best Book Award, and the Utah State Historical Society’s Francis Armstrong Madsen Best History Book Award. It has been added to the curriculums for religious studies classes such universities as Princeton, Stanford, and George Mason University.

Reeve is one of the scholars who was consulted when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prepared its essay on race and the priesthood.

He is project manager and general editor of a digital database, Century of Black Mormons, designed to name and identify all known Black Mormons baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ between 1830 and 1930.

Reeve is the recipient of the Utah Council for the Social Studies’ University Teacher of the Year award, the University of Utah’s Early Career Teaching Award, and the College of Humanities’ Ramona W. Cannon Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.

In his interview with Lee Benson, Reeve said, “The more I learn the more I get invested in faith and less in dogma or certitude,” he says. “Ultimately my profession and my faith come together in the divinity of Jesus Christ. For me, he is the definitive historian.”[2]