Gary Bergera on his Life’s Work as an Author and Publisher of History

Date: March 10, 2023 (Season 5, Episode 10: 53 minutes long). Click here for the BuzzSprout version of this Speak Your Piece episode. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click here. The episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir, with sound engineering and post-production editing by Jason T. Powers, from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.

The above photograph is of Leonard J. Arrington, whom Bergera has written a great deal about. Arrington was the only academically credentialed historian, called and sustained as Church Historian, by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bergera notes that Arrington’s years as church historian were, in his opinion, the high point of responsible, fair, and balanced history. Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

This episode is a conversation with Speak Your Piece host Brad Westwood and Gary Bergera, Mormon and Western historian, book publisher and editor, and recently retired managing director of Smith-Pettit Foundation, and former managing director of Signature Books (established in 1981). In this episode, Bergera discusses personal stories as an historian and book publisher. Bergera covers the value of reading and writing history, what sparked his interest in the field of history, and the beginning story of the newspaper the Seventh East Press (1981-1983). Bergera also notes some of the works he’s most proud of, in both writing history and in shepherding history, through the publication process.

Bergera’s contributions and nearly fifty years’ work in the field of history, reflect the curiosity and passions of one who has always been intellectually curious. Bergera discusses his years as a Mormon and western historian; the beginning story of his work, publishing and editing and serving as managing director of Signature Books and the Smith-Pettit Foundation, including founders George D. Smith and Scott Kenney; his and Ron Priddis’s book Brigham Young University: A House of Faith (1985); the edited volume regarding Everett Ruess, a young artist and solo-adventurer who disappeared in Utah’s wilderness in 1934, called On Desert Trails with Everett Ruess (Gibbs Smith, 2000); and what Bergera sees as one of his most important contributions, a three-volume edited work Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997 (Signature Books, 2018). Bergera describes Arrington’s history creating processes; how he was a conscientious diarist, knowing his diaries would be appreciated as a primary source; and finally, Arrington’s devotion to his faith, alongside his pursuit of evidence-based scholarship and sound historical methods. This candid conversation is a refreshing reflection on the work of another major contributor to the history of Utah. 

Bio: Gary Bergera attended Brigham Young University for psychology and public administration. He was the managing director (now retired) of the Smith-Pettit Foundation and former company director of Signature Books. He served as managing editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Bergera has edited, co-authored, and authored, many volumes on Utah history topics. Bergera has received awards from the Mormon History Association, the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the Utah State Historical Society. Photograph courtesy of Signature Books.

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