Extensive Repository of Church History to Be Researched and Published

A 30-volume historical compilation of the origins and growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes casually referred to as the “Mormon Church”), is currently in progress. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder refers to the Joseph Smith Papers Project “the most important Church history project of this generation”, a project that, once completed, will appear on its own website: www.JosephSmithPapers.org.

Endorsement from National Historical Publications and Records Commission

joseph smith mormonIn 2007, a prominent division of the National Archives, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, gave its endorsement to the project, which is now underway with dozens of scholars and researchers examining a plethora of over 2,000 documents written by Joseph and his scribes, and pertaining to the business transactions, early interactions of Church members, journal accounts, litigation, revelations, and other addenda in Church History.

Dean Jessee, a Church historian and scholar, has made the study of early Mormon history and Joseph’s life his vocation for years, and serves as one of three general editors of the project, with Ronald K. Esplin acting as the managing editor of the project [1].

Writers and researchers will be working together at the Church headquarters; to this point they have been pooled in separate groups at the Joseph Fielding Smith building on the BYU campus and, as well, at the Church offices. [2]

About the Project

Ron Barney, co-editor of one of the volumes, and the spokesman for the project had this to say:

We believe that anybody in the future who writes about Joseph Smith will have to go through The Joseph Smith Papers. Some people in the past have been loosey goosey with what they say about Joseph Smith, but that will no longer fly. They may disagree, but they’ll still have to go through The Joseph Smith Papers.The papers will be published over the next few years by The Church Historian’s Press, created by the LDS Church for the publication of titles relating to Church history and growth. The papers will eventually be made available online. Marlin K. Jensen stated,
This is an invitation for anyone interested in the history of the Church to read the foundational documents related to its beginning and development.

The project has sought approval and scrutiny from outside the Church. Hence, the ratification of The National Historical Publications and Records Commission. A national advisory board, which includes three members who are not LDS, is overseeing the project. Harry S. Stout is one of the board’s members. He remarked,

It means they follow the same documentary editing conventions as other approved projects. That means you don’t substitute words, you don’t paraphrase anything, you don’t delete something if you think it’s embarrassing. They’re following all those conventions and bringing in outsiders as quality checkers.Ron Barney addressed the problem of context. It is often difficult to understand the content of the writings without comprehending the historical and religious context first. Establishing context has made the task laborious and added months, even years to the process. The project actually began in the 1960’s with Dean Jessee’s work. There are now over 40 scholars and editors involved. Funding has come from the Church and from Larry H. Miller, a Utah businessman, who has created an endowment for the project.

Advances in technology have enabled the project to move forward in a vital manner. Imaging and document software make it possible to capture and manipulate texts. High resolution color scans can be enhanced and magnified. Final comparisons of digitally created files to original documents are made with the help of ultraviolet light and microscopes. Scholars examine the results according to the category of the documents (journals, documents, revelations, translations, history, legal, business, and administrative) and the scholars’ field of expertise. Also included among the papers are diaries, outgoing and incoming correspondence, revelations, contemporary reports of discourses, editorials, and notices.  Special annotations are made for notes written in margins or between lines.

The project intends to publish, either in letterpress volumes or electronic form, every extant Joseph Smith document to which its editors can obtain access. Certain routine documents, such as some notes and certificates and some legal or business documents, will be calendared and published in their entirety online with only samples published in the letterpress edition. The Journals Series of The Joseph Smith Papers presents an unaltered and unabridged transcript of each of Smith’s known journals.
Readers wishing to view those elements not reproduced in the letterpress volumes may consult the Joseph Smith Papers (future) website, josephsmithpapers.org. The website will include a detailed “diplomatic” transcript of the journals, including all redactions and other subsequently added elements, along with letter-by-letter presentation of all revisions.

The Church is also in the process of constructing a 230,000 square foot Church History Library east of the Conference Center near Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. The new library will be completed by the summer of 2009 and will house approximately 270,000 books, pamphlets, and magazines, and 240,000 original, unpublished records. The library will provide an area open to the public, as well as archival storage rooms and climate-controlled storage vaults.

Note: This article is from MormonWiki.com:The Joseph Smith Papers

Go to the next article in the Joseph Smith Papers section: Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits

Go to the next article in the Legacy section: Witnesses of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Read a conference talk: “The Manuscript Revelation Books.”

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