“For one who had little schooling,” reads the General Introduction to the Joseph Smith Papers, “Joseph Smith left an unusually extensive literary record” (xv). Some of these “literary records” are his journals, which consist of over 1,500 manuscript pages in ten volumes, most of which are produced by Smith’s scribes. The Journals Series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project will therefore be divided into three volumes: Journals 1, 1832–1839; Journals 2, 1841–1843; and Journals 3, 1843–1844. Smith’s main purpose for keeping a journal is laid out in his first entry—one of the few entries that is in his own handwriting—in Volume one, “to keep a minute account of all things that come under my observation.”
The first volume of the Journals contains the first five journals kept by Joseph and his scribes from 1832 to 1839. Stephen Marini, Professor of Religion at Wellesley College, had this to say about this first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers:
Joseph Smith has been one of the least accessible major figures in the history of American religion. The Joseph Smith Papers will forever change that by producing a monumental critical edition of every document written, dictated, or supervised by the Mormon prophet. This first offering, Journals, Volume 1:1832-1839, already gives readers and researchers a fascinating glimpse of a new Joseph Smith. Its five texts depict a gifted young leader struggling to guide his unruly new religious movement on two fronts. As he labored to organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Kirtland, Ohio, and sought to establish God’s new Zion in hostile Missouri, Smith served as itinerant preacher, fund-raiser, farmer, construction supervisor, disciplinarian, litigant, commander, prisoner, and loyal family member as well as visionary, healer, and revelator. All of these roles come vividly to life in these manuscript journals, meticulously edited according to the highest critical standards. Journals, Volume 1 is a splendid debut for what is certain to become one of the great landmarks in LDS publishing and scholarships.
Journals, Volume 2 was released on November 15, 2011. It covers the life of Joseph Smith from December 1841 to April 1843, which period includes some of the most significant events in the history of the LDS Church, including the founding of the Relief Society, the revelation on baptisms for the dead, the translation and publication of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, and even the beginning of the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.
Willard Richards was the principle scribe for this period of time, though other scribes included William Clayton, Eliza R. Snow, and Erastus Derby.
Journals, Volume 2 also includes two appendices which contain selected documents form the Missouri extradition attempt when Joseph Smith was accused of being involved in the assassination attempt of Governor Boggs. Also included are a chronology of events of 1839–1843, geographical and bigographical directoris, maps, charts of church and city officers, and a glossary. There is also a chart cross-referencing revelations published in Joseph’s day with the current Doctrine and Covenants.
Also valuable are the personal, day-to-day duties of Joseph Smith as mayor, store operator, newspaper editor, and general of the Nauvoo Legion, which provide valuable insights into the man’s personality and character.