Today the Mormon Church announced that they were creating a new imprint relating to the origin and growth of the church: The Church Historian’s Press. And they announced that its first project will be the Joseph Smith Papers.
From the press release:
Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian, describes the Papers project as a collection of “journals, diaries, correspondence, articles and notices. Everything of a written nature Joseph Smith generated, or over which he had oversight.”
This is key. The foundation for all historical research are the primary documents. The Joseph Smith Papers will be the “end all, be all” of primary documents relating to Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Mormon Church.
Ronald Esplin, a general editor, said “This initiative will offer a very deep pool of primary sources for researchers to dip into. It will help lift the overall standard of scholarship as there will be greater self and peer accountability in future writings that will be produced dealing with early Mormon history.”
I look forward to buying these volumes. As you read his diaries and journals, you get to know the man in a way that you could not imagine. Nothing compares to reading Joseph Smith’s brief 1832 history. He tells about his struggles with repentance and which church to join. Then he tells about his first vocal prayer, and how God appeared him and forgave him of his sins. Then he tells in frank and simple language about receiving the Gold Plates from the angel and translating the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
And all of this is written in his own handwriting. Reading this brief history is like sitting in front of the fireplace with Joseph Smith and having him reminisce. There is a power that comes from reading Joseph Smith’s own story written in his own hand. It is the unfiltered truth.
This project is a rather ambitious one. It is projected to be about thirty volumes. The project’s webpage says this:
“When completed, The Joseph Smith Papers will consist of more than thirty volumes in six series: Journals, Documents, Revelations and Translations, History, Legal and Business, and Administrative. Three volumes of Joseph Smith’s journals cover the years 1832 through 1844. The Documents Series, in eleven volumes, span 1828 to 1844. Four volumes—manuscript revelation books, other early revelation manuscripts including key Joseph Smith translation manuscripts, the Book of Mormon printer’s manuscript, and published Joseph Smith-era scripture—make up the Revelations and Translations Series. Seven volumes of history encompass the period 1805 to 1844. The Legal and Business Series has three volumes that include records of cases occurring in New York/Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Administrative records will publish minute books and letterbooks.”
What is impressive is that the project has been endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This is a combination of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and the Underwriters Laboratories certification. Because of this endorsement, we know that the methodology of the project is up to professional standards.
Elder Jensen said that The Joseph Smith Papers was “the single most significant historical project of our generation.”