Journals, letters, legal affidavits and business papers documenting the life of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be published in a comprehensive series of 25 to 30 volumes entitled The Joseph Smith Papers. Built on the lifelong research of Joseph Smith scholar Dean Jessee, the Papers will be the first complete edition of all available documents produced by Joseph Smith himself or by others he appointed as scribes.
Jessee, one of three general editors of the project, works with nearly 60 other historians and advisors in reviewing, compiling and annotating over 2,000 documents that cover much of Joseph Smith’s life and the early years of Mormon history.
The research venture earned an endorsement by the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission, an approval signifying that the highest scholarly standards are employed in all phases of the work.
Though nearly 90 percent of the analyzed documents are housed in the archives of the Church, additional searches were conducted at important historical repositories throughout the country, including the Huntington Library, the Chicago Historical Society, the Library of Congress and the university libraries of Princeton, Harvard and Yale.
As researchers have combed through the documents, new information has emerged about the life of Joseph Smith and the early years of the Church. Interesting details about Church organization and doctrine and facts about Joseph Smith’s ministry, business dealings, personal life and legal challenges come forth in the research.
Scholars and librarians are the target audience for the immense endeavor. The Church expects the volumes will become valuable primary resources for writers, editors, scholars and educators, particularly those who specialize in American religious, social and cultural history.
For purposes of publication, the mountain of documents has been divided into several categories, such as journals, correspondence and other documents, revelations and translations, legal and business papers and histories. Smith’s journals, capturing the time period from 1832 through 1844 and his experiences in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, fill the initial volumes. The first volume is expected to be published in 2008.
In addition to the published volumes, Ronald K. Esplin, managing editor of the project as well as general editor, explains that “in time each document will be published in its entirety electronically.” A Web site, www.josephsmithpapers.org will provide up-to-date information regarding the Papers, will answer questions about the project and provide an ordering format for those interested in hardbound books.
“We believe The Joseph Smith Papers will be the most important Church history project of this generation,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church historian and recorder. “I believe the volumes will become the seminal resource for scholarly work about Joseph Smith and the early years of the Church.”