The Joseph Smith Papers seek to do for Joseph Smith what has been done for other important historical figures by providing public access to a wide range of historical documents, including letters, journals and minutes. Although members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have interest in the project, scholars are the primary audience for the Papers.
The project, which will publish materials both in print and online, provides a single repository of raw material for those wanting to do research and analysis.
“It will make available many of the most important sources of Joseph Smith’s life and work,” managing editor of the project, Ronald Esplin, said. “It will provide accurate access to these materials for scholars wherever they are working.”
A factor that should encourage scholars to use the Papers is the endorsement given by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), which approves qualified documentary editing projects. In order to obtain the NHPRC’s endorsement, researchers had to comply with strict guidelines including a review of the project’s schedule, funding and editors.
As with all NHPRC-approved projects, documents entered into the compilation will be reviewed by more than one editor; however, unlike many other projects, The Joseph Smith Papers will have extra peer reviews, both from within and without the Church. “We have consulted with and invited detailed critiques from reputable non-LDS scholars, some of whom will read each volume before publication,” Esplin explains.
Other accuracy checks involve three levels of text verification that require careful scrutiny of the original text. High-resolution scans and multispectral images are also used in the verification process.
This new compilation will be a highly credible reference for future research into the life of Joseph Smith.
“Convinced as we are that both scholars and Latter-day Saints will be well-served by a comprehensive scholarly edition of The Joseph Smith Papers, we have set ourselves the task of publishing the full record according to the highest standards of documentary editing” Esplin said. “Nothing less would be worthy of our efforts as scholars or worthy of the man.”