Joseph Bentley, with whom I work closely in LDS Interfaith Relations in Orange County, is a volume editor for the Joseph Smith Papers project. The fact that the the publishing company that will be publishing it is part of the Church is a strong signal that the Church is doing all it can to be more open about its history.
New Publishing Imprint Set to Boost Mormon Scholarship
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced today the establishment of The Church Historian’s Press, a new imprint for publishing works related to the Church’s origin and growth.
The initial publishing project of the press will be The Joseph Smith Papers, a documentary series eventually comprising 25–30 volumes. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian, has described The Joseph Smith Papers as “the single most significant historical project of our generation.”
One of the project’s general editors, Ronald Esplin believes that the Papers will provide opportunity for historians interested in the early years of the Church.
“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,” he said.
Elder Jensen 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.”
The Papers project has been endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. A division of the National Archives, the Commission approves qualified documentary editing projects, including collections of the papers and writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin and others.
Yale University Professor Harry S. Stout, a member of the Papers’ national advisory board, said: “Receiving this endorsement is important. It conveys the Commission’s conclusion that the staff and procedures of The Joseph Smith Papers meet the NHPRC’s rigorous scholarly standards for transcription and annotation and that the edition will be accurate and professional.”
The first volume of The Joseph Smith Papers will be published in 2008. Additional information on the initiative can be viewed on the project’s web site,http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/.
Elder Jensen said that the inauguration of The Church Historian’s Press, together with The Joseph Smith Papers project, “underscore the great value the Church has always placed on its history. 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 construction of the 230,000-square foot Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City is further evidence of the Church’s desire to make its history available to scholars and the public. The new library, to be completed in the spring of 2009, “will rival the great libraries of the world with its facilities and collections,” says Elder Jensen.
That collection includes 270,000 books, pamphlets and magazines, as well as 240,000 original unpublished records. “These documents are the crown jewels of Mormonism. The truthfulness of Mormonism is inextricably tied to its history, and it is in our best interest to preserve these records and make them available to those who wish to study the origins of this remarkable faith.”
One of the major goals of the Church is to provide a welcoming atmosphere with excellent service for those visiting the library. To that end, the Family and Church History Department has created a customer service division focused on how best to serve those who visit this new facility.
The five-story building provides a large open library area for patrons, as well as ten archival storage rooms and two subzero temperature vaults. Brent Thompson, director of records preservation, said, “The -4 degrees Fahrenheit vault is where we will keep motion picture film, rare books, some newspaper items and other material so we can make sure that they’ll not only be available in 100 years, they will look good 100 years from now.”