Signature Books recently announced that it has stopped publishing for an undetermined period of time. As one who is critical of Mormon Studies publishing generally, I see Signature’s move as unfortunate, though perhaps not unforeseeable. As I peruse my shelves I count not a few seminal works distributed by the press that George Smith built and I hope that most people join me in the hope that the press will soon be back in action.
I think it was easy, in discussing The Joseph Smith Papers, to effuse about the superiority of their product over previous editions. However, I can not overstate how important Faulring’s edition was to Mormon Studies (it is still the only volume to have the Joseph Smith Family Association’s endorsement, and it is the only transcript for Smith’s 1843-44 journals). We are all indebted to Signature for its publication. And we can count many titles that have not been superseded and which are equally or more important. To name just a few:
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898
- On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball
- Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir
- Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols.
- In Sacred Lonliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
On top of scores of important volumes, Signature created the New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, which is a superlatively helpful resource and was tremendously expensive to produce. Even controversial titles like George Smith’s edition of William Clayton’s diaries, have become frequently cited by even the most conservative scholars. A loss of this valuable publishing work is a loss to every student of Mormonism.
Now, as was evident in the recent threads discussing and relating to George Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy I also feel that certain volumes published by Signature fail to meet the standards of their classic offerings. In many ways, I feel like I am part of a new generation. I wasn’t paying attention to Mormon Studies during the controversies of the 1990′s and didn’t have a hand in the game during previous swings of the pendulum. And though I have felt the cold chill of the odd interloper from the past, I feel like the Young Turks of Mormon Studies are in a different age, fashioning, perhaps, a new Camelot. I am sometimes disappointed by what seem to be publications that are anachronistic to that world-view, titles that are part of a different time or too friendly with polemics.
Looking across the current offerings on the Signature website, I see a confusing blend of the excellent, the flawed and the superfluous. I continue to hope that Signature sheds the past and emerges from this hiatus invigorated. If not, I still thank it for the good work it has done.