The Joseph Smith Papers – A Reminder

The Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP). Yes, it is a wonderful thing. It will change the way the Church references and divides Early Mormon History. Indeed, it will change the very way we understand and deal with our most fundamental stories and texts. Eventually, the JSPP will impress its work onto the very face of Mormonism, and that is as it should be. We are a history-driven religion — in the sense that our stories define much of what we believe and where we place our faith. JSPP is not about synthesis so much as it is about revelation (there is a pun here — a spectacular one). Revelation in terms of what our earliest records actually say and to some degree the context in which they say it.

I think a reminder is in order in regard to the breathtaking riches found at There is now a fabulous archive of online material there, much of it relating to already published volumes in the series. The Joseph Smith Papers is following in the wake of ground-breaking efforts of other “Papers” documentary editing projects by placing many heretofore unavailable-to-the-masses documents into the public sphere. Anyone can now not only read early Mormon documents, but take advantage of first class transcription efforts and the careful document scholarship of the JSPP. I should say as well, that the JSPPs efforts at imaging are in some ways unprecedented. We are getting the best here people.

Focused for years to come on Joseph Smith, I have high hopes that this effort will continue and spread to other collections and people of prominence in Mormonism. There is yet an Everest-sized mountain of material in the LDS archives that deserves not just the sterile light of scholarship, but the unfolding of a tale that will bring to light our very best (and worst) moments unshrouded by rumor, tale-bearing, hearsay or heavy-handed paternalism.

The Church deserves the JSPP. It will yield future benefits still to be conceived I think. God bless it.


  1. Thanks, WVS. It really is an exciting time.

  2. I think you have echoed the thoughts of many in both LDS circles of thought and academic circles of thought, not to even mention the LDS academics who foam at the mouth at the mention of the JSPP. I agree wholeheartedly that there will be future benefits come from this project which are far beyond our scope. And with each new volume it is as if the revelations, the histories, and everything is new all over again. That’s how a good Papers project should be, and the Church has really outdone themselves so far.

  3. justapunkkid says:

    This is exactly how I feel! Not a historian, and I’m not even sure if I’m an academic–I’m a first year law student, does that count for anything?–but I do consider myself an avid student of LDS history. I remember looking diligently for what seemed hours to find the different accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision. Most of the websites that came up were of course anti-mormon sites, which didn’t bother me, but the fact that they would edit down his accounts did! All I wanted was the prophet in his own words–well and at times the words of a third party retelling what they heard–I didn’t care if the website was mormon, anti-mormon or what. But finding the various accounts in their entirety without someone trying to edit them was very difficult for me. I literally jumped out of my chair when I heard the latest volume was out!

    THESE BOOKS ARE AMAZING! Not just to scholars and teachers but to those of us–do future attorneys count as average?–average members who just want to know our past.

    I whole heartedly agree with the idea of having “other paper project”. Release the words of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Parely P. Pratt. Let me and other members learn who these men really were in there own words, the good, the bad, the strange the inspired. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WORKING ON THE PROJECT!

  4. Amen, WVS.

  5. I have loved what I’ve seen so far, and look forward to more. I suspect that Bro. Brigham is next, but Wilford Woodruff would be cool, too.

  6. Agreed, WVS. An exciting, exciting project, and exciting time.

  7. it's a series of tubes says:

    do future attorneys count as average?

    Yes. However, once admitted to practice, you join myself and many other BCC commenters in the ranks of the “below average”.

  8. Have those that studied the papers admitted significant surprises or changes from prior church teachings?

  9. J. Stapley says:

    KevinM, I think that hinges completely on what you mean by “church teachings.”

    We’ve reviewed all the volumes here and had several important interviews with the editors. We should probably put up a pages with links.

  10. I have only read the History of the Church (along with friendly and not-so-friendly critiques) and not yet read the Comprehensive History or Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents, and haven’t touched the JSPP, but oh the anticipation. Many thanks for the excellent reviews and explanations regarding these volumes. Years of excellent reading to come!

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