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Intellect

National Archives commission endorses Joseph Smith papers project

Sponsored BYU's Smith Institute and Church Archives

A commission affiliated with the National Archives has endorsed a Brigham Young University-sponsored project to publish a comprehensive volume of letters, diaries, transcriptions and other documents associated directly with Joseph Smith.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission announced in May 2004 that it would formally endorse the Joseph Smith Papers Project, sponsored by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU in cooperation with the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The project's aim is to create a comprehensive collection of all the documents associated with Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Receiving the endorsement from the prestigious commission bestows a high level of credibility to the project, said Ronald Esplin, executive editor of the project at the Smith Institute.

"It reassures libraries and scholars that this project has been undertaken according to the highest scholarly standards," he said. "We're confident that the quality of the papers will stand on their own."

Esplin said the same care, procedure and scholarly standards that have been applied to similar projects for people such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin have been applied to this project.

"People can trust that the material is accurate and reliable," Esplin said.

About 12 volumes in the project are scheduled for release over the next several years and will contain journal and diary transcriptions as well as many of Smith's papers.

Some of those papers include personal letters Smith wrote to his wife Emma as well as to other individuals in the Church. Such letters demonstrate Smith's personality, said Dean C. Jessee, LDS historian and general editor on the project.

Other documents transcribed in the project include letters addressed to Smith, administrative and legal papers and notes from his scribes.

The volumes will contain editorial material, such as a contextual explanation for the time period, as well as accurate transcriptions. The volumes will be directed to both academic scholars and interested Church members, Esplin said.

The project adds to and builds upon two earlier volumes of documents titled "The Papers of Joseph Smith," edited by Jessee, who also edited another volume titled "The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith."

Jessee began working on his own in 1970s on his publications with the help of LDS Church Archives and the Smith Institute. The Joseph Smith Papers Project was implemented with an expanded staff during the latter part of 2000.

The Chicago Historical Society, Yale University, Community of Christ and other repositories have opened their archives for use in the project.

The submitted application was 166 pages and contained a statement of editorial procedures, sample documents with facsimiles, transcriptions and annotations, government forms, a 20-page report, appendices and vitae for key personnel.

Required information in the application also included the stated purpose of the project, the significance of its subject to U.S. history, the plan of work, the publications to be produced and the qualifications of personnel.

Copies of the application were sent to several independent scholars who conducted blind peer reviews, with intense scrutiny given to documents and their transcriptions, as well as the project's methodology for collection and selection of documents.

Because the project already had adequate funding in place from LDS Church Archives, the Smith Institute and an outside donor, funding from the NHPRC was not requested.

The NHPRC supports a wide range of activities to preserve, publish and encourage the use of documentary sources relating to the history of the United States. It receives an appropriation from Congress each year to distribute grant money.

For more information, call Kay Darowski with the Smith Institute at (801) 422-1521.

Writer: Thomas Grover

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