The Church Historian’s Press published the final print volume of its monumental 27-volume endeavor, “The Joseph Smith Papers,” which began in June 2001, on the 179th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom (June 27, 1844).
The project creates a readily available collection of Joseph Smith’s remaining papers, including the founding records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The large collection, which is available in print and online (both for free), includes thorough transcriptions, beneficial introductions, comments, and a wealth of reference material.
The culmination of the print edition now completes an essential resource for scholars and students of Smith’s life and work, early Latter-day Saint history and American history and religion. Principal documents featured in the 27 volumes include 1,306 journal entries, 643 letters and 155 revelations.
Philanthropists and business leaders Gail Miller and her late husband, Larry, recognized the importance of the Joseph Smith Papers project early on and supported the legacy project for a period of more than 20 years.
Thanks to this project, Gail Miller said, “Joseph Smith will be known by billions.”
With the Millers’ generous support, the Church of Jesus Christ hired a large team, including PhD-educated historians and professional editors, to produce the Joseph Smith Papers. These are now the most reliable resource available for understanding Joseph Smith and the foundations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith, the first president and prophet of the Church, lived from 1805 to 1844. He left an extensive literary record that provides a fascinating window into the early days of the Church he founded.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been praised for its commitment to historical transparency.
“The Church didn’t want to hide anything about Joseph Smith,” said Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize winner in history and the 300th Anniversary University Professor, Emerita, at Harvard University. “They felt confident that if the actual records, the primary sources, were available, responsible scholars would consult them.”
Additionally, the scholarly approach in these volumes was endorsed by the National Archives as meeting the most rigorous criteria for documentary editing. Thomas P. Slaughter, Arthur R. Miller Professor of History at the University of Rochester, further noted: “The project’s high standards for documentary editing are complemented by maps, biographies, thorough historical introductions to the transcribed manuscripts, and stunningly detailed notes. This project remains the gold standard in the field of historical documentary editing.”
The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics’s Archer Alexander Distinguished Professor Laurie Maffly-Kipp noted: “The degree of scholarship in the Joseph Smith Papers Project is excellent. The meticulousness of the editing procedure as well as the meticulous methods in which the scholars have marked the text and given clarity where necessary have amazed me. It is among the best scholarly texts I’ve encountered, in my opinion.
The last volume to be published, “Documents Volume 15,” details Joseph Smith’s turbulent final six weeks of life and the circumstances that led to his slaying in Carthage, Illinois. It contains 105 documents, including his correspondence, reports of his speeches, minutes from meetings, paperwork from the city and county, military orders, and legal documents.
R. Eric Smith, a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, said: “The Joseph Smith papers are completely priceless. There’s no way of measuring their value. The papers are our sacred history. They’re the history of where we came from as a people.”
In addition to the printed volumes, the project makes all its resources available for free on its website, josephsmithpapers.org.
This article will be updated.