Church Historian Announces New 4-Volume History of the Church

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 4 June 2017

Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian and Recorder, addresses the Mormon History Association Conference June 3, 2017.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Beginning in 2018, the Church will publish a four-volume history of the Church titled Saints.
  • The history will not be a reference work, but a narrative based on well-researched facts.
  • In addition to paperback versions, the volumes will be available online at no cost.

“We believe this will be valuable to Church members to greatly enhance their knowledge of Church history in an interesting way. In my view this will have an impact on members of the Church for generations to come.” —Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian and Recorder

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

A new, four-volume comprehensive history of the Church to be published beginning next year was detailed by Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian and Recorder, in his luncheon address Saturday, June 3, to attendees at the 52nd annual Mormon History Association Conference.

“It has been almost 90 years since B. H. Roberts published the last comprehensive history of the Church,” said Elder Snow, General Authority Seventy. “Obviously much has happened since 1930. We have a team in our department working very hard to complete a four-volume history of the Church entitled Saints. It will be written in a style similar to James Michener or David McCullough.”

Elder Snow gave the information during his address titled “‘A Greater Work Will be Done’: The Evolution of the LDS Church History Department.”

The new history will have many narratives woven into it from before Joseph Smith’s First Vision to the present day, Elder Snow explained.

The first volume will cover the history of the Church up to the Nauvoo Temple dedication. The second will cover the western exodus of the Latter-day Saints and conclude with the Salt Lake Temple dedication. The third will cover the first half of the 20th century and conclude with the dedication of the Swiss Temple.

“The fourth and final volume will bring us to today and will cover some of the many temples which are being dedicated around the world,” Elder Snow said.

The plan is to publish the volumes at the rate of one per year from 2018 to 2021.

“At the same time these volumes are released in print they will be available online at no cost,” the Church Historian said. “They will be published in an inexpensive paperback format, as we are desirous that as many Church members as possible read them. They have been carefully researched and contain many stories of faith previously unknown to most Latter-day Saints.”

Elder Snow said the volumes will be “transparent, honest, and faithful,” with controversial aspects of Church history covered in the context of the entire story.

Written at a 9th- or 10th-grade reading level, the volumes will be published in all 13 languages in which Church-published content is available on the internet.

Endnotes and references, especially in the online version, will take interested readers to additional information, videos, articles, etc., in which they may have additional interest, Elder Snow said.

“The history will not be a reference work, but a narrative based on well-researched facts,” he said. “We believe this will be valuable to Church members to greatly enhance their knowledge of Church history in an interesting way. In my view, this will have an impact on members of the Church for generations to come.”

Remarkable time for Church history

In his address, Elder Snow said this is a remarkable time for Church history, adding that there has never been a time of greater transparency or access to the historical records of the Church.

“Millions of online images are being put up each year by our department. My vision is in the not-too-distant future, research into primary-source Church documents will be able to take place in your own home or wherever you choose to open your laptop computer.”

He said during much of the 129-year history of the Church Historian’s Office, the position was held by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency.

That changed in 1972, he said, when Leonard Arrington was appointed as Church historian overseeing the newly created History Division. That was also the year the name Church Historian’s Office was changed to Church Historical Department.

Prior to that, the role of Church Historian was held by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, even while he was president of the Salt Lake Temple. He resigned when he became President of the Church in 1970.

Elder Snow quoted Andrew Jenson, a prominent assistant Church historian of the early part of the 20th century, as saying when his work was coming to an end that “a greater work will be done by future historians as the Church grows.”

For much of the time, the Church Historian’s Office was staffed by typists and clerks. “Today, the department is comprised of divisions, the names of which give us a glimpse of the variety of work that is done in the Church History Department. These include the Publications Division, the Library Division, the Museum Division, the Historic Sites Division, the Records Preservation Division, the Global Support and Acquisitions Division.”

The department received its current name, the Church History Department, in April 2008.

Elder Snow spoke individually of numerous men and women who in turn have fulfilled Andrew Jenson’s forecast that “a greater work” would be done.

In 1972, Arrington and other historians in the department were transferred to Brigham Young University, where they comprised the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History. The reunification of the institute with the Church History Department occurred in 2005, and the men and women of the institute became primarily what is today known as the Publications Division of the department.

“This was a happy time for us, which resulted in a particularly productive time of remarkable work,” Elder Snow said. “Never before has Church history been able to assemble such a team of bright scholars as now exists in the department.”

Many of the team now work with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, he said. “Building on the work of Dean Jessee and others, the Joseph Smith Papers was launched in 2001 while still at BYU with the mandate to publish a comprehensive edition of the papers of Joseph Smith.”

Four years later, the project relocated to the Church History Department. At the rate of two volumes published each year, the project will be completed by 2022.

“We have currently published 15 volumes and expect to have a total of 27 in the series,” Elder Snow said. An internet edition is on track to be completed by the same date and eventually will include even more volumes than are being published in the print edition.

Elder Snow spoke of other products and projects of the department, including The First Fifty Years of Relief Society and At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women.

“I believe those who have gone before will be pleased with what is happening today,” Elder Snow said. “Never before have we been able to assemble such a group of people as we have now in the department. The resources we are able to spend on Church history would surprise and delight historians of the bygone era.”

For a period of 16 years, no one held the position of Church Historian and Recorder. That changed in 2005 when Elder Marlin K. Jensen was called to the position.

“In my opinion, no one person is more responsible than Marlin Jensen for the modern-day Church History Department,” Elder Snow said. “His right-hand man was Richard E. Turley Jr.” He had long been the managing director of the department before becoming assistant Church historian and recorder. He was recently appointed as the Church’s managing director of Public Affairs.

Reid L. Neilson, succeeded Turley as managing director of the Church History Department and in 2015 became assistant Church historian and recorder. The department had two men in that position until Turley was named to his current position last year.

“My tenure as Church Historian and Recorder has now reached the five-year mark,” Elder Snow said. “It certainly has been the highlight of my Church service.”

Department successes he listed include the influence of the Joseph Smith Papers on Church curriculum materials and modifications to the headings of the Doctrine and Covenants sections; a global initiative in preserving Church history materials around the world; development of the Priesthood Restoration Site in Harmony, Pennsylvania; renovation of the Church History Museum with its new “The Heavens Are Open” exhibit; and expanded internet offerings, including the George Q. Cannon journals, the “Pioneers in Every Land” feature, and a pioneer missionary database.