Joseph Smith Papers Available on New Site

  Chelsee Niebergall, Church News and Events

  • 6 June 2011

Article Highlights

  • Selections of the Joseph Smith Papers are now available online, free of charge.
  • For the first time, all of Joseph Smith’s known surviving papers (which include many of the foundational documents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) will be accessible in one place.

“For members of the Church there can be spiritual value in seeing the actual documents. If they see the words actually written on a piece of paper, it can … come to life in a new way.” —Eric Smith, production manager of the Joseph Smith Papers.

Selections from the Joseph Smith Papers, which until now have been available only in print, have been posted at www.josephsmithpapers.org and are accessible free of charge. The site debuted at the annual Mormon History Association conference in St. George, Utah, USA, on Friday, May 27, 2011.

Of the roughly 7,000 Joseph Smith documents in the possession of the Church History Department, about 425 are currently published on the Joseph Smith Papers site, Eric Smith, production manager, said. Patrick Dunshee, manager of marketing and communications for the Church History Department, said the department’s goal is to eventually publish all of the documents online.

“Our objective isn’t to make money but to share knowledge,” Brother Dunshee said.

Originally the Joseph Smith Papers were to include 30 letterpress (or print) volumes. Now, however, they will include about 20 letterpress volumes, with the rest of the content to be made available online. One of the reasons for the change, Brother Dunshee said, is that producing the print volumes is a lengthy and costly process. Key volumes with frequently referenced documents will still be published in book form, but the remainder of documents will be published on the website.

Three letterpress volumes have already been printed, including the first and second volumes of the Revelations and Translations series, which were released in 2009 and 2011, and the first volume of the Journals series, published in 2008.

Brother Smith said another reason for the shift to online publication is to gather all of Joseph Smith’s known surviving papers, which include many of the foundational documents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, into a single searchable database.

The main audience for the website is scholars and historians, as it will give them access to original material. Brother Smith said that now scholars of Joseph Smith, early Mormonism, and nineteenth-century religion will have access to all of Joseph Smith’s papers, and they will be able to make their own interpretations and provide an accurate history.

Because the project's core audience is scholars, and most of their work is done in English, there are no translation plans for the project.

The site links from the text of the Joseph Smith documents to glossary terms, biographical notes, and place names to give background information to site users. The interface includes an on-screen image of an original document with a transcription next to it. The site also provides users with search capabilities using names, locations, and other phrases as keywords.

Brother Smith said that in the future there will be a study guide or research notes aspect added to the site with highlighting and bookmarking tools.

“For members of the Church there can be spiritual value in seeing the actual documents. If they see the words actually written on a piece of paper, it can … come to life in a new way,” Brother Smith said. “When I see the actual documents, it is a moving experience.”