The Joseph Smith Papers: an academic step forward for the LDS Church

Morgan Allred
The volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers are available in print and online. (Morgan Allred)

The Joseph Smith Papers is an ongoing project by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in conjunction with many other scholars to publish all of Joseph Smith’s documents.

Gerrit Dirkmaat, an assistant professor of church history and doctrine at BYU, works on the project.

He explained the LDS Church’s history department is attempting to combine all of Smith’s important documents into one place, similar to projects with other important leaders in American history. Officials are also including footnotes and other extra information and explanations to help readers understand each document’s context.

This group of documents — now contained in a series of books — is one of a number of publications the church has released in recent years, including the new Gospel Topic Essays found on the church’s site.

Many across blogs or other forums have said they are surprised by the newfound openness of the LDS Church. Critics have said they believe the church has tried to hide its history from its members in the past.

Alexander L. Baugh, department chair of church history and doctrine at BYU, has worked on the Joseph Smith Papers for more than 15 years. He emphasized the thought and effort that have been put in to make sure everything in these volumes is historically accurate and that everything is included.

“These volumes will live for a long time,” Baugh said. “They will be the most authoritative source on Joseph Smith.”

Baugh said his work on the papers is the highlight of his career and the highest honor he could hold.

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