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Liftoff! The Joseph Smith Papers Are Published

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 19, 2008

Jot it down in your diaries, folks: the day is finally here. Today, the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers – Vol. 1 of the Journals series, covering 1832-1839, edited by Ronald K. Esplin, Dean C. Jessee, & Richard L. Bushman – is off the press, out of the bindery, and being trucked to the editorial team even as you read this.

This volume is not only the long-anticipated firstfruits of the Joseph Smith series, but is also the maiden volume of the new The Church Historian’s Press. Long life to the press, and best wishes for many future projects!

As you probably know, the Joseph Smith Papers project is a comprehensive collection of the papers created by Joseph Smith, and those papers created by others which constitute the primary record of his life, edited according to the highest scholarly and documentary editing standards. These volumes are intended to be not chiefly a biography of Joseph Smith, and not chiefly a history of the Church, but rather an authoritative publication of the raw materials of history which historians and scholars will use to inform their own biographies, histories, and analyses. To serve that end, extraordinary efforts have been made to present letter-perfect transcriptions with scholarly research into authorship, handwriting, provenance, and other details critical to the authentic use of the documents in secondary studies.

It is anticipated that the project will eventually result in approximately 30 volumes, divided into six series:

  • The Journals Series
  • The Documents Series
  • The Revelations and Translations Series
  • The History Series
  • The Legal and Business Series
  • The Administrative Series

Congratulations to all those who have worked toward this publication (and fie on all those – including me, I’m ashamed to admit – who ever said we’d believe it when we saw it).

Vol. 1 will be delivered within the next few days to the usual outlets, including: DeseretBook.com, the source advertised by the project itself; BenchmarkBooks.com*, which is offering a 20% discount on Vol. 1 and a 10% discount on later volumes to those who subscribe to the series through Benchmark; and Amazon.com, with its typical discount.

*Not to imply that I have a favorite seller of Mormon books (**cough** Benchmark **cough**), but since Benchmark’s website doesn’t have a shopping cart at the moment, you might find this contact information useful:

Benchmark Books 
3269 So. Main Street, Suite 250 
Salt Lake City, UT 84115 
801-486-3111 
801-486-3452 (fax) 
800-486-3112 (orders only) 
Hours: Mon. – Fri., 10-6; Sat., 10-5 
Visa, MasterCard, and Discover or check or money order 



34 Comments »

  1. Excellent.

    Comment by Mark Brown — November 19, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  2. Arrgghh. I am financially ruined (I made a terrible $200 bet with J. Stapley).

    Comment by Justin — November 19, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

  3. Maybe J. won’t notice, Justin. He doesn’t pay attention to things like this, does he? 8)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  4. Yeah, we likely won’t be hearing from Stapely for quite a while.

    I had no idea there was this much stuff available. 30 volumes? Wow.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 19, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  5. Justin (#2), suggest a liberal application of Windex (unless Ardis has a more effective, church-approved product culled from her 1907 ads) to your publishing-attuned Seerstone. Indeed perhaps Master Stapley has overlooked this development, having donned his genuine replica of Brigham Young’s patented, sand-deflecting blue goggles {not Googles) for the duration of the stock market’s girations, or has heeded counsel that ’tis better to give than receive.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — November 19, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  6. Pony up, big man.

    All I can say is: Huzzah!

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 19, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

  7. Wow, the End Times are here! Just in time for Christmas.

    Comment by Steve Evans — November 19, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  8. J: don’t feel bad; there are several people who lost bets because of this.

    I, as well as several of my JI peeps, are now owed dinner at Tucanos from a certain person.

    Comment by Ben — November 19, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  9. that consolitory not should be addressed to Justin, not J.

    Comment by Ben — November 19, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  10. I am very excited by the fact that these will eventually be made available online for free.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 19, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  11. Good point, Jacob — the volumes should be part of the josephsmithpapers.org website.

    That website will be a handy place for them to post any corrections or omissions that may make their way into the project despite everyone’s best efforts.

    Like the index for Vol. 1. I just heard that they have issued Vol. 1 without an index, rather than holding up publication to wait for the completion of an acceptable index (the first one was not acceptable). They plan to post the index online. Bummer.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

  12. Ardis: It is my understanding that they will print a small paper index that can fit in at the end of the volume for those who want it. That, as well as the online version, should be available around Dec. 12 when the volume was originally planned to be available.

    Also, they will have a comprehensive index for all three of the Journals volumes at the end of Journals 3. Still a bummer, but at least somewhat acceptable.

    Comment by Ben — November 19, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  13. That’s very good news, given the alternative. Thanks, Ben.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

  14. Justin,

    Did you check the point-spread? Maybe you still have a shot at pulling this out.

    Or, could you possibly get the refs to review the call? Maybe reverse it? There’s gotta be some way to save that $200.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 19, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  15. First off, great news. Congratulations to Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard Jensen, Ron Esplin, and the many others that have put in so much time and effort over the last several years to get Journals 1 into print. Getting this out is a bigger deal for them than anyone not associated with the project can fathom.

    That said, we’ve waited this long, what’s a few more weeks for a completed project? Indexes are crucial. It doesn’t make any sense to me that they’re rushing it out incomplete a few weeks early.

    Comment by David G. — November 19, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  16. Thanks for the announcement, Ardis. Hopefully this gets the ball rolling on the rest of the volumes.

    Indexes are crucial. It doesn’t make any sense to me that they’re rushing it out incomplete a few weeks early.

    Amen.

    Comment by Christopher — November 19, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  17. That said, we’ve waited this long, what’s a few more weeks for a completed project? Indexes are crucial. It doesn’t make any sense to me that they’re rushing it out incomplete a few weeks early.

    Hear, hear! Send the books back and add indexes. I can wait until, oh, say, the first week of January.

    Comment by Justin — November 19, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  18. I think — I don’t know; I’m hearing hallway gossip at least fourth-hand away from anybody who was in on the decision — that Elder Jensen wanted to hold publication until the index was ready, but some of the editors and financial backers didn’t want the embarrassment of having to postpone publication yet again, and he was pressured into agreeing to it. A separately printed index for tipping in is a decent solution if they absolutely had to go ahead, but I think people who are willing to cough up so much cash for a printed book deserve a little better and would rather have waited another couple of weeks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  19. Maybe you can argue that the books aren’t really “out” until the indexes arrive, and see if you can get those delayed past January 1.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 19, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  20. Not to be construed as taking sides in the J. / Justin wager! 8)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  21. I’m hearing hallway gossip at least fourth-hand away from anybody who was in on the decision — that Elder Jensen wanted to hold publication until the index was ready, but some of the editors and financial backers didn’t want the embarrassment of having to postpone publication yet again, and he was pressured into agreeing to it.

    Your hallway gossip is correct.

    Comment by Anon_this_time — November 19, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  22. I’m not taking sides either, but I do like a good, thorough index.

    Comment by Researcher — November 19, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  23. […] After years of waiting the Joseph Smith Papers are finally published. […]

    Pingback by Joseph Smith Paper : Mormon Metaphysics — November 19, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  24. Ardis, have you heard whether future editions will have the index once it is finished?

    Comment by Clark — November 19, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  25. Clark, I haven’t heard anything in particular, but since the intent even with this first volume was to have an index (one was prepared by an outsider preparer, but it didn’t meet standards, evidently), I think it’s safe to assume that they plan on indexes for each volume.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 19, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  26. The lack of the index in the first volume of the Journal Series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project was not all about embarrassment in postponing the volume several months. These volumes are research volumes and like all research volumes, indices are critical. So let’s imagine how these volumes will be used. Journals 1 covers the 1830s journals—an important and large part of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career. Anyone interested in the history of Kirtland, Jackson County, Zion’s Camp will go straight to this volume and an in-volume index would have helped out tremendously, no question about it. What about volume 2 and 3? The final two Journal volumes split up the Nauvoo diaries and an in-volume index would not be helpful for the most part. Doing research on the Nauvoo temple would necessitate going through two volumes’ indices and waste a lot of time. And what about developmental topics like Zion, the taw of consecration, temple worship, or Joseph Smith’s revelations? These topics are scattered throughout all three volumes. I, as a researcher, will not want to go through three indices to cover these topics. A comprehensive index is the best solution in my mind. Not without its problems, mind you, but certainly not a last-minute “oh-crap-what-are-we-going-to-do” kind of decision (many documentary editing projects have comprehensive indices as opposed to individual indices, thus the precedent is there).

    In saying all this, I’m not minimizing the pain it will be for the next five or so years. However, once all the volumes are out, a comprehensive index is going to save a lot of time. Until then, the online index will help researchers navigate Journals 1.

    Disclaimer: I work for the Joseph Smith Papers Project, so I’m probably biased in some way, but I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about the end-uses of these volumes.

    Comment by Robin Jensen — November 19, 2008 @ 11:10 pm

  27. It is especially helpful when someone involved in a newsworthy event takes the time to comment. Thank you, Robin.

    The four-volume set of Jenson’s Biographical Encyclopedia of the Church has a volume index in each of volumes 1, 2, and 3, with a cumulative index in volume 4. Everyone uses the cumulative index. Like you, I would not want to have to consult the index in each volume. However, volumes 1, 2, and 3 would have been extremely difficult to use in the years before volume 4 appeared, had it not been for those individual indexes. Whether they will be eventually superseded or not, an index is one part of the basic scholarly apparatus that we expect in reference books, especially in this generation when 3×5 cards have been replaced by sophisticated indexing tools.

    And while I have no reason to doubt that your work-arounds and precedents are valid, that all does seem to be after-the-fact rationalization rather than carefully reasoned decision-making, since an index was contemplated right up to the moment when building one would have further delayed an already much delayed publication.

    Comment by Evelyn P. — November 20, 2008 @ 6:32 am

  28. I’m currently looking through one of the volumes, and though i’m biased, I think it looks fantastic.

    Comment by Ben — November 20, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  29. I can’t wait to actually see one in the flesh (er, pulp?)

    And hurray for bias — you and Robin and everybody else who has worked for this has a right to cheer.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 20, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  30. Better not say “pulp” Ardis–even if that’s what the paper is made from.

    Isn’t “pulping” the fate of all those unsold volumes from the remainder tables?

    Comment by Mark B. — November 20, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  31. Just looked through the volume. I too, have a stake in the project and thus am biased, but I’m quite pleased with the finished project (missing index notwithstanding).

    Comment by Christopher — November 20, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  32. I know I am making a very late addition to this thread. The index for Journals, volume 1, will be posted on josephsmithpapers.org in late December 2008. A few weeks thereafter (in January 2009), typeset, printed, and perfect-bound copies of the same index will be mailed free of charge to those who request one. To make your request, see instructions at the following URL:
    http://josephsmithpapers.org/JournalsOneReference.htm.

    Comment by Eric — December 1, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  33. Anyone know when Amazon will have more of these books? I want one from there cause it is cheaper, but I heard Deseret Book was holding most of the copies for themselfs until after christmas, I guess they want us to spend 50 bucks for one from and not get a discount somewhere else.

    Comment by Jake — December 1, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

  34. Jake, today is the very first day that the book is released to the public (November 19 was simply the day the editors got their advance copies; you couldn’t have bought it ANYwhere that day). I’m not privy to Deseret Book’s private business decisions, of course, but I think it’s a little unfair to suggest this early that anything underhanded is going on.

    You can still order your book through Amazon.com at a discount, and it’ll come when it comes. Or you could buy it at Deseret Book and consider the lack of discount to be the premium you pay for insisting on having it now instead of when supply rises to meet demand.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 1, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

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