Religious Education and the Joseph Smith Papers Project

Research Update

Alexander L. Baugh

Alexander L. Baugh ( was a professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU when this was published.

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In the late 1960s when Dean C. Jessee, a researcher in the Church Historical Department, began compiling and editing the Prophet Joseph Smith’s personal writings, he could not have foreseen the scope the project would achieve. Following years of painstaking research and editorial work, Jessee compiled, transcribed, and edited a number of the Prophet’s personal journals, histories, and letters, published as The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), along with a revised version in 2002. In the meantime, Jessee sensed the need for a more comprehensive work, resulting in The Papers of Joseph Smith, Volume 1: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), and The Papers of Joseph Smith, Volume 2: Journal, 18321842 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992). These volumes, in particular, demonstrated the need for a multivolume work to document the surviving Joseph Smith manuscripts.

Beginning in 2001, the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP) was launched with the goal of publishing a scholarly multivolume edition of all papers created by, or written under the direction of, the Prophet. The goal was to provide a complete transcription of the extant documents, including historical background information as well as contextual annotation. The published series, projected to be around twenty volumes, will include Joseph Smith’s personal journals, documents (correspondence, revelations, editorials, notices, and notes), revelations (the earliest manuscript texts and revelation books) and translations, histories, legal and business papers, and administrative documents. In addition, an online edition of each volume will feature documents that were related to the project but not included in the print version.

The JSPP was initially inaugurated under the auspices of the Church Archives in collaboration with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, under the direction of general editors Dean C. Jessee, Richard L. Bushman, and Ronald K. Esplin, with Esplin overseeing the entire project as managing director. Under Esplin’s direction, a team of volume editors, researchers, historians, archivists, documents specialists, writers, consultants, production managers, and staff members were brought together to form the project team. Significantly, in 2004, the project received the endorsement of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), thus demonstrating the JSPP met the scholarly standards for documentary editing. In 2005 the Smith Institute was dissolved, and those working on the JSPP were transferred to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, where they continued their work. Presently, the JSPP is under the auspices of an executive committee, headed by Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder; Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky of the Seventy, assistant executive director; and Richard E. Turley, assistant Church historian and recorder. It includes a three-person editorial board and a national advisory board composed of four renowned historians, three of whom are non-LDS.[1]

When the JSPP began, three professors of Church history and doctrine at BYU with doctorates in American history were invited to be volume editors for the project: Alexander L. Baugh, Andrew H. Hedges, and Steven C. Harper. Professor Hedges was assigned to be a coeditor for Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, while professors Harper and Baugh were assigned to be a coeditors for Documents, Volume 3: 1834–1835, and Documents, Volume 4: 1836–1838. Significantly, each of these scholars conducted their research, editing, and writing while maintaining a full-time university teaching load. The initial drafts of their volumes have been completed and submitted to the project’s senior editors for final review before publication.[2]

In 2008, Steve Harper took on additional responsibilities associated with the JSPP when he was appointed to assist in the transcription of two revelatory collections known as the Book of Commandments and Revelations and the Kirtland Revelation Book. The completed work was published under the title Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelations Books (Salt Lake City: The Church Historians Press, 2009), and was the second volume in the JSPP to appear in print. Even more recently, Brian M. Hauglid, a professor of ancient scripture, has been asked to provide historical context, analysis, and commentary for the volume containing documents associated with Joseph Smith’s Egyptian collection.

In addition, three emeritus professors from Religious Education have acted as consultants and advisers on the project: Richard L. Anderson, Larry C. Porter, and Milton V. Backman. Finally, in 2008–9, several faculty and emeritus faculty members participated as commentators in the filming of the Joseph Smith Papers television documentary series produced by KJZZ-TV. These included Richard L. Anderson, Milton V. Backman, Alexander L. Baugh, Richard E. Bennett, Susan Easton Black, Steven C. Harper, Andrew H. Hedges, and Larry C. Porter from Church history and doctrine; and Brian M. Hauglid, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews (now deceased) from ancient scripture.[3]

Religious Education is honored to be a partner in the JSSP, which Elder Marlin K. Jensen calls “the single most significant historical project of our generation.”[4]


[1] For more information about the Joseph Smith Papers Project, visit

[2] In May 2010, Andrew H. Hedges accepted an appointment as a historical researcher with the Church Historical Department, where he works full-time on the JSPP.

[3] Beginning in 2008, the documentary series aired each Sunday evening on KJZZ-TV. The series can now also be seen on KBYU-TV and BYU-TV. The first season (fifty-two episodes) has been released in DVD format as The Joseph Smith Papers Television Documentary Series: Season 1 (Salt Lake City: KJZZ-TV, 2009). The second season is projected for release in September 2010.

[4] R. Scott Lloyd, “‘Historian by Yearning,’” Church News, May 28, 2005, 12.