On Wednesday, September 4, 2013, the Joseph Smith Papers Project hosted a launch party for journalists and bloggers to introduce the Documents Series, which will serve as the chronological backbone of the project. Previously, the project has released volumes from Journals Series (2), the Revelations and Translations Series (2, plus an oversized facsimile volume), and the Histories Series (2). The first volume of the Documents Series reproduces in chronological order all of Joseph Smith’s papers from July 1828 to June 1831, beginning with the earliest extant recorded revelation (D&C 3) and concluding with the historic church conference where the high priesthood (that is, the office of high priest) was restored. This was a foundational period in Mormon history, tracking the translation of the Book of Mormon, the recording of the first revelations, the organization of the church, the mission to the “Lamanites,” the beginning of Joseph Smith’s revisions of the Bible, and the beginnings of the first two gathering places of the church–Kirtland and Independence. The editors–Mike Mackay, Gerrit Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Bob Woodford, and Bill Hartley, along with other smart people at the JSPP who also contributed–contextualized these issues in commendable fashion. Although images and transcriptions of these documents have been available on the JSPP website for some time, the “value added” of the JSPP editors’ introductions and annotations is well worth paying for the print volume.
Church Historian Steven E. Snow offered introductory remarks, which were followed by Assistant Church Historian Rick Turley’s presentation of some of Joseph Smith’s earliest documents, including the prophet’s earliest surviving signature, the earliest surviving letter in Smith’s handwriting, and the Kirtland Revelation Book (which contains early copies of revelations). Historian Ron Esplin, who has long been one of the guiding figures of the JSPP, provided an overview of the Documents Series and how it relates to previously published series.
The press and bloggers were then permitted to break off into small groups and ask Elder Snow, other leaders of the Church History Department, and the editors questions about the project. I got to chat with editors Bob Woodford (long known in scholarly circles as the expert in Joseph Smith’s revelations, although the JI’s Robin Jensen is quickly claiming that title) and Bill Hartley (a retired BYU history professor and prolific historian), as well as the JSPP’s Managing Historian, Matthew Godfrey. I asked Godfrey how he saw the Documents Series in relation to the History of the Church (informally known as the Documentary History of the Church), the monumental nineteenth-century work that interspersed important documents within a narrative structure. He responded that the Documents Series would provide a far more accurate set of documents, although the JSPP editors have not sought to provide the same type of narrative framework as the earlier work. Having seen the first volume in pdf form, I can attest that the Documents Series will be an indispensable tool for historians and teachers seeking a detailed yet accessible account of a given time period. The scholars associated with the project have provided a great service, not only in the reliable transcriptions, but also the volume introductions, the individual document introductions, and the annotations. Individuals who are not specialists in, say, 1831, now have a “one-stop shop” that can be used in preparing lessons or to reference in their own work. The Documents Series may not be the “new Documentary History,” but it is a fantastic resource.
Unfortunately, complications on the printing side will delay the actual release of the printed volumes for a few weeks. I was able to see and flip through one of the few advance copies on hand and I’m excited to get my own copy soon. In addition, they provided pdf copies for those who attended the event. The Newsroom has some additional resources for interested individuals. The release of this first volume will be quickly followed by the second (covering July 1831-January 1833; edited by Matt Godfrey, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Underwood, Woodford, and Hartley), which should be out in early December.
 D1 actually contains a few documents that post-date the June 1831 conference, although the conference serves as a major bookend.
This post has been updated.