The Joseph Smith Papers website, which has been in beta since October, was officially launched last week.
The purpose of the Joseph Smith Papers project is to make widely available all the writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The goal is to publish meticulously prepared transcripts of every document Joseph Smith wrote, dictated, or had others write for him, along with detailed notes helping explain the context and substance of the writings.
The project also includes documents Joseph Smith received and kept in his office, such as incoming correspondence. Much of the content will be published in 20+ printed volumes, but the website will contain the comprehensive set of documents—thousands in all—free of charge.
You can view the new Joseph Smith Papers site at josephsmithpapers.org.
At present, the website includes images and transcripts of about 425 documents, including five of Joseph Smith’s personal journals, the earliest copy of dozens of revelations, and the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book.
The site features biographies of hundreds of people mentioned in the writings as well as a Google map tagged with hundreds of place markers and descriptions of locations relevant to Joseph Smith’s life. There is also a chronology of the Prophet’s life, a glossary, and a library with maps, charts, and historical photographs.
As you navigate the site, you can see transcripts and images of every page of every document. You can see the original handwriting and zoom in to view individual words and even letters. Seeing the yellowing paper and the actual writing on the page, with smears and ink spills and all, really makes Church history come alive. It’s like having these 180-year-old documents in your hands.
You can see the original documents for many of the letters, revelations, minutes, and other historical records. Each of the document transcripts is tagged with people, places, events, topics, and dates. For example, when the name “Oliver Cowdery” appears in a letter, you can click on it and a short biography pops up.
This tagging also allows faceted searching. From the Search page, you can narrow the pool of search results to include only those documents that have Emma Smith tagged, or relate to Adam-ondi-Ahman, or were written in 1835, and so on.
Because the site deals with complicated transcripts, including canceled text, insertions, illegible portions, and multiple scribes for some documents, it has been a challenge to construct an XML schema that handles all possible scenarios, and it has taken months and months of work to get the transcripts to render correctly on the website.
With so many moving parts to the project, from text specialists deciphering hard-to-read words to genealogists researching the lives of Church history figures to archivists obtaining rights to publish images of documents held by other libraries, it is a constant challenge to coordinate all the steps and make sure all the pieces are in the right place at the right time.
As such, the Joseph Smith Papers project is a tremendous effort. But we know the site will help all people—from historians to teachers, writers, students, and others—get to know the life of the Prophet Joseph better, to find the materials they need to better examine and contextualize and illuminate his life.
Although the site is officially launched, we still have many more documents to add. We plan to release new documents every few months. Some of the key plans of the upcoming roadmap include the following:
- Provide a comprehensive calendar of documents that lists all known Joseph Smith documents, including those no longer existing.
- Expand the chronology to more fully capture Joseph Smith’s day-to-day life.
- Upload excerpts from the Joseph Smith Papers television series, where Joseph Smith experts talk about the papers and the life of the Prophet.
For a brief overview of the project and the website, see the introductory video on the front page at josephsmithpapers.org and this introductory essay.