The release of new content on the Joseph Smith Papers website provides readers with an illuminating walk back in time as documents disclose new chapters in early Church history. The latest release includes the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, hundreds of miscellaneous documents from 1840, Parley P. Pratt’s two volumes on the Church’s persecutions, the Book of the Law of the Lord, and the introduction to the Manuscript History. All are priceless for their historic value. The work of historians, editors, and text and imaging experts who study the documents and prepare them for publication is a story behind the story. The way technology is being used to tell that story is truly remarkable!
Nathan Waite, one of the editorial managers for the project, explained how the Joseph Smith Papers management team works together to choose what to work on first. Nathan’s primary function is to manage the website, and he likes the fast-paced work needed on many fronts to get the documents up there. With so much to sift through, he and his team have determined that getting the Documents series on the web is a high priority, and they are adding documents to the website all the time. Once documents are online, historians and researchers are able to access them and add introductions, source citations, and footnotes. Editors then polish and prepare the books for publication. The volumes are printed, and then more of the textural and contextual annotations are added back into the website, so earlier documents have more background material.
The process starts with text and imaging experts who work with the documents to take high-resolution photos and make high-resolution scans from which the accompanying transcripts are built. Developers build that coding that allows publication of the transcripts and images, along with rich XML tagging. This serves researchers who study and compare documents. Photographs are taken using a 39-megapixel camera, with carefully controlled lighting and sophisticated software, to create digital images so sharp and detailed that individual fibers in the paper are visible. Those images could then then be viewed, enlarged, and examined by researchers. Today, technology makes detailed images appear very clear on the web, and methodologies for studying and examining records is greatly enhanced by very smart search engines.
It might interest you to know "The Book of the Law of the Lord" reveals some interesting aspects of how records were kept in Joseph Smith’s time. This volume contains ornate language, the handwriting of multiple scribes, and is faded almost beyond recognition. Inside are revelations, journal entries, Nauvoo temple donations, and many other interesting passages. This shows how history is found in fragments in different places at different times. Similarly, revelations, discourses, and directives from Joseph Smith appear in obscure places in hundreds of individual documents scattered among more mundane papers in the collection of documents. Historians compare texts, establish timelines, and reconstruct events from these fragments and clues.
Also, Joseph Smith did not speak from prepared sermons very often, especially not at the beginning. Stenographers and scribes did not accompany him everywhere he went. People hurriedly took notes, or went home and wrote what they remembered in journals. Some wrote letters and passed along exciting new doctrines. As a result, sometimes revelations appear in several places and then in newspapers before being printed in books we recognize today.
How does this help when you visit http://josephsmithpapers.org? You may see a dauntingly huge website and not know where to begin. For the visitor who spends some time looking, the calendar, videos, biographical links, search aids, and especially the historical and editorial commentary add a richness that makes history come alive.