March 25, 2011

From the JSP Blogger Event: On future print and digital publications

I was honored to be among the company of Mormon bloggers invited to meet with editors of the latest Joseph Smith Papers volume on Wednesday. The meeting was unprecedented and very enjoyable. Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley, who edited the new volume with Robin Scott Jensen and Riley M. Lorimer, met with bloggers in the Cumorah Room at the new Church History Library. It was another example of Church employees reaching out through new media to publicize and explain the work they do.

During the meeting I live-blogged a few photos and added a brief video clip of Richard Turley's introductory remarks, which a few of the bloggers who were conferencing in online missed due to early technical glitches. After each editor took 10 to 15 minutes to describe their work on the current volume they opened the floor for Q&A. It was a pretty brave move but I think they felt comfortable enough with the audience. Nate Oman of Times & Seasons asked Turley why they thought bloggers would be a good audience for such a meeting, so I'll defer to him on that question (if he decides not to blog it I'll happily do so later on).

Meanwhile, Larry Richman from put a post together to describe the new book. Ardis of Keep-a-pitchin-in fame wrote a great post reflecting on the impressive new JSPP volume, and Clair Barrus at Mormon-Chronicles added his .02. I assume blog posts from FPR, JI, BCC, and a few other places are forthcoming [Links to JI and FPR have been updated].

I need time to digest the new volume before putting a review together but during the Q&A I asked about the potential contents of future volumes. The JSP team originally but tentatively projected to print about thirty printed books. It has subsequently been scaled back to around twenty volumes. Not that any less content will be released; the change affects the format in which content will be published. Some materials will appear online only, rather than in print. Eventually all print items will be available online, though.

During the Q&A Turley discussed a few factors which help determine what items appear in print, verses those which will only appear online. In answer to a question from Nate Oman of Times & Seasons, Turley suggested that some of the online-only material would be legal/business related:

Richard Turley: So there's obviously a huge public interest in Joseph Smith's journals. A lot less public and scholarly interest in Joseph Smith's receipts, for example, or some of the business or legal materials. So for us it seems to make more sense...

Nate Oman: ...I would be very interested...

Turley: Yes! And I am too and we have a crew here, Nate, of lawyers who are extremely interested in those kind of things.

Riley Lorimer: You can still have them, they'll just be on the Internet.

Turley: You'll get them, but they'll be in electronic form.


Turley: One of the challenges with doing a huge project like this is that you're starting at the beginning before the whole thing is formed at the end. It's kind of like, you can see the Conference Center through the windows here, those of you who are in this room. The Conference Center was a design/build project where you did the first drawings and started the construction project before the building had even been finished in the design phase. And a ten to twenty year project like this is that kind of project. You start off with what you know, and then you work your way along and when you're done you know what it's gonna be, but you don't know the end from the beginning. [Some of the documents] may not be materials that Joseph Smith produced by his own hand, but then again there aren't many materials that Joseph Smith produced by his own hand [which will be included]. So one of the challenges that we face is defining what is a Joseph Smith document. We have, I'll say, discussions, sometimes even close to arguments about that question...

Robin Jensen: ...Sometimes very heated discussions, yes...


Turley: ...Every time we have a volume we have to decide, well what are the boundaries of the volume, what goes in what stays out. I can't tell you how many days have been spent discussing that question.


Turley's description echoes the JSPP website's rubric of inclusion:
The Joseph Smith Papers Project is not a “documentary history” project comprising all important documents relating to Joseph Smith. Instead, it is a “papers” project that will publish, according to accepted documentary editing standards, documents created by Joseph Smith or by staff whose work he directed, including journals, revelations and translations, contemporary reports of discourses, minutes, business and legal records, editorials, and notices. The project also includes papers received and “owned” by his office, such as incoming correspondence. (

Volumes on the immediate horizon include more Joseph Smith journals (dates still being divided), papers used in the compilation of the History of the Church, and various legal and business documents. In the meantime, more of the already-published documents (revelation manuscripts, etc.) will periodically be rolled out to the growing JSPP website, which is a pretty killer website.

The new volume (Revelations and Translations vol. 2) contains the first published versions of the revelations (Book of Commandments, The Evening and Morning Star runs, and the first two editions of the D&C), but it does not provide all of the necessary historical context, which is what the Documents series of the JSPP will include. In that series each revelation will be published with its own historical introduction including contextual annotation.


BHodges said...

Right on cue, looks like the Newsroom was waiting for my blog post before officially announcing the release of vol. 2 of the Revelations and Translations series:


J. Stapley said...

Thanks for the write-up, BHodges. It was a fun meeting and your top graphic is excellent.

BHodges said...

MS Paint, my friend. Always MS Paint.

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