Church Historian’s Press Inaugurates Histories Series

The Church Historian’s Press is pleased to announce the launch of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers. The first volume of the series, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, is now available for purchase. The volume contains several highly readable and interesting accounts of Joseph Smith’s life and of the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The volume’s editors are Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen.
The day the church was established, a revelation to Joseph Smith commanded, “There shall be a record kept among you.” Despite lawsuits, financial problems, violent opposition, and the difficulties attendant to life on the western frontier of the United States, Joseph Smith and other church leaders created a rich historical record, including letters, compilations of revelations, minute books, letterbooks, financial and administrative records, and Joseph Smith’s journals. Additionally, they endeavored to write the story of the church’s “rise and progress” in general and the story of the church’s founder in particular. Their various efforts to write this narrative are found in the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers.
Volume 1 of the series includes the six histories that Joseph Smith himself wrote, dictated, or closely supervised. He first set about recording his own history in the summer of 1832. In it he recounted for the first time in writing, and what would be the only time in his own hand, his first vision of Deity and the discovery of the gold plates. Two years later a more ambitious project, the 1834–1836 history, was initiated. This history drew largely on existing records, including Oliver Cowdery’s account of the translation of the Book of Mormon and the conferral of priesthood authority. Like the 1832 history, this manuscript remained unfinished.
In April 1838, Joseph Smith began work on a new “history of this Church from the earliest period,” the work that would eventually become the multivolume History of the Church. Volume 1 of the Histories series presents in parallel columns for easy comparison the three earliest surviving manuscripts of that history: an 1839 draft covering the period from May 1829 to September 1830; a sixty-one-page excerpt (from the volume later known as A-1) drafted from 1839 to about 1841 that covers the time from Smith’s birth through late 1830; and a close parallel to the A-1 excerpt, a circa 1841 adaptation by scribe Howard Coray. A portion of the A-1 account was later canonized as “Joseph Smith—History” in the volume of Latter-day Saint scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price, thereby becoming the most widely known church history for the period it covers.
The fourth narrative history in this volume, “Extract, from the Private Journal of Joseph Smith Jr.,” is not in fact taken from any journal but was based largely on Smith’s 1839 petition for legal redress. It is his personal, and sometimes highly emotional, response to the injustices and depredations he and his family suffered in Missouri. “Church History” (familiarly known as the “Wentworth letter”) and its near-twin document “Latter Day Saints,” both of which Joseph Smith signed as author, are important declarations to the non-Mormon world of the history and beliefs of the church. They include the statement of beliefs now known as the Articles of Faith.
An appendix to the volume presents the text of Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, which includes the first printed account of Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity and upon which Joseph Smith based his own account in his “Church History” article.
Four additional histories, assigned by Joseph Smith but not dictated or supervised by him, will form the content of Histories, Volume 2, which will be published in fall 2012. The balance of the Histories series, published electronically at the Joseph Smith Papers website, will present the entirety of the massive multivolume history initiated in 1838. Volumes one and two of that history are already available online.
As with all other volumes of The Joseph Smith Papers, the documents found in the volume will be posted on the project website at a future date. Histories, Volume 1, along with all previously published volumes of The Joseph Smith Papers, is available for purchase through Deseret Book Company, the distributor for the project, and many other booksellers.