by Joseph Smith, Jr.; Dean C Jessee; Mark Ashurst-McGee; Richard L Jensen Book
Review of Journal Series Vol. 1 by a Librarian   (2009-10-12)
This is the first of a projected 32 volumes of documents relating to the life of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When completed, the 32 volumes will be grouped into six series: 1) Journals, 2) Documents, 3) Revelations and Translations, 4) History, 5) Legal and Business Records, and 6) Administrative Records. This first volume is part of the three-volume Journals series.
As the first volume in the Journals series, this volume includes a general introduction to Joseph Smith and his papers. It also contains the series introduction which informs the reader of the class of documents in the series, the criteria for inclusion, and other information helpful to understanding the Journals series. This volume also includes a volume introduction, which provides background on the historical setting of events relevant to the included documents and an introduction to important themes and issues. Finally, the introductory matter includes a statement of editorial principles as readers would expect from a documentary work.
This first volume in the Journals series covers Joseph Smith’s journals dating from November 28, 1832 to October 15, 1839. This early period of the Church is geographically centered in Kirtland, Ohio where the most intense doctrinal and organizational development of the Church took place. Therefore, these documents are important handwritten foundational documents for anyone researching early Latter-day Saint history. The reader should be aware that only about 35 of the more than 1,500 manuscript pages were actually written by Joseph Smith himself. While some of it was dictated by Smith, the majority of it was written by clerks based on their own observations. Nonetheless, these clerks where some of Smith’s closest associates and keen observers of his life.
On the volume’s companion website (<a href="http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/">www.josephsmithpapers.org</a>), the editors state that “each volume is designed and will be used principally as a reference work, not as a narrative to be read straight through, cover to cover.” Indeed, some readers may find this volume tedious reading. The entries range from the mundane to significant events that are recorded in some detail.
The content of this volume has been published before in 1992, but not under the rigorous standards under which the Joseph Smith Papers Project now operates. The National Archives and Record’s Administration’s National Historical Publications and Records Commission has endorsed the project, an indication that the scholars and editors working on the project have demonstrated high professional standards in gathering, transcribing, and annotating the documents. These same editors have provided a multitude of editorial notes and annotations to guide the reader through the volume, including much more background and reference materials than the 1992 publication.
The text is presented using a sophisticated system of markup which indicates who the writer was and the medium on which the words were originally placed, as well as symbols to indicate strikeouts and insertions. There are some photographs to give the reader an idea of what the document pages actually looked like. Additional photographs of the manuscripts can be found on the companion website mentioned above.
From a librarian’s perspective, there is a flaw in this volume’s design. There is no index in the back of the book. Instead, the editors plan to publish a cumulative index in the last volume of the series. The companion website does have a searchable index to this volume, and librarians, or anyone for that matter, can order a free bound copy of the index from the publisher. However, this requires librarians to catalog and keep track of the separate index and make sure it gets placed beside the volume on the shelf. Many library patrons will likely not notice the index and check out the volume with the assumption that there is no index. The cumulative index will not solve this problem, since it is likely the volumes will get checked out separately by various patrons, and the cumulative index will not be available for users wanting to check out volume 1. Whatever the case, checking out multiple volumes just to get the index is a hassle that the editors should have spared their readers. Hopefully, this design flaw will not be continued in future volumes.
However, the separate index is hardly enough to mar what is an excellent work of editorial scholarship that provides the reader with unprecedented editorial assistance in gaining insight into the life of Joseph Smith.
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