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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Joseph Smith Papers New Beta Web Site: "Marvilous [sic] Experience"

Sometimes the Church produces something that only scholars and their toadies get excited about. However, the Joseph Smith Papers probably has something for everyone. Since I now abhor buying or collecting books I wasn't optimistic that I would be able to read them. The new beta web site claims ALL the papers will be available digitally and only selectively published in hard copy available from Deseret Book.
Joseph Smith (1805–1844) was the founding prophet and first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Joseph Smith Papers Project is an effort to gather together all extant Joseph Smith documents and to publish complete and accurate transcripts of those documents with both textual and contextual annotation. All such documents will be published electronically on this website, and a significant number of the documents will also be published in print. . . For the first time, all of Joseph Smith’s known surviving papers, which include many of the foundational documents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be easily accessible in one place.
The new beta site explains the project, lists the people involved and generally has some nice information. The "Search" feature is pathetic but that is usually the case for Church sites. It suggests that information technology people are more involved than librarian/information science people since there is nothing like boolean operators, proximity searching or truncation or anything else that august group would consider basic and essential.


All in all, it seems like a worthy addition to the Church's digital efforts. In sum:
The publication of Joseph Smith’s papers two centuries after his birth opens a window on a life filled with what he called “marvilous experience.
The following paragraph caught my eye as I was meandering around the site:
His enemies may have feared Joseph Smith all the more because he was formidable personally. Josiah Quincy, soon to be the mayor of Boston, visited Nauvoo in spring 1844 with Charles Francis Adams, son of former American president John Quincy Adams. Quincy compared Smith to the Rhode Island congressman Elisha Potter, who had impressed Quincy in Washington. Quincy said both Smith and Potter “were of commanding appearance, men whom it seemed natural to obey,” who emanated “a certain peculiar moral stress and compulsion which I have never felt in the presence of others of their countrymen.” Peter Burnett, one of Smith’s attorneys in the aftermath of the Missouri war and later governor of California, saw the steel in his client’s character. “He possessed the most indomitable perseverance,” Burnett wrote after watching Smith’s conduct in prison. He “deemed himself born to command, and he did command.” By comparison, church counselor Sidney Rigdon, though a man of superior education and fine appearance, “did not possess the native intellect of Smith, and lacked his determined will.”
Only Quincy evaluates Joseph Smith in this quote but Adams' name caught my attention. After reading about Adams in Prophets of Regulation by Thomas McCraw, and using it in teaching administrative law, I have real respect for his wisdom and judgment. I would hope Adams informed the Quincy evaluation.


From my management background anything that hints at management philosophy and style evokes my interest and this passage suggests volumes. These are outsiders commenting on Smith, not starry-eyed Mormons. They did not use the term "charisma," but it is probably appropriate.


Elder Marlin K. Jensen wrote an Ensign article explaining the project. There is a special Mormon Radio program devoted to it as well (podcast).


Elder Jensen talked a little bit about the program when he came to the Kansas Olathe Stake for stake conference earlier this year. He also promised us a legal history of the Church.


There are great things at work in the Historian's Office these days.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm an editor on the JSPP and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your feedback. I'm working with the web developers to improve the search tool, and although there actually is some Boolean and truncation functionality, I agree that we've got some ground to cover. If you have more feedback that can help us improve the search tool, we'd welcome it. Just use the feedback button at the bottom of any page on the site.

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