The Prophets Have Spoken, but What Did They Say?

Examining the Differences between George D. Watt’s Original Shorthand Notes and the Sermons Published in the Journal of Discourses


From 1851 to 1868, George D. Watt took shorthand of hundreds of speeches given by LDS leaders. A few of his shorthand notes were preserved but were inaccessible to researchers because no one could read the Pitman shorthand. Some notes have now been transcribed. These notes reveal that extensive rewriting and polishing was done between the taking of the notes and the publication of these speeches in the Journal of Discourses. No longer should scholars rely on the edited versions of these speeches to learn the speaking style, character, and personality of these speakers. This article presents notes from several speeches and full transcripts of two of Brigham Young’s speeches, making it easy to compare the original shorthand, Watt’s longhand transcript, and the published version.

About the author(s)

Gerrit Dirkmaat is an assistant professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. He is a coeditor of volumes in the Documents and Administrative series of the Joseph Smith Papers, which includes the forthcoming Council of Fifty records. He received his PhD in American history from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2010, where he studied nineteenth-century American expansionism and foreign relations. His dissertation was titled “Enemies Foreign and Domestic: US Relations with Mormons in the US Empire in North America, 1844–1854.” He is the co-author, along with Michael Hubbard MacKay, of From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon. He served as the senior assistant editor of Diplomatic History from 2003 to 2009.

LaJean Purcell Carruth is a historian/writer at the LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, with over forty years’ experience transcribing documents written in Pitman shorthand, Taylor shorthand, the Deseret alphabet, and Pernin shorthand.


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