Special Feature

December 12, 2017
Special Feature
The Joseph Smith Papers Conference
Author The Joseph Smith Papers Project

In 2017, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released volumes five and six of the Documents series, covering major events from the life of Joseph Smith during the years 1835–1839. To celebrate the publication of these volumes, the project held a conference on 20 October at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, the first of its kind for the Joseph Smith Papers. The conference papers showcased scholars' work that built on the information found in these volumes, helping to demonstrate how The Joseph Smith Papers provide great research potential for the study of not only Joseph Smith's life but also early Mormon history generally.

The presenters came from a variety of backgrounds and discussed a variety of topics. The conference started off with a roundtable led by volume editors Brent M. Rogers and Mark Ashurst-McGee on Documents, Volume 5 and Documents, Volume 6. Then, in the first panel, Robert M. Call (Utah State University), Alexander L. Baugh (Brigham Young University), Benjamin E. Park (Sam Houston State University), and Nicholas Davis (Brigham Young University) discussed dissent, Danites, and disciplinary methods in the early church. In the second panel, J. Chase Kirkham (Claremont Graduate University), Steven C. Harper (Church History Department), and Jonathan Neville (independent scholar) spoke on Joseph Smith's millennial beliefs, his accounts of the First Vision, and letters written by Oliver Cowdery that give greater insight into Joseph Smith's history. The final panel featured Barton E. Price (Indiana University), LaReina Hingson (Gallaudet University), and Kenneth Alford (Brigham Young University), who talked about Mormon migration, treason charges against Latter-day Saint leaders, and the influence the other prisoners might have had on Joseph Smith's well-known Liberty Jail letter.

Matthew J. Grow, one of the project's general editors and director of the Church History Department's Publications Division, also made a special announcement at the conference: The Church History Department has received approval to publish William Clayton's Nauvoo-era journals. These journals are one of the best contemporaneous sources for understanding Joseph Smith's activities as well as Latter-day Saint life in Nauvoo between 1842 and 1846. Grow said of the upcoming project, "In the past, discussion of Clayton's journals have focused on the relatively small number of passages that discuss controversial issues, such as plural marriage. But, perhaps, the real value of Clayton's journal lies in the hundreds of other entries that describe the contours of life in Nauvoo. Readers will feel the faith of the Latter-day Saints as boatloads of emigrants arrive in the city and build their Zion. They will witness the immense burdens on Joseph Smith as a Church, civic, and business leader. They will hear Joseph's words delivered to the Saints in public sermons and spoken to Clayton and others in private. Readers will sense the dread of the Latter-day Saints as persecution mounted and Joseph was killed. They will see how Brigham Young and other Church leaders struggled to plan a way forward and find a place of safety for the Saints. Finally, they will feel the sacred witness of Clayton and the joy of the Saints as they participated in temple ordinances prior to beginning their exodus. Clayton is a reliable, faithful guide for these critical years in Latter-day Saint history."