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Scholars moving to S.L.

BYU closing research institute dedicated to early LDS history

Published: Tuesday, June 21 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

A handful of scholars researching the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will move to Salt Lake City after the closure of a research institute at Brigham Young University dedicated to LDS history.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins confirmed Monday that during a meeting Friday, academic vice president John Tanner told religion faculty members the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History would be closed.

The LDS Church issued a press release Monday saying those working on the institute's major research interest — the Joseph Smith Papers Project — will all "soon be housed together in one location at church headquarters."

"Bringing together nearly all those working on the project in a single location will enhance collaboration, increase productivity and accelerate publication of archival materials dealing with the life, mission, teachings and legacy" of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, the statement said.

The project — which includes journals, correspondence, discourses, written histories, business and legal documents either drafted by or concerning Joseph Smith is "the most important church history project of this generation," said to Elder Marlin K. Jensen, who was recently named church historian.

He told the Deseret Morning News the change was "chiefly motivated by the importance of the Joseph Smith project and the difficulty we've experienced" advancing the work "at an acceptable pace and within acceptable cost limits."

Finishing the work — estimated to be between 25 and 30 volumes — will take at least another decade, he said. Local businessman Larry H. Miller and his wife, Gail, have provided "the bulk of the financing" for the project through their private foundation. "He's enough of a businessman, he wants some bang for his buck," Elder Jensen said.

The Smith Institute's closure doesn't preclude other LDS historical research that will still take place in several academic departments at BYU, he said.

A commission of the National Archives endorsed the Smith Papers project late last year, "assuring that the highest scholarly standards are being employed in all phases of the work," the release said, adding "BYU will promote research on Latter-day Saint history through its regular academic departments rather than a separate research institute."

"In addition, BYU will create a new Joseph Fielding Smith Fellowship program to encourage research at the university in Latter-day Saint history," the release said.

Jill Derr, director of the institute, said the announcement came as no surprise.

"This change has really been in the works for at least six months. As early as last fall, our faculty began earnest discussions" about the future of the institute and the Smith Papers project.

Six full-time faculty members work under the auspices of the institute and many are close to retirement age. How to replace them and work with faculty carrying a full teaching load has been of some concern, she said.

While the Smith Institute had its beginnings at the LDS Archives in Salt Lake City, Derr said the institute is not a repository for historical documents, but rather serves as a resource for scholars.

Momentum has also been building within the LDS Archives since the appointment of Elder Jensen as church historian and the announcement in April of a new five-story, 250,000-square-foot Church History Library and archives vault.

"They have been planning for several months or years how to make church history available to a wider audience of church members and others," Derr said. "Their growing strength as a center for church-sponsored history has had an impact on us."

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