"The claims the church makes are in its history," said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, church historian and member of the Seventy. "It seems logical to have a Church Historian's Press."
Although this publishing effort may never have its own separate printing facilities, its staff and efforts will utilize those of church-owned Deseret Book initially and perhaps someday even the facilities of the church's own existing printing services, too.
"We don't have a publishing plant (of our own)," he said.
The first printing project will be "The Joseph Smith Papers," a documentary series comprising up to 30 volumes. Elder Jensen said these are "the single most significant historical project for our generation."
The "Papers" are a collection of "journals, diaries, correspondence, articles and notices," he said, "everything of a written nature Joseph Smith generated, or over which he had oversight."
The news media were shown Joseph Smith's 1835-1836 journal, an original copy of what became Doctrine and Covenants Section 45 and some correspondence by Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma.
"There is something really faith-promoting about being able to see these (original copies)," Elder Jensen said.
Some of the "Papers" will include high-definition photos of original documents and a side-by-side typed script. Others will simply have a typed script.
Elder Jensen believes this church effort is along the lines of recently published papers on the United States' Founding Fathers. Like them, the church's effort is also endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a division of the National Archives.
"Our hope is something similar to the Founding Fathers documentary, to really get to know these men, to share their lives with us."
Yale University professor Harry S. Stout, a member of the Joseph Smith Papers' national advisory board, said the endorsement by the Records Commission is important. "It conveys the commission's conclusion that the staff and procedures of the Joseph Smith Papers meet the NHPRC's rigorous scholarly standards for transcription and annotation and that the edition will be accurate and professional."
Elder Jensen also said the "Joseph Smith Papers" "underscore the great value the church has always placed on its history. This is an invitation for anyone interested in the history of the church to read the foundational documents related to its beginning and development."
The 30 volumes will take 10 to 15 years to publish. The first two volumes should be released later this year. They will sell for $39.95 a copy. Limited leather-bound collector copies will also be available for $129.95.
"This initiative will offer a very deep pool of primary sources for researchers to dip into," Ronald Esplin, one of the project's general editors, said. "It will help lift the overall standard of scholarship as there will be greater self and peer accountability in future writings that will be produced dealing with early Mormon history."
Elder Jensen said eventually the entire collection will likely be available for free online, because that's the future of publishing.
Following "The Joseph Smith Papers" will be other projects, with the journals of George Q. Cannon scheduled and approved next.
Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and his wife, Gail, created an endowment to help fund the "Joseph Smith Papers" project. A big desire of the Millers is for millions to "know Brother Joseph again," Elder Jensen said.
He also stressed the office of church historian is provided by scripture.
"It's a commandment to keep records, a scriptural admonition to publish it," he said.
More information on the project is available at www.josephsmithpapers.org.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company