Preserving the History of the Latter-day Saints

by Steven C. Harper, Richard E. Turley, Jr.

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The Lord Himself regards the preservation of church history as something of great value. From the earliest days of the church, he has directed church leaders to create and preserve a rich historical record.

Several Latter-day revelations speak to the subject of church history. In them the Lord clearly says that he wants "a record kept" (D&C 21:1) and that the record is to be kept "continually" (D&C 47:3). The record is to include "all things that transpire in Zion" (D&C 85:1) and is to chronicle the "manner of life" and the faith and works of the Latter-day Saints (D&C 85:2).

These carefully revealed details of the Lord's program for preserving church history show the importance he places on this history. So does the timing of the command to keep a record: it was given even before the Lord began to reveal the essential details of church organization, procedure, and doctrine.

The Latter-day Saints continue to be a record-keeping people. In fact, there may be no other people on earth of comparable size who have a richer record-keeping tradition than the people nicknamed Mormons. It is part of the church's administrative system, reaching from small committees to the church's general conferences and from new members to the most senior leaders. Because of this tradition, scholars can readily evaluate Latter-day Saint history from a wealth of primary documents.

This book is a compilation of presentations selected from the annual BYU Church History Symposium hosted by BYU Religious Education. This symposium brought together historians, scholars, educators, and authors to discuss the importance of record keeping and preserving the history of the Latter-day Saints.

Marlin K. Jensen, church historian and recorder, delivered the symposium's keynote address. Assistant church historian and recorder Richard E. Turley Jr. spoke on the significance of his predecessors in that office. Other scholars addressed relevant topics that ranged from the church's earliest efforts at record keeping to the challenging task of preserving its complex and increasingly global history.

Readers will find these papers filled with the experiences and adventures of many who have taken seriously the commission to preserve the history of the Latter-day Saints.

Table of Contents
Preface Richard E. Turley Jr. and Steven C. Harper
Making A Case for Church History Marlin K. Jensen
Assistant Church Historians and the Publishing of Church History Richard E. Turley Jr.
"A History of All the Important Things" (D&C 69:3): John Whitmer's Record of Church History Scott C. Esplin
William Clayton and the Records of Church History James B. Allen
Developing a Historical Conscience: Wilford Woodruff and the Preservation of Church History Benjamin E. Park
Ignored and Unknown Clues of Early Mormon Record Keeping Robin Scott Jensen
Enlarging the Memory of Mormonism: Historian Andrew Jenson's Tales from the World Tour, 1895-97 Reid L. Neilson
Modern Efforts to Preserve Church History Ronald K. Esplin
A Generation of Church History: A Personal View Ronald O. Barney
Doing the Impossible: Documenting the Worldwide Church Matthew K. Heiss
documenting the History of the Church in South America: Recovering the Past Mark L. Grover

About the Authors

Steven C. Harper

Steven C. Harper, previously a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University and an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers series, is a historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After serving a mission to Canada and graduating from BYU, he earned a Ph.D. in early American History from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and taught for two years at BYU-Hawaii before teaching for a decade at BYU. He has written award-winning articles on Church history topics and is the author of several book, including Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants: A Guided Tour through Modern Revelations (Deseret Book, 2008).

Brother Harper has served in the Church as a Sunday School teacher, high councilor, and temple ordinance worker and as branch clerk while he taught at the BYU-Jerusalem Center. He and his wife, Jennifer Sebring Harper, are the parents of five children.

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Richard E. Turley, Jr.

Richard E. Turley, Jr., Assistant Church Historian and Recorder for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a member of the editorial board of the Church Historian's Press, which publishes The Joseph Smith Papers and other highly-acclaimed works of Church history. He is the author or co-author of several books, including How We Got the Book of Mormon and How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants, with William W. Slaughter; Massacre at Mountain Meadows, with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard; Stories from the Life of Joseph Smith, with Lael Littke; and Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case. In addition, he is the coeditor of the series Women of Faith in the Latter Days, with Brittany A. Chapman, and general editor of the print volumes of The Journals of George Q. Cannon. He and his wife, Shirley, live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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