“Ambitious” Project to Make Masterworks of Latter-day Saint Scholars Digitally Available

Contributed By Jan Hemming, Church News contributor

  • 15 July 2019

George H. Durham, left, John A. Widtsoe’s youngest grandson, looks over the shoulder of John W. “Jack” Welch—BYU law professor, Widtsoe Foundation Distinguished Scholar, and guest speaker—during a Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The digital collection of John A. Widtsoe’s writings will be searchable by topic, key word, or title.
  • Other scholars' works also will be digitized, becoming the Latter-day Saint Scholars Archive.
  • The collection will be valuable to religious scholars of all denominations as well as to Church members.

“John A. Widtsoe’s insights into religion, education, and the functions of the universe are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.” —Kari Robinson, chair of steering committee

With the goal of using digital technology to bring the masterworks and religious writings of Elder John A. Widtsoe to scholars and the public around the world through digital technology, the John A. Widtsoe Foundation and Widtsoe family descendants have jointly announced the Widtsoe Family Collection.

Elder Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1921 to 1952, was one of the most prolific Latter-day Saint scholars of his time, having written nearly 30 books; more than 700 magazine articles, speeches, and conference talks; various radio addresses; and dozens of religious tracts and pamphlets.

His repository is often considered the foundation of modern Latter-day Saint scholarship, yet most of his writings are inaccessible—either out of print or in archival collections. Some of his definitive works include “Rational Theology,” “Priesthood and Church Government,” “Discourses of Brigham Young,” “Joseph Smith as Scientist,” “The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants,” and “The Word of Wisdom.“

The aim of the Widtsoe Family Collection is to bring these doctrinal writings into the public light and “put Latter-day Saint scholarship in conversation with other religious scholars from other denominations,” said Dr. Laura Redford, director of the Widtsoe Family Collection.

“It’s something religious scholars who are studying the principles of the Latter-day Saint faith or how our doctrine has been interpreted over time will find very useful,” said Redford, who has taught at UCLA and Scripps College.

To make such information useful, the digital collection of Elder Widtsoe’s writings will be searchable by topic, key word, or title. Audio and video recordings of Elder Widtsoe’s will also be part of the collection.

Church members will also find value in the database when preparing a Church talk or lesson. ”It’s meant to be free and open to the public,” Redford said.

The Foundation will digitize documents that are only presently on paper and will address necessary copyright permissions. In addition to published books, the project will draw on archive materials held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, various university collections, historical societies, and members of the Widtsoe family.

The first phase of the digital database is expected to be online before the end of 2019. Works by other prominent Latter-day Saint scholars and theologians will follow. All of these individual collections will become part of what will be known as the Latter-day Saint Scholars Archive.

Kari Robinson, Elder Widtsoe’s oldest great-grandchild and chair of the Widtsoe Family Collection steering committee, said: “John A. Widtsoe’s insights into religion, education, and the functions of the universe are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime. His intellect was far-reaching, and his level of curiosity and devotion to the cause of truth was never ending.”

A special kick-off event was held in January at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the anniversary of Elder Widtsoe’s birthday. The nearly 80 attendees included Widtsoe descendants, scholars, educators, archivists, and friends.

Larry Eastland, president and founder of the Widtsoe Foundation, said the Widtsoe Family Collection is “without question, the most ambitious digital database project involving Latter-day Saint scholars ever undertaken by any organization and will expand the reach of his scholarship globally to scholars of all faiths.”

He added: “This will be the first of several collections from other eminent Latter-day Saint scholars, making it what we believe will be the most important collection of Latter-day Saint scholars in the world.”

Larry Eastland, president and founder of the Widtsoe Foundation, far right, speaks with other attendees of the Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Attendees to a Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Thursday, January 31, 2019, look over John A. Widtsoe’s autobiographical book “In a Sunlit Land.” Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Guests listen to a guest speaker during the Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Carolyn Durham Person, John A. Widtsoe’s granddaughter, attends the Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Dr. Laura Redford, Ph.D., Widtsoe Foundation board member and director of the LDS Scholars Archive and Widtsoe Family Collection, speaks during a dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

John W. “Jack” Welch, the Robert K. Thomas professor of law at BYU and a Widtsoe Foundation Distinguished Scholar, speaks at a dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard H. Madsen, John A. Widtsoe’s great-grandson, speaks during a Widtsoe Family Collection dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.