We’re happy to present Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Matt Grow, the editor of the Church’s new Saints volume. There’s a ton of positive response to this new official history of the Church. It appears to have hit the sweet spot of accuracy yet readability for typical members. I’m pretty impressed with it, although I’ve not yet had time to read much. I can’t wait to see the next few volumes.
The full interview is available at the link. Here are a few excerpts. I hope you read the full interview though.
There are at least six key differences between Saints and these previous histories. First, Saints is a narrative history. The goal is to tell a completely accurate historical story using the tools of literature so that it’s accessible to a very wide audience.
Second, Saints deals more forthrightly with potentially controversial issues (seer stones, plural marriage, etc.), presenting them within the larger narrative of the Restoration and the Church’s history.
Third, we have a lot more information now than was available to Joseph’s scribes or to B. H. Roberts, a result of decades of research in Latter-day Saint history and of recent projects such as the Joseph Smith Papers.
Fourth, Saints is a multi-layered history, consisting not only of the core narrative but also “Church History Topics” (found on-line and in the Gospel Library app) that explore roughly 120 more issues in greater depth. The Topics in turn point to other relevant resources for those wanting a deeper dive. And the online versions of Saints also links from the endnotes to hundreds of primary sources, found in digital format on the Church History Library catalog and elsewhere.
Fifth, the Church has globalized in dramatic ways since 1930. Often, past Church histories have focused largely on the Joseph Smith era, with some coverage of pioneer Utah. Saints has one volume on the Joseph Smith era, one on the pioneer Utah era, and two volumes that will tell the story of the globalization of the Church in the 20th century. It is also a global history in that it is available in 14 languages.
Finally, much more than the other multi-volume histories, Saints includes the voices and experiences of women.
To me the most fascinating aspect of the history is it’s narrative sometimes lyrical style. It really reads much like a novel making it much more accessible to regular people turned off by academic histories. Grow’s comments on including not only historians in the production but creative writers highlights this.
Our team includes both historians and creative writers. While the historians sometimes write draft material, most of the writing itself is left to creative writers. We’ve been fortunate to hire excellent writers, including Scott Hales (who is the “story editor” for the series), James Goldberg (creative nonfiction), David Neilsen (a poet), Melissa Leilani Larson (a playwright), Elizabeth Maki (background in journalism), and Angela Hallstrom (a novelist).
It’s hard not to see this as a huge success. I confess I was a bit dubious about how it would turn out when I heard the Church was doing this. Kudos to the team that put this together. They really seem to have done an amazing job. I’m sure over time people will find parts they quibble with – things they think should have been dealt with in more detail or small mistakes. But that’s true of most works. Most importantly I think by engaging the history in a warts and all approach yet in a faithful manner should prevent those claiming the Church was hiding information from them. This really is an outstanding achievement.