By AT News Team, July 21, 2015: Last Thursday (July 16), the centennial of the death of Ellen G. White, the most prominent cofounder of the Adventist movement who held credentials as an ordained minister for most of her life, about 50,000 pages of her unpublished letters, diaries and manuscripts were released on a web site operated by the White Estate. This is the same collection that has for a number of years been available to researchers and students at several White Research Centers located at Adventist universities around the world.
The materials date from 1845 to early 1915. They are typed transcripts of her handwritten originals prepared by typists under her supervision or White Estate staff. Some of the handwritten originals no longer exist.
The first release of White’s materials that were not published during her lifetime was the book Medical Ministry published in 1932. In that same decade researchers began to be permitted to study unpublished and original materials at the White Estate office with the provision that nothing could be published without permission from the estate trustees.
White’s will named five trustees who inherited her literary materials and copyrights, explained Andrew McChesney, news editor of the Adventist Review, in an article last week. She “had written especially strong counsel to some of them,” Dr. James Nix, director of the estate, is quoted by McChesney. “So they were not excited about the materials being released. If you were president of the General Conference, why would you want some pastor in the middle of the United States reading about you from the pulpit?”
In the 1980s the research centers began to be set up with copies of the files of unpublished materials, and the rules for researchers were softened. Today all of the individuals named in the materials and their close relatives are dead, so there is really no problem with the materials being made public.
Over the years since that time a number of books have been published that are “compilations” of both unpublished and published materials on specific topics. The original versions of all her periodical articles, pamphlets and books are also currently published.
Nix does not “expect any surprises to emerge from these documents,” McChesney wrote. “The materials have been gone over by researchers for years,” he quoted Nix.
Last year the first volume of an annotated version of this collection was published. It is planned to eventually publish the entire collection in a scholarly set of reference books with background notes on all of the names mentioned, discussions of the issues covered in the materials, etc. The first volume includes both a transcription and photographs of the handwritten original of the oldest White document, a letter from 1847.
“This is a watershed moment in Ellen White studies,” wrote Adventist historian Dr. Michael Campbell in a review of the volume in the most recent issue of Andrews University Seminary Studies (Spring 2015, pages 228-233). He referenced two other significant books on the same topic that have come out in the last two years. (See list below.) But, Campbell cautioned, “Since the first volume took well over a decade to produce, and only covers a small fraction of [the 8,000-plus documents], unless the level of production increases, at the current pace the project will take over two centuries to finish.”
Campbell urged the White Estate to involve a network of Adventist historians to help with the process. He also suggested that future volumes need to include information on the cultural context of the materials. For example, “the notion of the ‘cult of domesticity,’ which defined the roles of men and women during antebellum America” is ignored in the volume.
A link to the newly-released collection appears at the top of the White Estate’s Web site: www.ellenwhite.org
The three new books on White and her literary production:
Timothy L. Poirier, editor (2014). The Ellen G. White Letters & Manuscripts with Annotations, 1845-1859. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, editors (2013). The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Terry Dopp Aamodt, Gary Land and Ronald L. Numbers, editors (2014). Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet. New York City: Oxford University Press.