White Estate Announces Web Access to All Letters and Manuscripts
by AT News Team
The Ellen G. White Estate has announced that all of the manuscripts and correspondence of the cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be available online no later than July 16, 2015. The release will be part of the 100th anniversary of her death and eventually include all the incoming correspondence from others through 1915.
At a meeting on January 4 the White Estate board discussed the issue, “including [her] diary material being typed and digitized [and] publicly available on its Website,” according to a statement released February 3 by James Nix, executive director of the Estate. Online access to the complete White materials has been a point of contention throughout last year with an anonymous group announcing that it had the materials and would release them, followed by a lawsuit filed on behalf of the General Conference accusing a group of stealing the materials, although only one member of the group was identified and he was outside the jurisdiction of the Federal court in Baltimore where the suit was filed.
The Estate “first voted in 1983 to start annotating the letter and manuscript collection for the purpose of … eventual release,” Nix said. “Volunteers were enlisted to begin the process of digitizing … the entire collection, a project that continued into the 1990s. Verification of the accuracy of what was digitized continued until 2005.”
In the 1930s , after White’s son, W. C. White, released some materials on his own, a policy was adopted that set up a cumbersome procedure for the approval of any release of her unpublished materials. This policy was modified over the years, Nix stated, and ended in 1991, in anticipation of releasing all of the materials. For a number of years all 23 of the Estate’s offices around the world—most of them housed on the campuses of Adventist colleges and universities—have had a complete digital copy of the materials which has been made available to any legitimate researcher.
The first two volumes of the complete manuscripts and letters have been fully annotated and are being prepared for publication this year and next by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, the statement says. The first volume will include all materials authored in the years 1845 through 1859, and the second volume will include all materials from 1860 through 1863.
Annotation is a major concern of the Estate, the statement reveals. Considerable work has been put into notes that describe “the background and contexts of the individuals, theological concepts and historical situations mentioned in Ellen White’s letters and manuscripts.” The board has on more than one occasion had to readjust its estimate of how much work was involved, including a 2001 decision to fund a full time staff member for this project. There is clearly a concern that many Adventists will read these materials very literally and without proper context misunderstandings will arise.
Nix points out that because of the increase in competent historical work by Adventists, this has become less of a concern over time. He notes that a number of biographies of key personalities written by scholars have been published in recent years, as well as online access to almost all of the original periodicals published by the church through the General Conference Archives web site; the Adventist Digital Library will soon be available through the Center for Adventist Research at Andrews University, and the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia will be published in the next 12 to 24 months.
The Estate has about 8,300 documents totaling some 50,000 pages, dating from 1845 when the teenage White began her ministry until her death in 1915. White was the most influential of the three individuals who led in the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The other two were her husband, James, and Joseph Bates, who was a generation older than the young couple. She outlived both men by many decades.
Plans for observing the 100th anniversary of her death in 2015, as announced by the Estate, include at least three key events and the release of many hours of audio and video taped oral history interviews with persons who knew White, including her daughter-in-law and several grandchildren. The plan also includes specific dates in 2015 when the correspondence of her husband and her two sons will be released online.
The events marking the anniversary will include a commemoration on the last Friday evening of the 2015 General Conference Session and a special weekend in July 2015 at Pacific Union College and nearby Elmshaven, her last home. A scholarly symposium on Ellen White will be held at Andrews University, October 15-18, 2015.