Exploring a Primary Resource

by Lesley Williams

I discovered the existence of the Jonestown tapes during my internet research on Jim Jones, and was immediately interested in hearing the voice of the man I was studying. I had visited many websites during my search, but the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple website was the one with the most primary source information.

As a fourth-year sociology student at the University of Alberta, I had registered in a class on sectarian groups. The major assignment we had in the class was to write a term paper on the group or leader of our choice in any context. The tragedy at Jonestown had always been of particular interest to me, because it stands out as a monumental instance of the impact that sectarian groups have. I wanted to look at a leader who was pivotal in altering the way the world thought of deviant religions, and Jim Jones seemed to be a definitive example.

Library research turned up standard articles and books which constituted the majority of my evidence, however, and I wanted to supplement this basic information with some firsthand support. Through a search engine, I came upon the Alternative Considerations website. The opportunity to obtain copies of actual tape-recorded speeches and sermons given by Jim Jones was exactly what I was looking for. This source of information proved to be a valuable asset to my research into the behavior and beliefs of Jim Jones.

Admittedly, when I began my research, I had a limited knowledge of Jim Jones and his beliefs. This understanding was primarily the result of preconceived notions about the events and people surrounding the Jonestown tragedy, including Jones himself. The literature on Jonestown and Jim Jones is plentiful, but as is the case with all analyses of monumental events and characters, they are subject to the biases of the individual who is writing them. It is important to contextualize Jones’ ideas, comments, and theories, not merely take another author’s understanding of the text as absolute truth. I wanted to be able to interpret Jones’ teachings and sermons on my own, and the tapes proved to be the only way I could hear what Jones himself had to say. It was also important to discover whether the evidence in the tapes supported my thesis. As it turns out, the tapes were beneficial in backing up my ideas about Jones, his ideals, and mental state.

The tapes I obtained assisted my investigation into the character of Jim Jones and helped to expand my knowledge of the group and its eventual end. The horror of Jonestown continues to resonate for me. Listening to the audio of this event unfolding is a truly sobering experience. Without the benefit of these tapes, I feel that my research and final paper would not have been as effective as they turned out to be. I hope this valuable service will continue to enlighten others and preserve the memory of those who were lost in Guyana.

Last modified on March 13th, 2014.
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