One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansawyers were busy trying to protect not only their homes and property from destruction by Confederate and Union armies, the citizens of the state were also trying to protect their history. This week in 1863, concerned citizens met in Little Rock for the purpose of creating a State Historical Society.
With historical events happening across the state under their noses, this was a ripe time to protect and record past and current events for future generations to remember. As paper shortages in the South curtailed any official methodology of recording the State’s past and present history, “The early history of the State is fading away as the old settlers die, yet much might be saved by committing it to writing. A great drawback is the scarcity of writing paper in some counties, but, for the present, memoranda can be made on scraps of paper and preserved until they can be fairly copied.”
Among the events happening in the present, according to the 1863 Little Rock newspaper article, that needed to be written down by Arkansas citizens were military actions by both armies: “Let these men know that they will live in history… Officers and soldiers are requested to communicate with the society and should a diary be kept of marches, battles, skirmishes, or narratives of prison life, copies of these will be thankfully received.”
The battles and skirmishes throughout the state during the Civil War was only part of our history in Arkansas and a newly-created historical society would be charged with the curation of the entirety of Arkansas’ history as a whole. “When the war shall have ceased and printing material can be obtained, steps will be taken to procure a library, a gallery of Arkansas pictures and suitable rooms. Publications will be made of all the interesting and valuable material that may be collected. The secretaries will be entitled to copies of all publications by the society. Pictures, sketches and drawings of men and places in Arkansas; descriptions of interesting localities; in fact, everything concerning our State, will be thankfully received.”
There are numerous historical archives throughout the state today that house millions of volumes on historical events spanning from prehistory to the present. These archives are houses in public buildings, private collections, universities, and libraries. Because of the valiant efforts of our forefathers in trying to maintain our historical record, today historians pour over pages and pages of research that lead to new interpretations of Arkansas historical events. For this, we thank you.