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A Summer’s Day

The other day, I was in my backyard, where I’m carving out a new garden plot, digging some trenches for the metal edging I was laying down. I started at 8:00 in the morning, but by only an hour in, I had already soaked through my shirt. The temperature had not yet reached 90 degrees, but the air was mercilessly still—even a slight breeze would have made it better. By 10:00, I was a sight. The ground being dry, every stab of the pickaxe cast up a cloud of dirt, and since my clothes were drenched by my own sweat, these clouds were slowly accruing in a thin layer of mud across me. After chugging several liters of water and …

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Booking It: Bibliographic Adventures with the EOA

Late last year, I wrote about how I ended up reading a selection of romance novels and other books of the sort I would not normally read, spurred on by a freelance writing gig. I imagined that these were amusing, one-time ventures, but little did I know what fate had in store. In early February, the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) was hit by a cyberattack that necessitated shutting down internet access for a few weeks, although it took even longer to restore to CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA) staff the server that houses the database we use to manage our various editorial processes, among other things. Through a variety of workarounds, and by keeping notes of everything we were …

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Department of Corrections: The EOA at 18

So the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas is now eighteen years old, having celebrated its birthday last week. I am told by my associate editor that I should write a celebratory piece, but all I can remember from my eighteenth birthday is registering for Selective Service at the post office and then going to the Craighead County Courthouse to register to vote. There was little in the way of celebration that day. The older one gets, the more complicated things become, and you start to learn that the some of the stories with which you were raised were either just outright lies or, at best, alloys of truth and folklore, truth and patriotism, truth and the ever-present desire to think ourselves …

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Everyone, take your seats!: An EOA Slideshow

Since the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas turns 18 years old on May 2 this year (in just over a week!), it made sense to me that there ought to be some kind of high school-style presentation. So, what’s this presentation about? I’m so glad you asked! I figured it’d be fun and interesting to take a look at our stats regarding entry content. When we categorize our EOA entries, the broadest categories we start with are: Event; Group; Person; Place; and Thing. A specific school is a Thing. The town where the school is located is a Place. The one in charge of the school is a Person; the fraternities on campus are Groups; and that thing that happened there that …

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Behind the Scenes at the EOA: April Fools’ Day Entries

By the time you read this, we here at the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA) will have posted our annual April Fools’ Day entry, and while everyone seems to appreciate them, you should know that I’m not just making stuff up. Or that I’m not making everything up in these entries. I undertake a lot of hard work to make things funny. You may have guessed at that level of effort, given that I did do a spoof version of the whole of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” for our entry, “The Possum” (2017). But that’s by no means the whole of it. When I was writing our 2020 entry, “Breeches Panic (1910s),” I scoured the 2008 Historical Report to …

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Oscars for Arkansas?

The recent Academy Awards celebration put me in mind of the many movies filmed in—or made about—Arkansas, if only because while the state has sent forth a number of talented people who have been nominated for—and won—Oscars, the state itself has generally not been significantly represented on Oscar night. Billy Bob Thornton received an Oscar for Sling Blade, filmed and set in central Arkansas, and John Wayne received one in 1970 for his role in 1969’s True Grit, a film that at least started out in Fort Smith, even if it went west from there. Also worth noting: Newport (Jackson County) native Mary Steenburgen won an Academy Award for her supporting role in the 1980 comedy Melvin and Howard, and Max Aronson of Pine …

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Book Flood: Exploring Free Will and Memory

Some years back, my wife read about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, which translates literally as “Christmas book flood” and entails giving and receiving new books on Christmas Eve. She liked the idea of this, and so each year we go to our local independently owned bookstore a few days before Christmas and try to find a book for each other. This past year, with Christmas occurring on a Monday, we would have the whole weekend before us for potential reading, and so she said, “We could get each other two books, just to make sure we have enough.” It does not take much to talk me into buying even more books. My two this time around were Robert Sapolsky’s …

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Tasting Other Wines

An early friend of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Bob Cowie, founder of Cowie Wine Cellars, once admonished me for saying something to the effect of Arkansans should only drink Arkansas wines. At the time, early in my tenure at the EOA, I had embraced a somewhat patriotic fervor when it comes to the state, and wine was one outlet for that enthusiasm. But Bob, although a fierce promoter of the state’s vintages himself, said to me: “As a winemaker, I’m always sampling wines that come from other states or other countries, because to make good Arkansas wine, I need to understand wine itself as much as I can. I have to inquire into what other states and wineries are …

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Embracing the Random

I believe that it’s important to add a bit of randomness to one’s life. We can be too often confined to our narrow tastes, especially in these days when unseen algorithms dictate much of what we see online or even experience in the real world. Preserving a bit of randomness is a survival technique for the mind and soul. I like to do this with books, especially. One of the best purchases I ever made was in Blytheville, Arkansas, where an old used bookstore was being emptied out by the owners of the building, with everything on sale at the cost of $40 per 500 items, or eight cents each. During this binge, I picked up a copy of a novel …

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The EOA’s Project Zelda

I wanted to call it Project Hogthrob after Link Hogthrob of The Muppet Show, but I was outvoted. Instead, it was named Project Zelda. This has been something with which we have been preoccupied of late, a project that involves revisiting every single entry we have on the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas. And I hope you’ll forgive me getting into a little bit of the technical side of this project, but I think that it will help you understand some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see how we are constantly working on not just adding to the EOA but improving existing entries. Our original website, designed by Little Rock–based Aristotle, generated URLs in a custom …

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The Root Systems of History

My long-suffering colleague Ali Welky, who manages the Roberts Library blog and this Encyclopedia of Arkansas blog, occasionally complains that my own contributions here too often take the form of rambling ruminations upon some book I’ve recently read that take a long time to tie back into the work we do at the EOA, and sometimes tie in rather indirectly. So to mix things up a bit, I’m going to do something different this time around. I’m going to reflect back upon two books I’ve recently read. Because I am a dynamic individual fully capable of embracing change. But actually, these books, both studies of the life and work of relatively contemporary European philosophers, have quite a bit to say …

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The Whole Story: What an Encyclopedia Can and Cannot Capture

Recently, I went to the memorial service for Grif Stockley, a well-known Arkansas lawyer, writer, and historian who died in January in Virginia, where he had been living to be close to his daughter. As we all told stories about the experiences we had had with Grif, it occurred to me that no biography, especially not something as brief as the entry on him in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA), ever really does justice to anyone’s whole story. No biographer could completely capture who Grif was as a person; as cliché as it might be, we all really do contain multitudes. I knew Grif largely as a fellow traveler in the world of Arkansas history, specifically the subset of …

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Tree of Talking: What Makes an Arkansan?

In his 1998 book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness down to Size, Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders introduces the concept of a “tree of talking.” The idea is that if I want to communicate something to you, I have to take my disparate ideas and images and distill those into a narrower term or phrase, and if you were to graph that out, it would appear like a tree going from top to bottom, as all the twigs lead into branches and the branches into a trunk. That concept, once delivered, expands in your head with its own series of associations and relations that may not always accord with mine. For example, if I wanted to convey to you a relationship …

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Homemade Soap versus the Chatbot

Now that everyone else has written think pieces about AI, it’s time that the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas weighed in. But first, let’s talk about soap. I like to buy handmade soap when there are vendors selling it at the local farmers’ market. I won’t argue that some homemade artisanal goat milk soap is necessarily better than the mass-produced stuff I also keep on hand. But my wife likes how it smells, and just as important, I like making it profitable for someone to keep this particular skillset alive. In my own life, I have a few basic skills that I have worked to cultivate. As you might guess, given that I’m going to a farmers’ market, I like to …

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Points of Pride: Identity and Language

June is Pride Month, the perfect time to talk about gender and orientation. I’m excited we live in a time and place where people are increasingly allowed to explore the gender identity and orientation that suit them, with the freedom to try things on and see what feels right, what rings true. Personal identity is just that—super personal! While many people are giddy to announce their gender and orientation to the world (Hi, I’m Jobe, she/her, and I’m bisexual!), others consider this type of information “none of anyone’s business.” Here at the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas, we’re always reviewing and updating our information, language, and category designations to stay as current and accurate as possible (see our evolving editorial policies …

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Get to Work!: Slouching toward the Absolute

“I might eventually write something, but right now I’m just enjoying the research too much.” I hear these words often, and they set me on edge each time. Usually, someone has just told me about some research they have undertaken, something that sounds really promising, something that could easily be an article or even a book. Not only do I like to encourage people’s personal and professional development, but I also know that Arkansas history as a field needs such contributions. And I’m also acquainted with more than a few editors in need of new submissions in order to keep afloat the journals they publish. Thus do I say, “You should write this up and submit it somewhere.” Then I …

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Illuminating History Outside the Headlines

I’ve been contemplating the nature of history recently, as we often do here at the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas. I’m sure that this is not a great surprise to readers of this blog. This contemplation stems, in part, from listening to an audiobook of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barbara W. Tuchman’s 1978 book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. She begins the book by listing the various sources we have for late medieval history, commenting on how they can easily skew our perception of the time period, especially given, as she notes, that no pope ever issued a papal bull for something of which he approved, but rather almost exclusively against something. Building upon this, she writes: Disaster is rarely …

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The Dark Matter of History

At the recommendation of a friend, I recently read The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by English literary scholar and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, which is one of those big, ambitious books that aims to weave together modern neuroscience with philosophy and literary history and the evolution of what we call “the West.” It is of a species with other books like psychologist Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, the sort of volume that is brilliant and compelling and would remain so even if its ultimate conclusion were later proven to be completely wrong. The basic rundown of The Master and His Emissary is this: The human brain is divided …

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The Foundation of Knowledge

Probably in late elementary school or early junior high, I began reading a lot of classic science fiction, especially the novels of Isaac Asimov. I was particularly entranced with his Foundation series, which begins in the waning days of the Galactic Empire. The mathematician Hari Seldon develops a discipline called psychohistory, which can within a margin of error predict the future of large populations. Using his techniques, he foresees the inevitable collapse of the empire and a dark age spanning dozens of millennia. To temper the resulting age of chaos, Seldon assembles a group of people on the planet Terminus, at the edge of the galaxy, to assemble the Encyclopedia Galactica, thus preserving all of human knowledge for the time …

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Dropping History Is Impossible

I recently had a student of mine, from when I was doing some adjunct teaching at the University of Arkansas Clinton School for Public Service, contact me regarding the possibility of her going back to school, this time for a PhD. What could I tell her about the program I myself attended? I could tell her plenty, but I was honestly concerned about her expectations. Right now, universities are producing far more PhDs than there are full-time jobs requiring such a degree. The latest American Historical Association jobs report noted that the number of tenure-track positions advertised from June 2020 to May 2021 had fallen to an all-time low of 167. Over that same time period, universities probably cranked out …

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Flipping the Page on the Modern Era

It’s hard to tell when you’ve turned the corner from one historical epoch to another. In fact, the argument could be made that very rarely is the break from one period to another so clean. Sitting in front of my television on September 11, 2001, the world felt like it had suddenly tilted hard, that nothing would be the same. But at a remove of more than twenty years, it becomes easier to see what happened post-9/11 as existing along the continuum of what came before. The United States intervened militarily in other nations but did not formally declare war, for example, continuing a “tradition” that followed World War II. Or you could also point out that the United States …

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Papers at Our Fingertips at the EOA and Beyond

Back in November I went back to the Arkansas State Archives for my first visit in more than a year, needing to access some railroad commission records, as well as a newspaper from 1933. I had spent a lot of time there in the early 2000s, when I was working on my dissertation on “racial cleansing,” or the expulsion of African Americans from various communities across Arkansas. Often, my research was predicated upon little more than census figures—so many people in one decade, compared with fewer the subsequent decade, numbers that spoke to the possibility of some act of violence. So, back then, with few options available to me, I just loaded a spool of the local newspaper on an available microfilm …

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Taking a New Stand on the EOA’s County Histories

I started reading Stephen King in junior high school, but I didn’t get around to his 1978 book The Stand before he released an expanded version, with more than 400 additional pages, in 1990. I imagine many an author has been tempted to go back and revisit an earlier work and really spruce it up or return to life all those passages a more market-oriented editor insisted be left behind, but only King had the cultural heft to make his desire a printed reality. The expanded version was the only one I ever read, so I have no idea whether his was a good idea, although it sold well enough, to be sure, and is the version fans generally consider canonical. Many …

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas as a Tool of Social Coordination

I’ve been pondering matters of terminology quite a bit here lately—namely, the limits of our words to capture anything like reality. This stems, in large part, from my own research into racial violence. There are fantastic debates among historians, sociologists, political scientists, and more about whether the term race riot is a useful descriptor that should continue to be employed. After all, what observable factors demarcate a riot in general, and what makes something a race riot in particular? Does not the term “race riot” contain a fair amount of historical baggage, especially the revelation in current reporting that it was the victims of the violence who, in fact, were doing the supposed rioting? How does a term like race …

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Arkansas History’s Ecosystem—and Your Place in It

The history community is like an ecosystem, with its various parts drawing energy and nutrition from other areas and, in turn, contributing energy and nutrition to other parts in ways that might not be immediately perceptible. This is a reality that confronts me nearly every day. You see, the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas does not exist, could not exist, absent the presence of numerous other institutions, such as local historical societies, university and college archives, public libraries, the Arkansas Historical Association, and many more. If the EOA were an organism, we might be one of those creatures on the seafloor, waiting patiently for the remains of fish and whales to drift their way. But that’s not really the best analogy, …

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Launches Redesigned Website

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA), a project of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), has begun a new phase of its life with a website redesign that improves the user experience for students, researchers, and the general public. “Since it launched in 2006, the EOA has become the premier resource on everything related to Arkansas history and culture,” said Nate Coulter, executive director of CALS. “These new changes will cement the position of the EOA not only within the state but also the nation at large.” The redesigned EOA offers: An engaging and user-friendly EOA homepage with trending/featured entries, new entries, and overview sections. A vastly improved search engine, including a combined entry and media search, refinement within categories, and …

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The Invisible Work Behind the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Work can be like the proverbial iceberg—you don’t see most of its mass because it is hidden under an expanse of water. That is to say that any job, even one with a predominantly public side, entails a lot of labor hidden from view of those being served. A teacher spends time not only in the classroom in front of students but also alone at a desk writing quizzes or preparing lectures. A server not only brings you food and refills your drink but also helps to unload delivery trucks and restocks condiments and napkins and more. Even actors who appear before the camera spend most of their time rehearsing lines, training in accents or fighting skills, and often providing …

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Creating a Fertile Field

If you have watched many movies from the famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, you have probably seen, in the bleak Scandinavian landscape he often depicts, ancient stone walls lining rural farmsteads or yards. These may seem like nothing more than a background detail while his characters in the foreground undergo exquisite crises of faith or identity, but those walls are not just utilitarian constructs but, rather, the very embodiment of generations of labor to make a living. In many locations, the Swedish soil is simply rocky, and making the land suitable for the plough entailed removing those stones, one by one, over years, decades, and centuries. I came to identify with this labor upon moving to central Arkansas. See, I …

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas’s Ever-Growing Media Collection: New Additions

Some of the most recent additions have come from Cabot’s Museum of American History and from the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. The Museum of American History, formerly known as The Museum/Cabot High, is the only student-founded and -operated museum of history in Arkansas. The award-winning museum, which is owned by the Cabot School District, was founded in 1985 on the campus of Cabot High School and was later moved to a building in downtown Cabot (Lonoke County). It is currently closed pending relocation to a new site. The museum holds a large number of historic Arkansas photographs, many of which were rescued from impending disposal. Founded under the guidance of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas’s staff historian Mike Polston …

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The EOA at 16: We’re Taking the Wheel!

“I am sixteen, going on seventeen…” sings the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas in its best Rodgers and Hammerstein Sound of Music teenager voice. Watch out on the roads—we’re old enough to DRIVE! Born (as in launched to the public as a work in progress—aren’t we all works in progress?) on May 2, 2006, the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a project of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is the only state encyclopedia in the country to be produced by a library system. The CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas strives to offer a definitive, comprehensive, and accurate record of America’s twenty-fifth state. The mission of this free online encyclopedia is to collect and disseminate information on all aspects of the state’s history …

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“Through a Glass Darkly”: Adapting to Evolving Language

Language changes. This fact is rather frustrating for us editors. And the irony is that, while online resources can most capably respond to changes in usage, they can also appear the most behind the curve. When many of the nation’s newspapers, for example, decided to capitalize the word “Black” in reference to African Americans, they could go forward doing exactly that and not worry about having to change material already published. However, if you produce an online resource with thousands of entries uploaded over more than a decade and a half, entries that you work hard to keep up to date, you have to work to revise all those previous works, because any entry could be someone’s first encounter with …

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A Vision: An Encyclopedia by All, for All

Do you have the right to write for the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas? I’ve had occasion recently to visit with some of the people who were on the ground floor of creating the Encyclopedia of Arkansas in the early 2000s (I did not join the staff until 2005). Amid general discussion about what they envisioned for the EOA, and how it all ended up, I learned about a debate that preceded my arrival—a debate about who should be allowed to write for the EOA. One of the first things founding editor Tom Dillard and others did to lay the groundwork was establish separate oversight and editorial boards in order to rope in a range of Arkansas history experts to help …

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Famous Couples of Arkansas

On this Valentine’s Day, we’re thinking about love in the Natural State, turning our focus to some Arkansas couples who have made an impact on the state, nation, and world. Click on the names in the title of each to read the full entry on the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Dale Evans and Roy Rogers Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash Elton and Betty White Dale Bumpers and Betty Bumpers Lucious Christopher (L. C.) Bates and Daisy Bates Thaddeus Caraway and Hattie Caraway

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The Winter of Our Content

Content. Those seven letters essentially make up one word with two somewhat different but related meanings (and different pronunciations). The first sense is the one evoked by a “table of contents,” for example, meaning something that is contained. In the second sense, the word can be used as either a verb or adjective, as with the sentences “Content yourself with what you have” or “I am content,” denoting a state of satisfaction. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Both senses of the word stem from the Latin continere, meaning “to hold together or enclose.” Contents constitute something held together, while to be content is to be enclosed in satisfaction. From this point on, I will distinguish the latter meaning by italicizing …

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History as Alchemy

Newspaper columnists and the like usually run a “the people we lost” piece this time of year, a collection of all the notable lives that were sadly extinguished at some point during the previous twelve months. The end of the year makes us ruminate a bit upon life and death, and assembling brief obituaries is fairly easy work. We have done it occasionally here at the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas. However, looking back across the space of this past year, it seems just a bit perverse to single out the “notable people” we’ve lost while so many people continue to die from the COVID-19 pandemic. Too, earlier this month, a couple of tornadoes plowed into the northeastern Arkansas towns of Trumann, Monette, and Leachville—all part of …

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A Strange and Historic Time: Chronicling the COVID-19 Pandemic in Arkansas

We are near the end of another year affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re taking stock of the work we’ve done at both the CALS Roberts Library and the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas to document this crisis for future generations. Just as we have the chance to learn from soldiers’ and others’ wartime experiences due to the work of the journalists and photographers who captured that history in real time and the archivists and historians who preserved it, we want to offer that same chance to future students of history. To paraphrase the popular musical Hamilton, “history has its eyes on us” during this unprecedented time. As one of a number of recent community history projects, the Roberts Library/Butler …

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Striving for the Elusive Complete Set

A complete set is a wonderful thing. When I was much younger and collected comic books, I always had to fill out whatever series I was collecting. The first comic book I ever bought was G.I. Joe no. 39, and it took me years to acquire all the previous issues, especially the rare no. 2. I kept reading that series longer than I should have because I hated the idea of not having a full collection. Crossovers could be especially dangerous for my pocketbook. I was collecting Checkmate! when it crossed over with Suicide Squad and a few other series as part of the larger “Janus Directive” storyline, and if I wanted the complete crossover, I would have to buy …

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History and the Abyss: What We Know about What Happened

Most people seem to believe that history is, broadly speaking, “the study of what happened.” But this is wrong. More than anything else, history is the critical interpretation of surviving sources of information detailing what happened in the past. Some of those sources are literary: newspapers, official documents, engravings, memoirs, court records, and more. Some of those sources are the memories of people, gathered by oral historians, folklorists, and journalists. Some of those sources are more forensic, the bodies of people unearthed to reveal the nature of a crime, the details of one’s diet, and more. And some of those sources are simply part of our environment, the architecture that surrounds us and still tells us those stories of the past, or …

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Star Trek Day with the EOA

Happy Star Trek Day! Arkansas has lots of connections with Star Trek, whose original television series premiered on this day in 1966. The original series starred George Takei, who was interned at the Rohwer Relocation Center during World War II and has also made several return visits to Arkansas to promote the preservation of history relating to Japanese American incarceration. Ena Hartman of Jefferson County, a groundbreaking Black television actress of the 1960s and ’70s, made a brief appearance in the original series episode “The Corbomite Maneuver,” while stuntman Hal Needham, who grew up all around the state and later went on to direct Smokey and the Bandit, did stunts for the original series. Fort Smith native Laurence Luckinbill starred as Spock’s half-brother Sybok in Star Trek …

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The EOA at 15: The 15 Most Popular Entries of the Past 15 Months

The past fifteen months have been a tumultuous time, and Arkansans—as they’ve been doing for fifteen years now, since our launch in May 2006—have looked to the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas to provide information and context as they navigated political news, social justice protests, and an unprecedented global pandemic. The following entries were the fifteen entries viewed the most from March 2020 to May 2021. Click on the title of each for the link to the full EOA entry. Sundown Towns Elaine Massacre of 1919 Negro Boys Industrial School Fire of 1959 One Drop Rule Little Rock Nine Titan II Missile Explosion (1980) Trees Slavery Native Americans Ozark Mountains Civil War through Reconstruction, 1861 through 1874 Albert Pike European Exploration …

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The EOA at 15: CALS Staffers Pick Their Favorite EOA Entries

To help celebrate 15 years of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas—the only state encyclopedia produced and supported by a public library—we asked 15 staff members from around the Central Arkansas Library System to pick their favorite EOA entries. They picked some good ones! Like everyone else, these CALS staffers use it for research, for work, and for fun. Ellen Bard, CALS Readers’ Advisory Coordinator, says: “My personal favorite is ‘Cactus’ Vick. I like being able to gaze back at something I remember fondly from childhood. In the cold light of day I realize that he was just a corporate shill, but back then he was wondrous.  I mean, Vick was an influencer way before it was cool.” Mark Christ, CALS …

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The EOA at 15: EOA Staff Picks for 15 Must-See Photos

For 15 years since its launch in May 2006, the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas has amassed more than 11,000 pieces of media to accompany its more than 6,000 entries: photos, documents, maps, audio clips, and more. In no particular order, here are 15 EOA staff favorites (with links to accompanying entries in the titles). Jimmy Driftwood and Friends Henry Thruston, Tallest Confederate Soldier Little Rock Nine Member Elizabeth Eckford, Past and Present (we’re counting these companion photos as making up one media experience) Zerbe Air Sedan The “Petticoat Government” of Yellville The Williford Flood of 1962 Slime Mold Popeye Statue in Alma, “Spinach Capital of the World” Destruction of Bootleg Liquor in Russellville during Prohibition Titan II Missile Silo Construction …

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