Overview

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African Americans

African Americans constitute 15.4 percent of Arkansas’s population, according to the 2010 census, and they have been present in the state since the earliest days of European settlement. Originally brought to Arkansas in large numbers as slaves, people of African ancestry drove the state’s plantation economy until long after the Civil War. African Americans have exerted a profound influence upon all aspects of the state’s history and culture. European Exploration and Settlement through Early Statehood In August 1721, a party of Frenchmen employed by John Law’s Compagnie d’Occident established a new colony near the banks of the Arkansas River, a few leagues upstream from where it empties into the Mississippi River. Shortly thereafter, French colonial officials conducted a census for …

Agriculture

Agriculture has played a major role in Arkansas’s culture from territorial times, when farmers made up more than ninety percent of the population, through the present (about forty-five percent of the state’s residents were still classified as rural in the early part of the twenty-first century). Beginning as a region populated by small, self-sufficient landowners, the state evolved through a plantation culture before the Civil War, to an era when tenant farming and sharecropping dominated from the Civil War to World War II, before yielding to technology and commercial enterprise. For more than 150 years, agricultural practices had hardly changed. Hand tools and draft animals limited an average farmer to cultivating about four acres a day and made it difficult …

Arkansas’s Regional Identity

Arkansas’s regional identity is a complex affair, given that the state overlaps the cultural and geographical zones of the American South and Southwest and that the northern and western parts of the state are commonly characterized as “hill country” similar in culture to Appalachia. The state’s history has often been emblematic of the difficulties in navigating these competing regional affiliations. The state defies easy identity stereotypes, even as it is popularly lumped into such cultural regions as the “Bible belt” (for the supposed religiosity of its residents) or “sun belt” (for the state’s latitude and climate). Arkansas as South Arkansas is most often identified as part of the American South due to a shared history of slavery and secession from …

Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

Arkansas’s cultural record may begin on the state’s eastern edge, with a painted buffalo skin made by the Quapaw, nine figures in a line, the one at the left with a rattle. Or perhaps it begins still earlier, with fragments of cane flutes and whistles from ancient Ozark Indians. These offer only the briefest of hints, a mere glimpse of Arkansas’s earliest peoples, but enough to make it clear that they entertained themselves, that there were dancers, musicians, and artists among them. A millennium later, Arkansans entertain themselves at Riverfest in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), or maybe the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. They celebrate the successes of home-grown authors, …