Friday, September 28, 2018

Archives Month kicks off in October

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proclaimed October as Archives Month to spotlight the importance of preserving Arkansas’s past, and the Arkansas State Archives plans multiple events during the month.

“October, Archives Month — that’s a great time to be an archivist,” said Dr. Wendy Richter, Arkansas historian and director of the Arkansas State Archives.

Without the Arkansas State Archives, much of Arkansas’s history would be lost. Staff have toured counties across the state to collect and preserve materials and make them more accessible to the public.

“Archivists who save and catalog our historical documents produce a paper trail to the past,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. “Their attention to conserving our history allow us to reconstruct the details of life long after all the eyewitnesses are gone. Their dedication to preservation gives us access to our state’s story — the people, the places and the politics. I am grateful to those who answer the call to keep track of where we have been.”

Preserving history is at the heart of what the Arkansas State Archives does.

Volunteers in Hempstead County, for example, recently sorted through historic documents to help archivists discover and preserve important information, including information on slavery in Arkansas. In another example, the L.C. Gulley collection has priceless documents that attest to the formative years of Arkansas. Those documents were nearly lost when workers planned to move the state Capitol to a new building in 1912, but L.C. Gulley, whose job it was to gather old papers for recycling in St. Louis, dug through piles of paper and found letters from territorial governors to Native Americans on the Trail of Tears and records about the political development of the state. Gulley later donated those records to Arkansas State Archives.

The Arkansas State Archives has been preserving material for more than 100 years. The agency was founded as the Arkansas History Commission in 1905, when people were concerned that documents relating to Arkansas during the Civil War would be lost. The commission’s name changed to Arkansas State Archives and became a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage in 2016.

Arkansans have long supported preserving historic material for future generations. In a Feb. 4, 1907 editorial, the Arkansas Democrat wrote: “Of course, the state can get along without a history commission, and it can permit everything which it should be proud to bequeath to posterity to be forgotten, and all records to be lost or destroyed, but is it the part of wisdom to do so?”  The answer was and remains “no.”