Friday, December 28, 2018

Pen to Podium: ‘Hillbilly Hellraisers’ Book Kicks Off 2019 Lecture Series

Dr. Blake Perkins

It’s the New Year and time for a new round of Pen to Podium lectures! 

Dr. Blake Perkins will discuss the history of defiance unique to people in the Ozark Mountain region at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Department of Arkansas Heritage at 1100 North St. in Little Rock. The lecture is free and part of our 2019 Historical Writers’ Lecture Series.

The Friends of the Arkansas State Archives plan to host a reception with refreshments 30 minutes before the lecture.

Perkins’ book, Hillbilly Hellraisers: Federal Powerand Populist Defiance in the Ozarks, has drawn praise for its insightful look into how rural people in the Ozarks reacted to and resisted federalism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Ozarks includes parts of Arkansas and Missouri, where people have a reputation for anti-government sentiment. Perkins’ book asks what role heritage plays in perpetuating that attitude and focuses on real people’s experiences. The book traces social and political changes from the Populist revolt of the 1880s and 1890s to the modern-day Tea Party protests and the popularity of President Donald Trump.

“I think one of the most unique aspects of Hillbilly Hellraisers is the way in which it takes several local ‘case studies’ over time and extrapolates from them broader historical patterns that can help explain some of the big questions of American political and social history,” Perkins said.

Perkins’ research uses “microhistory,” or a method of looking at individual lives in a historical moment. “If former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was correct in asserting that ‘all politics is local,’ zooming in to examine the local level ought to tell us a good deal about how political history is actually made,” Perkins explained.    

There has been growing interested in rural America, including the Ozarks, since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Perkins said. Perkins’ book encourages people to think differently about the past and how politics have evolved.

“I think in many ways the Ozarks is an excellent microcosm of rural America in general,” Perkins said.

Perkins was born in the Ozarks and grew up on a fifth-generation farm near the southeastern Ozarks in western Lawrence and Sharp counties. He became interested in his family roots and history in elementary school. He has since become an assistant professor and chair of the History Department at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Lyon College, a master’s degree from Missouri State University and a doctoral degree from West Virginia University.

Perkins said the history behind local politics and its evolution is fascinating. “As I watched anti-Obama, anti-Washington politics surge in Arkansas between 2008 and 2016, I’ve been fascinated to investigate and learn more about rural political and social history,” he said.