Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Researchers from varied backgrounds compete for the NEARA Award for Exemplary Research

Scholars. City planners. Architects. Arkansans from a wide variety of backgrounds have won the prestigious NEARA Award for Exemplary Archival Research. Every year, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA) and the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) host a competition for the best research paper that draws from NEARA’s archival records. Past winners have included college instructors and students, as well as many whose training and occupations had little to do with academic history.

“All of these people are very passionate about history, but they have a specific perspective on history that comes from their training and professional background,” said Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager for NEARA. “They had a personal interest in that aspect of history.”

Mark Christ, past president of the AHA, presents
the NEARA Award to Robert Myers (right).
The most recent winner, Robert Myers, is a city planner. His paper, “The Davidsonville Debacle: Land Title and the Demise of Lawrence County’s First County Seat, 1815-1830,” focused on the failure of Arkansas’s first platted town, Davidsonville. Davidsonville was the county seat of Lawrence County, which covered most of the northern Arkansas territory and part of southern Missouri territory at the time. In less than 15 years, though, the town was mostly abandoned.

Myers drew his research from the Lawrence County Records collection, which contains about 500 cubic feet of court cases, marriage records, probate records and pension records, as well as other sources, to identify why the town failed. 

Davidsonville was also the topic for the research paper that won the first NEARA Award in 2014. In that instance, author Steve Saunders examined the town’s failure from the perspective of having been an architect for more than 30 years. Other winning papers have described and analyzed the perceptions of women’s roles in territorial Lawrence County, religious conflict in early Arkansas and relationships between slaves and slaveholders.

Choosing a topic the writer is passionate about comes into play because the evaluations, which are done by a three-person panel from NEARA and AHA, take into consideration whether the writer has demonstrated the value of his research.  

“We are looking for a well-written, well-presented story, and we want to know why the story is important,” Myuhtar-May said. “Did the author explain why the story matters?”

The evaluators also want to see that the writer presents a strong argument and well-founded conclusions based on a good balance of primary and secondary sources. At least some of the sources must come from NEARA’s collection.

Some of NEARA’s records are available online at, including documents dating back to Arkansas’s territorial period. Researchers can also visit NEARA in person Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. No more than two visitors are allowed at a time in accordance with social distancing protocols, and masks must be worn.

The NEARA Award was first established in 2013 to honor Lawrence County Historical Society volunteers who saved the territorial records for future researchers when the county seat was relocated from Powhatan in 1963. The award is funded through the Sloan Family Initiative in honor of Eugene Sloan, a successful lawyer and landowner who was born in Powhatan, where NEARA is located. Through this funding, the winner receives $1,000, along with a framed certificate.

Entries for the competition must be submitted by Feb. 1, 2021, and the winner will be announced during the Arkansas Historical Association’s annual banquet. The winning paper will be considered for inclusion in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly journal. For more details about guidelines and how to enter the competition, please click here.