Ask anyone who has dabbled in researching local history, and they will tell you that much of the history of a particular place rests within the minds of a certain few who can recall and recite it. In south Arkansas, a new partnership has developed to save those experiences and preserve them for future generations.
A collaboration between the South Arkansas Community College Library and the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, the Oral History Project of South Arkansas will collect interviews, records and other items to support the creation of various series, topical collections of multimedia and archival materials. Beyond the cultural heritage and research applications, the Oral History Project will promote an educational opportunity as well.
Students at South Arkansas Community College will work on the project, incorporating skills and content from their courses. History students will be able to conduct oral-history interviews, prepare transcripts and produce content, while those in SouthArk’s new entertainment and media arts program will gain experience with filming, lighting, video and audio production, editing, and working with a variety of settings and subjects.
For the SouthArk Library and the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, this collaboration offers a chance to promote the historical archival material that is part of their respective collections. Each series will explore a different topic of particular relevance to the history of South Arkansas, and a wide variety of photographs, clippings, historical publications and personal reminiscences enable the project to bring south Arkansas’s history to life. By publicizing these collections, both the SouthArk Library and SAHPS hope to raise awareness for the materials they have and encourage anyone with connections to the region to visit and make use of the historical materials available.
“To my knowledge, this kind of project is unprecedented in our area,” SouthArk library director Philip Shackelford said. “It is certainly unique, given the valuable involvement of the EMA program and the partnership with SAHPS. This project is an example of the kinds of collaboration the SouthArk Library is interested in cultivating in our community.”
For the first series, the Oral History Project will focus on the history of the Charles E. Thomas Administration Building on the South Arkansas Community College West Campus. The building, which was struck by lightning and suffered a fire earlier this year, was built in 1905 and has served a variety of purposes over the years as home to a senior high school, junior high school, junior college and the El Dorado branch of Southern Arkansas University, before becoming South Arkansas Community College.
“This building has been at the heart of education in El Dorado since it was built in 1905,” SouthArk history professor Dr. Ken Bridges said. “It carries a special place in the hearts of many in our community, and it is important to preserve those stories for the future.”
The building has been part of the lives of many people in our area, and the project looks forward to hearing from individuals who have been touched by the building and its history.
“This project is going to be a perfect match with the newly-formed entertainment and media arts program,” EMA director Gary Hall said. “Not only will it ground our students in the history of our campus and the history of their hometown, but they will be able to use that knowledge as a base to use their talents that they are presently learning as part of our program. It’s a win-win situation for all involved. It’s a way of connecting the rich past of SouthArk and the building with the promise of our future, and we’re hoping for spectacular results.
“This tiny idea is now blossoming into a wonderful opportunity for our community to celebrate its past while looking forward to a newer, reconfigured future, just like the building itself.”
Questions about the project should be directed to Shackelford, Bridges, or SAHPS manager Jack Wilson.
“It is important that we take the time to listen to those that came before us,” Wilson said. “The real history is not in the artifacts, but in the stories behind them.”