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It has been my honor to serve as the Arkansas state historian and director of the Arkansas State Archives twice in my professional career. I've often said that it was my dream job, and I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to lead the effort in protecting and preserving Arkansas' past. The Archives staff and I take very seriously the responsibility to ensure that Arkansas history is not lost.

As I begin my retirement, I'd like to take the opportunity to reflect on what the Archives has achieved during the past 15 months.

We have improved access to collections through a variety of activities. For example, we developed a new website, the Arkansas Digital Archives, expected to be officially launched this fall. We have captured over 21,000 images for the site so far this year, and the capacity for adding digital images to this platform is unlimited. We processed 540 cubic feet of our archival holdings in fiscal year 2019 as compared to 415 cubic feet in fiscal year 2018, an increase of 30 percent. And to improve access to materials in our public research room, we upgraded our analog microfilm readers to digital and purchased new, faster computers.

We produced a traveling exhibit on the Bicentennial of the Arkansas Territory for venues around the state that was so popular we produced a duplicate exhibit to meet demand.

We also made substantial strides in growing our collection, both in terms of significance and volume. We received over 108 archival donations and 309 artifacts during fiscal year 2019, totaling 780 cubic feet. This represents a 71 percent increase from the previous year. Among the largest acquisitions were records from Lee and Hempstead counties. We also added several smaller but very significant collections, including United States Western District of Arkansas Court Records (some from Judge Isaac Parker, known as the "Hanging Judge"). Work is currently underway to make this collection searchable and available online.

We also received the family papers of longtime Arkansas History Commission Director Dr. John L. Ferguson. Plus, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan has begun an oral history project that will add valuable information to our holdings for researchers of northeast Arkansas history. These are just a few of the wonderful new collections now being preserved by the State Archives.

The Archives has benefited from increased funding through the Department of Arkansas Heritage and other sources. In fact, the grant funding received and utilized in fiscal year 2019 is second only to fiscal year 2007, which was the second year of my first tenure. Grants from the Arkansas Natural Resources Council, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) have funded such things as the conservation of two early Arkansas state flags, purchase of a new microfilm processor, research room equipment upgrades, and the purchase of new map storage cabinets. We just received notice that the State Archives will be the recipient of Phase II of an NEH grant to digitize and place online over 100,000 more pages of Arkansas newspapers, joining the 103,000 pages just completed.

We have also worked to improve the State Archives' presence across Arkansas. For example, our staff actively assists county officials to help them preserve valuable county records. Numerous staff members have visited local historical societies and other groups to make presentations or offer preservation guidance.

We sought assistance from volunteers, and the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives responded through a weekly "Volunteer Day." Beginning in July 2018, the valuable indexing these volunteers have done has made a significant improvement to collections access. Their generous donation of time increased our volunteer hours by 555 percent over the previous fiscal year. And, following the success in Little Rock, the Northeast Regional Archives and the Southwest Regional Archives have held volunteer days to train and expand their volunteer base.

So it's been quite a ride. I couldn't be prouder of what our staff and volunteers have achieved, working together to preserve Arkansas' past. Every item, whether it is a community newspaper, a court record, or Arkansas' first flag, tells a piece of Arkansas' story.

I feel blessed to have been a part of it all.

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Wendy Richter, Ph.D., served as state historian and director of the Arkansas State Archives (2005-12, 2018-19).

Editorial on 08/22/2019

Print Headline: WENDY RICHTER: A part of history

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Archived Comments

  • CarpeNoctis
    August 24, 2019 at 7:54 p.m.

    Thank you for helping Ark preserve its history and its present for the future, and helping to bring new technology in that preservation. True service as a public employee.

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