The portable Arkansas 

A new website could fill a book.

click to enlarge AN ARKANSAS 'CREATURE': Julie Adams.
  • AN ARKANSAS 'CREATURE': Julie Adams.

The new Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture went online this week, at www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.

A first-of-its-kind attempt to comprehensively define, categorize and catalogue the facts of the state’s places and past, the first phase of the project will last until 2010, aiming for a final total of around 4,000 entries.

Nathania Sawyer is the senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. She said the idea for a state encyclopedia was first suggested in 2002 by Tom Dillard, then the curator of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in the downtown library. At the time, Sawyer said, state encyclopedias were a growing trend. In recent years, all but 16 states have created some form of reference source. Sawyer said that while books about Arkansas history and culture had been written in the past, none had approached a complete listing.

In 2003, eight regional brainstorming meetings with local historians and academics — and a series of grants, including $1.28 million from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation — got the ball rolling, and the project hired staff in 2004. Since then, Sawyer’s small group of editors and fact checkers have shepherded around 700 entries onto what she calls the “work in progress” site. Entries for the website are written by volunteers (submissions are accepted from everyone, from armchair historians to some of the state’s most respected academics, via a “Get Involved” tab at the top of the new website), who can choose a topic from a long, long list of needed entries on the Encyclopedia of Arkansas website, or suggest an idea via an online form. New entries will be added until the major grants for the project run out in 2010. After that, the encyclopedia will be maintained and updated by the Butler Center. Though the encyclopedia will be available only online — something Sawyer said will help reach Arkansas students, and keep the information the encyclopedia contains from ever becoming outdated — she said an abridged hard copy of the encyclopedia is being discussed for publication in 2010.

The website includes a sidebar for “On This Day in Arkansas History” historical factoids, and tabs to browse documents, maps, photos, audio clips and full-motion video clips, including the work of Arkansas actors like Mary Steenburgen and Billy Bob Thornton. Entries in the encyclopedia are searchable in a number of ways, including alphabetically, by category, time period, race, gender or keyword.

Though the bread and butter of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas is hard facts, Sawyer said her staff has tried to make sure it defines the state’s place in pop culture as well. (The fried dill pickle was invented here.)

Following is the first of a series to run in the Times with a few examples from the new resource.

Test your Ark-sense

Each of the following has an Arkansas connection. If you don’t know the answer, check the web.

• Aleutian Islands

• Bear Bryant

• Black Panthers

• Charles Lindberg

“The Creature from the Black Lagoon”

Encyclopaedia Britannica

• “A Farewell to Arms”

• “Gone With the Wind”

• Scott Joplin

• Will Rogers

• Lt. Sulu from “Star Trek”

A few sample answers: Julie Adams, star of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” was raised in Little Rock and attended Little Rock Junior College. Adams had a recurring role as real estate agent Eve Simpson on “Murder She Wrote.” Harry Ashmore, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Arkansas Gazette, became the editor in chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Toad Suck Ferry was almost renamed Ashmore Landing in the editor’s honor, but Gov. Orval Faubus refused to sign the legislation.



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