The University of Central Arkansas is home to more than 360 historical collections of information donated from groups, residents and other figures throughout the state.
In addition to the massive amount of collected works, the archives also hold 10,500 titles of books on topics throughout Arkansas’s history, several thousand pamphlets, around 55,000 photographs and more than 1,000 maps that document and record the history of the state and what it was like to be an Arkansan through the years.
“We look at different ways to collect information on the state and we try to collect things if we possibly can,” Director Jimmy Bryant said.
Bryant said the books, which are housed in two full rooms, range in topics from religion to agriculture to civil war history.
“Several hundred people a year use the archives,” he said. “We have, also, a large amount of people that contact us via email that live out of state.”
The archives, Bryant said, is home to many different topics for research.
When he started in 1998, he said he wondered just how many people knew that the archives were at their disposal for that purpose. Bryant said he was curious to know and after interviewing around 100 people, realized at least 1 out of 10 were aware.
Since becoming director, not only has he worked to make the public more aware of the opportunity for use, but also makes sure to alert the media anytime a new collection comes in.
“That kind of helps tell people about us … helps remind people that we are here,” Bryant said.
The unique aspect to the archives, he said, is that all of the 370 collections are one of a kind.
Some of those include the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Morris S. Arnold collection, which according to Bryant, has a massive amount o material.
“It has all of his decisions that he’s written and then it has a lot of other material he’s collected [through] the years,” he said. “It [also] has a lot of family history in it and it’s got a lot of photographs. It’s a huge collection and it’s an excellent collection.”
Other collections include UCA Depression Era records that exist nowhere else in the world except there and materials from Sharon Priest, the first elected Arkansas Secretary of State, which includes letters and correspondences, photos, meeting minutes and policies they created … everything applicable to her occupation when she served.
“I look at all the collections as representative of society,” Bryant said. “You want your archive to represent society as much as possible from having people from different occupations and organizations.”
The archive director said someone recently came in and wanted everything they had on songwriter Jimmy Driftwood, which was around 120 boxes. He said that person didn’t realize the enormity of what the archives held regarding that subject.
That is why, Bryant said, the finding aid was created … the starting point.
“We take the finding aid and show people how to use it,” he said. “Many people that come in here have never been into an archive before and they don’t know what to expect.”
They are able to narrow the search through those aids since everything in the archives is so organized to make research easier.
Their job, Bryant said, is to accommodate people and groups and help them learn to use the archives.
“Our job is not to do the research for a person, but rather our job is to help them when they get here,” he said.
Bryant said he will work with anyone to help them navigate through the maze of information step by step.
“[The UCA] archives really serves as a big evidence vault to the past,” he said. “That’s one way I like to say it because if you’re going to be able to prove something you’re going to have to have evidence and that’s why archives exist is to hold this evidence. This evidence, of course, is the primary documents.”
Bryant said when someone is trying to paint a picture of a person’s life in words, they can never have too much information.
He said he started working in the archives as a student in the early 90s and got the job in 1998 and overall enjoys his work.
“When you’re preserving the past, you’re preserving not just the past, you have to look at in terms of you’re preserving people’s lives and that’s what keeps me coming to work,” Bryant said.
To learn more information about the archives or to use the finding aid, visit uca.edu/archives/.