In 2010, John A. Kirk became the ninth chair of the Department of History. The first chair brought in from outside the Department, Kirk, a specialist in U.S. Civil Rights history with a Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom, came to the Department from a position at Royal Holloway, University of London. His appointment as the first Donaghey Professor in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences demonstrates a continued commitment by UALR to History as a subject area.
John A. Kirk
History as a field of study has been an integral part of the educational experience at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) since the institution’s beginnings as Little Rock Junior College in 1927 and after 1957 when it became Little Rock University. Initially, no separate History Department existed, but historical studies were conducted within the Division of Social Sciences. Among the earliest notable historians at the University was J. H. Atkinson, whose career spanned the school’s transformation from a junior college to a private university.
J. H. Atkinson
Although primarily a teaching institution, Little Rock University attracted its share of productive scholars, including Orville W. Taylor, whose book Negro Slavery in Arkansas (Duke University Press, 1958) was a pioneering research effort in the study of state history.
Orville W. Taylor
The commitment to research was also demonstrated by the work of Warren Schiff, a Latin American historian from the University of California, Berkeley. Schiff served as Division Head until he left the university in 1962 to take a position at Holy Cross College, where he remained until his retirement in 1987.
The creation of a Department of History at UALR began after the merger of Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system in 1969. This transition took place under the leadership of Bedford K. Hadley from the University of Texas at Austin and another Latin American scholar. Hadley replaced Warren Schiff as head of the Division in 1962 and became Dean of Social Sciences in 1974. Under Hadley’s leadership, historical studies at the university developed rapidly.
By 1970, the number of historians had increased to eight. Hadley promoted history that combined scholarship and outreach to students. He encouraged the development of the history honorary fraternity, Phi Alpha Theta, and our Iota Zeta Chapter was founded in 1963. Hadley also brought the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association to Little Rock in 1964. The Division demonstrated its commitment to gender equality in 1967 with the promotion of Frances Mitchell Ross, the first woman to receive tenure as a historian.
Bedford K. Hadley
In January 1972, T. Harri Baker became the first head of a newly created Department of History. Baker came to the Department from the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Papers project. Baker remained as head until May 1973, when he was appointed Director of Innovative Studies under the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Baker continued to be an active historian who returned to the Department after stepping down from administrative work.
T. Harri Baker (1973)
The History Department entered a period of sustained growth under C. Fred Williams, who replaced Baker as Head of Department in May 1973. Williams, a specialist in the history of the American West, graduated from the University of Oklahoma. He oversaw the Department as it acquired new faculty, developed a commitment to the teaching of World History, and increased its emphasis upon scholarly research. Williams also initiated planning for a graduate program focusing on Public History and initiated the first pioneering “off campus” classes. In June 1975, the position of Head became that of Chair, following the adoption of the first set of Department by-laws. In 1977, Williams was elected the first Chair of the Department. The same year, the Department appointed its first African American historian, Lee T. Williams, a graduate of the University of Toledo. In 1978, the Department was one of the founding members of the state’s “History Day.” For over a decade after, the Department hosted the state contest and it continues to run the regional contest today.
C. Fred Williams (1973-1980)
The Department continued its rapid expansion following the election of Lester J. Bilsky as Chair in July 1980. A graduate of the University of Washington and a China specialist, Bilsky served until June 1986. He was later reelected chair for a third term, serving from July 1998 until his retirement in June 2001. Bilsky was one of the first American scholars to be allowed to visit the People’s Republic of China. During his tenure the Department created faculty committees to deal with financial and personnel issues. Departmental programs also moved forward through new hires and the formal implementation of a Master of Arts in Public History program. The Department graduated its first M.A. student, Russell Baker, in 1985.
Lester J. Bilsky (1980-1986,
Deborah Baldwin came from the University of Chicago as an historian of Mexico and took office as Chair in July 1986. Through the years that Baldwin served as chair, the Department continued to enhance its course offerings with the hiring of top educators and scholars. In 1987 the Department began one of its most innovative public outreach programs with the creation of the University History Institute, which developed a public lecture program, “Evenings with History.” Baldwin served as chair for two terms, stepping down in June of 1992.
From 1992 to 1998, under Edward Anson, an Ancient Historian from the University of Virginia, the Department received widespread recognition for fulfilling its missions in teaching, scholarship and public service. Its achievements received special acknowledgment when the History Department was named UALR’s first Department of Excellence. The Public History program increased its public outreach when it launched one of its first major exhibits based on a study of African American Dunbar High School. In 2000, the History Department was among the first at UALR to offer online classes.
Edward M. Anson
Efforts to connect the Department to the wider community were continued under Johanna Miller Lewis, an American colonial historian from the College of William & Mary. Miller served as chair from 2001 to 2005. The Public History program launched two significant exhibits during this period: the first, “Life Interrupted,” looked the Japanese American experience in Arkansas’s internment camps during World War II, and the second, “’A Gathering of Women’ Arkansas Women 1930-2000,” focused on Arkansas women’s history. The Department also began a long-term relationship with the Little Rock Public Schools when it received a “Teaching American History” grant. Between 2001 and 2005, Departmental efforts secured over three million dollars in outside grants. The Department also expanded its offerings with the first official hire of faculty members to direct social studies majors in secondary education. Lewis stepped down as chair in the spring of 2005.
Johanna Miller Lewis
Between 2005 and 2009, S. Charles Bolton, an American colonial historian from the University of Wisconsin, chaired the Department. During Bolton’s term as chair, one of the Department’s most important initiatives was the expansion of on-line programs that allowed the university greater flexibility in providing education for its diverse student population. History once again led the way in this critical innovation. Bolton also shepherded the Department through the renovation of its offices in Stabler Hall.
S. Charles Bolton
Moira Maguire, a historian of Ireland from American University, took over as Interim Chair in 2009. She contributed to the development of assessment, facilitated significant revisions in Departmental by-laws, and also oversaw successful searches for a new outside chair and a new coordinator of Public History.
History’s presence at the university has been long-lived and the work of historians, from the Department’s pioneers to the present, has earned it recognition for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service. These hallmarks remain central to the Department as it moves into the future.