Evenings with History

You have a unique opportunity to share in the excitement of historical discovery through the annual Evenings with History series.

Sponsored by the University History Institute, the series features presentations by UA Little Rock faculty members and guest speakers. They share their current research and teaching interests and many of the presentations illuminate current affairs. These talks offer insight into the workings of historical scholarship and cover a variety of times, areas, and subjects. The format allows for questions and discussion. Refreshments and an informal atmosphere encourage the interchange of ideas.

Venue and Parking

With one exception (explained below), this year’s lectures will be held in the Ottenheimer Auditorium at the Historic Arkansas Museum at 200 E. Third Street in Little Rock. The museum’s downtown location and adjacent parking lot at Third and Cumberland make the sessions convenient and pleasant to attend.


The six sessions of the 2023-2024 Evenings with History series will be held on the first Tuesdays of October, November, December, February, March, and April. Refreshments are served at 7 p.m., and the talk begins at 7:30 p.m.


Evenings with History is one of the primary ways that the History Institute raises funds to carry out its mission. All proceeds are used to further historical research at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The UA Little Rock Foundation Fund is also a nonprofit Arkansas corporation and holds U. S. Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt status.

Subscribers to the series support historical scholarship.

  • Individual Subscription: $50 annually
  • Joint Subscription: $90 annually
  • Fellow of the Institute: $250 annually
  • Life Membership: $1,000
  • Corporate Sponsorships: Available with a $250 minimum contribution
  • Regular Registered Undergraduate and Graduate Students at UA Little Rock may attend the lectures free of charge.

To purchase your subscription, please visit the Evenings with History Subscriptions page

If you’re interested in becoming a major donor, contact any officer or board member of the University History Institute email or contact us at historyinstitute@ualr.edu or 501-916-3236.

Evenings with History, 2023-2024

October 3, 2023 – Marta Cieslak (UA Little Rock Downtown) 
“I Give This Mural Back to the Working Class of the Entire South”: Joe Jones, Commonwealth College, and a History of Leftist Traditions in the South

In 1935, Joe Jones painted a mural on the walls of the dining hall of Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas. The mural, titled The Struggle in the South, depicted what Jones considered the most urgent problems facing southerners in the midst of the Great Depression: labor exploitation, racial violence, and daily struggles of sharecroppers. Commonwealth College was a natural site for such a socially engaged piece. Not only did it aim to train labor leaders, but it also openly embraced Marxism and communism. This talk will explore the history of Commonwealth College through the prism of Jones’s mural. In more general terms, it will investigate the place and meaning of leftist traditions in the history of Arkansas and the South.

NOTE: The October lecture will take place at UA Little Rock Downtown, located at 333 President Clinton Avenue, where The Struggle in the South is on view. Parking will be available in the adjacent CALS “Library Square” parking garage, accessible from Rock Street.

November 7, 2023 – Andrew Amstutz
A Conversation with Ruth Coker Burks, the ‘Arkansas Cemetery Angel’: AIDS Activism & New Archives in Arkansas 

This Evenings with History will address the history of the AIDS epidemic in Arkansas through a conversation between the ‘Arkansas Cemetery Angel,’ Ruth Coker Burks, and Dr. Andrew Amstutz. Ruth Coker Burks was a caregiver and AIDS activist in Arkansas from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Ms. Burks also provided a final resting place in the Files Cemetery (in Hot Springs) for some of the men for whom she cared. In turn, the Files Cemetery has become an important (and contested) site of LGBTQ+ memory. In recent years, renewed newspaper coverage and the publication of Ms. Burks’ memoir, All the Young Men, has brought both wider acclaim and criticism. Dr. Amstutz will first introduce the Center for Arkansas History and Culture’s ongoing efforts to collect Ms. Burks’ archive along with the archival materials of other caregivers and activists in Arkansas. Then he will interview Ms. Burks to discuss her life and work.

December 5, 2023 – Michael Heil
The Birth, Life, and Death of an Early Medieval Library 

In the centuries after its foundation by the Irish abbot Columbanus around 613, the Italian monastery of Bobbio amassed one of the largest libraries in Western Europe. Its holdings included not only the biblical and liturgical texts required for the monastery’s religious functions, but also works of Latin literature, grammar and rhetoric, history, law, and more. This talk will explore how and why the monks of Bobbio assembled this diverse collection of books, what they did with them, and what these books reveal about the monastery’s connections and influence in the wider world. The talk will also examine the dismemberment of Bobbio’s library in the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a story of institutional and intellectual change with implications for historians’ efforts to reconstruct the medieval past.

February 6, 2024 – Special Guest Speaker: Vincent Tolliver
Chicot County Massacre: The Life and Times of James Worthington Mason (1841-1874)

James Worthington Mason was born into slavery but was the son of Elisha Worthington, one of the wealthiest landowners in Arkansas. Avenging the December 1871 murder of his friend Wathal Wynn, a Black lawyer in Chicot County, Mason, who was the first-elected Black state senator in Arkansas after the Civil War and the recipient of prestigious appointments from President Ulysses S. Grant, orchestrated the massacre of prominent whites in Chicot County.

Vincent Tolliver is an activist, writer, producer, and director from Lake Village. He holds a B.A. in English from Langston University.

March 5, 2024 – James Ross 
Judge Henry J. Lemley and the Meaning of Little Rock Desegregation 

In February 1958, the Little Rock School Board, under pressure from local businessmen and some of the city’s ruling elite, decided to retreat from their promise to integrate Little Rock schools by filing a lawsuit to ask the federal court to stop integration until 1961. They argued that the violence of 1957 outside and inside the school had made education impossible. In the end, the court sided with the district, and for four months, integration was halted in Little Rock. The upper courts ultimately overturned this decision, so it is usually ignored in narratives of desegregation in Little Rock or at least relegated to a footnote. This lecture contends that the event reveals much about what motivated the ruling elite of Little Rock in how they addressed desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

April 2, 2024  – Nathan Marvin
Rethinking the Legend of Petit Jean: History and Memory of French Colonization in Arkansas 

The legend of “Petit Jean,” an 18th-century French woman who disguised herself as a soldier to accompany her lover on an expedition to North America, is a beloved piece of Arkansas lore. But is there any truth to the story? What, precisely, are its origins? This talk explores what Petit Jean and legends like it reveal about the many ways communities in Arkansas and across the U.S. have remembered their French-colonial roots.

About the University History Institute

The University History Institute is a nonprofit Arkansas corporation created to provide public support for the Department of History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Funds raised by the Institute are used primarily to provide assistance to faculty members in pursuing their scholarly research. The History Institute, in conjunction with Ottenheimer Library and other outside organizations, has provided over $100,000 in grants for the purchase of archival and library materials to promote this research. Our current Board of Directors represent a cross section of the Central Arkansas community and include:

Judge Ellen Brantley, President
Delia Prather, Vice President
Lee Johnson, Treasurer
James Metzger, Secretary
Richard Ault  |  Dr. Joe Crow
Dr. Joe Bates  |  Patrick Goss
Craig Berry  |  Terry Rasco
Dr. Renie Bressinck  |  Gene Thompson
Mark Christ  |  Frederick Ursery