Steamboat symposium to feature former congressman and others

The invention of Robert Fulton’s steamboat in 1807 is one of the defining moments in American history, a development that held ramifications for many states, Arkansas included.

A current online exhibit exploring the steamboat’s influence on Arkansas culminates with a day-long educational symposium set for Nov. 5 at the Arkansas Studies Institute building. The event is free and open to the public.

The exhibit and symposium, “As much as the water: How steamboats shaped Arkansas,” are projects hosted by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC) in partnership with the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.

Among the featured symposium panelists are former U.S. Congressman Vic Snyder, who is serving on a panel discussing maritime policy and technology, as well as UALR History Professor Carl Moneyhon, who is contributing to the discussion on the transportation roles of steamboats.

Other scheduled guests include documentary film producer Mike Marshall, who will contribute to the discussion of the explosion of the Sultana, near Marion, Ark., in 1865.

The explosion killed 1,800 people, surpassing the death toll of the Titanic by 300, earning its spot among the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history. Most Americans weren’t aware of the disaster because the media’s attention was on the April 14 assassination of President Lincoln and the manhunt for his killer.

Until it was surpassed by the railroad as the primary means of transportation after the Civil War, steamboats were a vital American resource, said Deborah Baldwin, associate provost of collections and archives.

“The goal of the symposium is to not only educate audiences about the role steamboats played during the Civil War, but to also speak to the wider role of economic, cultural, and historical development along the Mississippi River,” Baldwin said.

The virtual exhibit features historic documents, photographs, and works of art depicting steamboats, with the intent of examining the heritage of steamboats and their profound effect on the history and culture of Arkansas.

Embedded within the exhibit are web pages with lesson plans and other educational materials for teachers. The materials are designed to meet requirements of state social studies frameworks.

The Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the center a $13,876 grant to develop the exhibit and the related educational symposium.

For more details on the symposium and to see the full list of scheduled speakers, visit the website or contact the center at 501.320.5780.

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