The UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture has received a $35,628 grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council to make a public database of archival materials that preserve the history of the 1979-1980 Arkansas Constitutional Convention.
“As we approach another election season, reflection on the multiple ways that citizens are able to become an integral part of democracy becomes crucial to the nation’s relevancy,” said Laura McClellan, assistant director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. “State constitutional conventions have allowed individuals to discuss, design, and manage issues that are local, but often have national reach.”
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the 1979-80 convention was the state’s last constitutional convention. The Center for Arkansas History and Culture and the Arkansas State Archives hold a number of materials related to the convention, including the papers of Calvin Ledbetter Jr., a delegate of the convention.
“Arkansas has had eight constitutional conventions,” McClellan said. “Although voters defeated the proposed constitution in the last convention, delegates raised issues that have remained part of political rhetoric, including interest rate controls, right to work, and role of the governor. We haven’t had a constitutional convention since 1980, and people are interested in looking at how politics and legislation work.”
The grant will be used to purchase equipment to digitize the delicate materials stored in the collection as well as create a virtual exhibit and special resources for educators, students, historians, and researchers. The project will be completed by June 30, 2021.
“Our goal is to create a digitally available record of this convention that could be used by scholars, teachers, students, and community members,” McClellan said. “Additionally, we will develop a web exhibit that organizes the material in a readily accessible fashion. The web exhibit is a curated collection that can be easily used by teachers, students, and community members to understand the role of constitutional conventions in our democracy. This web exhibit will incorporate other constitutional convention information, curriculum guides, and oral histories.”
In the upper right photo, Dr. Deborah Baldwin, director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, works in the archives.