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UA Little Rock Professor to Present Lecture on the Legend of Petit Jean

Nathan Marvin
Dr. Nathan Marvin

Nathan Marvin, assistant professor of history at UA Little Rock, will present the next lecture for the Evenings with History series, focusing on the history of French colonization in Arkansas.

The lecture will take place April 2 in the Ottenheimer Auditorium at the Historic Arkansas Museum at 200 E. Third Street in Little Rock. Refreshments will be served at 7 p.m. and the lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m.

“The goal of this talk is to get us thinking about how we remember our ‘French’ heritage in Arkansas,” stated Marvin. “I’ll dig beneath the surface of place names and examine the stories we think we know about them: Petit Jean, Shinall Mountain, Thibault Road, Bayou Bartholomew, to name a few.”

The Legend of Petit Jean, which inspired the name of a popular state park in Arkansas, follows the legend of an 18th-century French woman who disguised herself as a soldier to accompany her lover on an expedition to North America. This lecture will explore the insights that this story offers on the cultural influence of the French-colonial roots in Arkansas communities.

“I will discuss the historical figures behind the placenames, whose lives and backgrounds have largely been obscured by layers of mythmaking and selective historical commemoration,” Marvin said. “In the case of Petit Jean, in particular, I will reveal discoveries from my recent archival work in France that shed new light on the truth behind the famous legend.”

Marvin’s lecture will address the ways that Arkansas’s French and Spanish colonial history impact the culture today. He hopes that exploring these topics can deepen a sense of belonging for Arkansans.

“Arkansas was once an integral part of what scholars call North America’s ‘Creole Corridor,’ a swath of French-speaking homesteads and communities stretching from the Great Lakes to New Orleans,” Marvin explained. “It was a cosmopolitan world, composed in large part of people of mixed European and African or indigenous ancestry. The main takeaway is that a more accurate understanding of Arkansas’s past is also a more inclusive one; can understanding Arkansas’s Creole heritage help foster a more meaningful sense of place for residents of the state today.”