Pryor Center Rejoins Fulbright College to Expand and Integrate Mission
Sitting from left: Sen. David Pryor and Barbara Pryor; stand from right: Dean Todd Shields, Randy Dixon, Pryor Center director, and Scott Lunsford, associate director
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas is now officially a part of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
“Today, in some ways, we’ve come full circle,” said U of A Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, noting that the metaphorical circle has moved forward while turning, and with the center making major progress.
The center was started in 1999 as part of the Department of History in Fulbright College.
“It was essentially a tape recorder in my desk drawer,” said Jeannie Whayne, professor of history and the first director of the center.
The initial concept came from former U.S. Sen. David Pryor and his wife, Barbara, who provided seed money in the form of a $220,000 gift. They didn’t plan to have their name on the center, but a $2 million gift from the Tyson Family Foundation in 2005 created an endowment for the re-named David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.
The financial support enabled the center to buy new equipment and become a part of the University Libraries Special Collections. That was just the start of the center’s growth.
Today, the Pryor Center fills a suite of offices and studios at One East Center Street on the Fayetteville Square. The center has a staff of five full-time and two part-time employees, top-of-the-line digital video studios and editing suites, plus additional equipment that can produce documentary-quality video interviews anywhere in the state and beyond.
The Pryor Center has been supervised by the U of A chancellor’s office since 2009. That changed today with Chancellor Steinmetz’s announcement that the center is once again a part of Fulbright College – as its own entity this time, and under the supervision of Dean Todd Shields.
“This is the right move at the right time for the Pryor Center,” Steinmetz said. “Fulbright College has students and faculty with a wide range of interests who will directly benefit from closer access to the oral and visual history archives already produced by the Pryor Center. These students and faculty also have expertise that can help advance and amplify the Pryor Center’s mission to collect, preserve and connect. Really, Fulbright College is the natural home for the Pryor Center, and this move will create a mutual benefit for everyone involved.”
The Pryor Center currently has an online archive of about 70 video interviews, with transcripts of hundreds more and still more being processed. These are life stories told by Arkansans from every walk of life and level of achievement, first-person accounts by eyewitnesses to Arkansas history.
In addition, the Pryor Center is home to the KATV archive, some 26,000 hours of film and video documenting 50 years of the day-to-day history of Arkansas, all needing to be digitized and made easily accessible online.
“These are priceless resources for students and faculty in history, journalism, political science, sociology – in fact, virtually all of the humanities,” Shields said. “Our hope is that in joining Fulbright College, the Pryor Center will be able to continue growing, enhance its community and academic outreach through new partnerships with faculty and student researchers, and receive expanded support through the college.”
Shields also announced the beginning of a new community program – the Pryor Center Presents speaker series.
“I’ve been working with Dean Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School of Public Service who has developed an outstanding public speaker series,” Shields said. “He very generously shared ideas and ‘lessons learned’ that will help us shape our own program starting this fall to build stronger connections between the public and the Pryor Center.”
Randy Dixon, director of the Pryor Center, said he is excited about the opportunities the move presents.
“Being able to connect with the academic side of the university more effectively is a definite plus,” Dixon said. “Not long ago a graduate student contacted us, almost by accident. She was working on a documentary about Joycelyn Elders and knew that we had a video interview with her but was not aware we also had hundreds of news stories about her in the KATV archive. Obviously, this was helpful. My hope is that many more students and faculty will realize we are a valuable resource, ready for them to use.
“At the same time, being part of Fulbright College is an opportunity for the Pryor Center as a teaching resource,” Dixon added. “For anyone who wants to learn about oral and visual history and how to produce it – this is the place to be.”
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