Arkansas Stories Use Objects and Places to Bring History to Life

Controversial historical figure Elias Cornelius Boudinot.
Photo provided by Special Collections of University Libraries

Controversial historical figure Elias Cornelius Boudinot.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Every object bears a story of its own. Take for instance a bookcase. What does it tell us about the life of its former owner, Elias Cornelius Boudinot, and the society he lived in?

That’s exactly the type of question a new, interactive public humanities series, Arkansas Stories of Place and Belonging, aims to answer.

The series kicks off at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the Walton Reading Room of the Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, with “Elias Cornelius Boudinot: Cherokee Confederate in the Age of Print Culture.” A reception will follow, and both are free and open to the public.

The following team of U of A experts will lead and provide insight during this interactive conversation and Boudinot examination:

  • Kathryn A. Sloan, history professor and director of the humanities program
  • Sean Teuton, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, associate professor of English, and director of the indigenous studies program
  • Joshua Youngblood, rare books, research and outreach services librarian at Special Collections in University Libraries

As a Cherokee, a Confederate, an attorney, and someone who was active in Arkansas and national politics, Elias Cornelius Boudinot continues to provoke mixed feelings today.

Boudinot was born in 1835 to Elias Boudinot and Harriet Ruggles Gold at the Cherokee capital of New Echota in what is now Georgia. Boudinot’s father and his father’s cousin, John Ridge, were two of the Cherokee leaders who signed the divisive treaty that led to the forced removal of the tribe – and both were killed in 1839.

The Boudinot children were sent east to live with family. In 1853 Elias Cornelius Boudinot returned west, arriving in Fayetteville in 1853, where he reconnected with Ridge’s widow, Sarah Bird Northrup Ridge. Boudinot studied law, and at age 26 passed the bar. He went on to establish the Fayetteville Arkansian newspaper, entered local politics, and was elected to Fayetteville’s first city council.

Boudinot moved to Little Rock just before the Civil War to edit a newspaper there and became one of Arkansas’ leading proponents of the institution of slavery, using the newspapers to defend the “peculiar institution.”

Boudinot served as secretary of the Arkansas secession convention and, after Arkansas seceded, became a colonel in the Confederate Army and represented Arkansas in the Confederate Congress.

Historian Richard White said that Boudinot, a prominent orator who addressed audiences around the nation, “might be ranked among the great scoundrels of the Gilded Age.”

Boudinot’s bookcase was donated to Special Collections of the University Libraries in 2015 and will be a centerpiece of the discussions surrounding a writer and communicator who went on to become a leading advocate for development of western Arkansas and the eventual establishment of a railroad into the region.

The bookcase holds an exhibit of Boudinot’s writing, a brief biography, and articles and other items about the history of the bookcase itself. During the Feb. 18 event, rare books once owned by Boudinot, authored by him, or related to the bookcase will also be on display. 

This event is also related to another series of events at the U of A and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in collaboration with TheatreSquared, that are centered on Boudinot’s connections to modern-day playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, her ancestor John Ridge and his influential Cherokee family’s legacy.

Partners and sponsors for the Boudinot event include the U of A Chancellor’s Innovation and Collaboration Grant, University Libraries’ Special Collections and Mullins Library, and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and SciencesIndigenous Studies Program and Humanities Program.

About Arkansas Stories: The series Arkansas Stories of Place and Belonging is an innovative public scholarship and engagement series at the University of Arkansas, funded by a Chancellor’s Innovation and Collaboration Grant that brings together scholar-experts, students and the general public to engage in informed conversations about the region’s fascinating history of human interaction. Utilizing objects and places as focal points to narrate compelling stories of the movement of humans and ideas across centuries, Arkansas Stories illuminates what makes up our common heritage. The series committee includes: Kim Sexton, of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design; and from Fulbright College, history’s Kathryn A. Sloan and Michael Pierce; anthropology’s George Sabo; philosophy’s Eric Funkhouser; English’s Bob Cochran and Sean Teuton; and world languages’ Dave Fredrick.

About the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with three schools, 16 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students and is named for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines.

Contacts

Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations
479-575-3583, voorhies@uark.edu

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, liwag@uark.edu

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