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WATCH | Director of Pryor Center visits HS Rotary

by Courtney Edwards | April 24, 2023 at 4:04 a.m.
John Davis speaks with members of the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club following his presentation. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

In 1999, former U.S. Sen. David Pryor and Barbara Pryor's interest in Arkansas history developed into the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.

The center, located in the University of Arkansas's Fullbright College of Arts and Sciences, preserves Arkansas history through recording audio and video interviews, collecting other organizations' recordings and archiving and providing public access to those archives.

The center's executive director since January, John Davis, is also an associate professor in the university's Department of Political Science. Prior to joining the Pryor Center, Davis was an associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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"As an eighth-generation Arkansan, the mission of the center is near and dear to my heart," he said.

"One thing that we carry with us at the center, and I've got a wonderful, talented team, is this desire to capture, right? To capture the essence of Arkansas.

"And that involves sometimes interviewing very notable, well-known figures, but also paying a lot of special attention to the folks that keep their communities together, who contribute in more silent ways, who make this state the great place that it is and a place that we love and enjoy."

While the Pryor Center conducts its own interviews, it also received a donation from KATV in 2009, giving the center access to more than 24,000 hours of footage from the station between the 1960s and the early 2000s, Davis said.

"We have the former news director for KATV, Randy Dixon, who is the director of that collection," Davis said.

"Randy is in a unique position to not only appreciate the history that KATV has captured over the decades, but he worked for a large portion of that time. And so, it's not uncommon that we'll be talking about something in a staff meeting or something, and he'll say something about a character or, you know, (something) that pops up in our discussion, and I'll do my little bit as a political historian type. And then Randy will say, 'Yeah, I was there when that happened, and. ... ' You know, and it's just an incredible experience to get to learn from Randy and others in the center."

With "an obligation to serve Arkansas," Davis said one of the future projects the Pryor Center will begin working on soon involves assisting students at U of A with conducting their own interviews about topics they choose to pitch to the center.

"They're going to conduct interviews with people about that topic and hopefully gain some really useful experience for after college, but hopefully also gain insights into Arkansas," he said.

The future for the Pryor Center under Davis is set to include more high-quality filming, long format interviews, he said. Although some people may not be comfortable sitting in front of a camera for long periods of time, the center will stay open to oral history collections.

"There's great value there," he said. "Even if it's not a moving image, we can have the transcript and we can have that audio recording."

Another goal is to get more involved in all 75 counties in the state, Davis said, noting the center is hoping to work with other groups in different parts of the state, such as the Garland County Historical Society and National Park College.

"We're gonna figure out ways to pull resources to use our ability and our time and effort to team up with other people in those communities to try to capture the essence of those places, and again, collectively better understand and appreciate Arkansas," he said.

The Pryor Center's website,, hosts collections including the center's interviews, oral histories with transcripts and images, the KATV collection as well as Pryor Center Presents lectures, which are produced and posted online within about a week, Davis said.

"We're trying to be really conscious of the fact that not everybody's in Northwest Arkansas, and we want to share all of this collection to everybody in the state, regardless of where you are," he said.

Print Headline: WATCH | Director of Pryor Center visits HS Rotary


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