AHA 2017: Laboring on the Plains of Factoria

The Arkansas Historical Association meetings in 2017 will be way up in Pocahontas. I’m going, in part because I’m on the AHA’s Board of Trustees, plus they’re a fun group to be around, and as a historical archaeologist, I work closely with both historians of Arkansas and the documentary record. The call for papers is out, and the deadline is this week, so this morning, I sent off my title and abstract. They are:

Laboring on the Plains of Factoria: War, Work, Migration, and Industry at the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant during World War I

The Great War brought great changes to many parts of Arkansas and, individually, to many Arkansans’ lives. One great change to the face of Little Rock was the construction in 1918 of a plant for the making of picric acid, a chemical used in munitions. Though a short-lived facility, the Little Rock Picric Acid created a series of conflicts and collaborations between laborers, on the one hand, and plant administrators, local authorities, and federal officials, on the other. This paper delves into those interactions, and shows how the development of war industries in central Arkansas placed demands on the state and people that both united and divided, and built connections between Arkansas and the wider, modern world of the 1910s.

The conference theme is “Great War, Great Changes,” so a World War I-themed paper was most apt. I’ve been doing some work on the Picric Acid Plant, and this seemed like the most interesting writing project at hand. It’s got everything from work stoppages and strikes to arrests for violation of the Sedition Act to importation of Puerto Rican laborers and on and on and on.

Perhaps at some archeological conference I’ll do a paper on the actual, physical location of the plant, itself (now thoroughly developed over).

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