This article is part of the “Write For” series, a collection of writings produced by the University of Central Arkansas Department of Writing to highlight incredible organizations that rely on professional writers. To learn more about Professional Writing and the opportunities it offers graduates, click here.
Talented professional writers can use their skills to make history come alive. When their fingers tap on keyboard tiles, the air is filled with the hum of musket balls, eye-watering locomotive smoke and the strong scent of pioneers’ sweat. This kind of writing occurs at the intersection of imagination and a love for uncovering the past–valuable traits for anyone working at the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program.
The overarching mission of the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program, or AHPP, is to identify and protect the state’s historically significant properties. A considerable amount of composition is required for cataloging properties and instructing Arkansas residents on how to maintain aging windows, mortar and other building features, but a specific group of AHPP writers focus on telling the stories behind the state’s oldest locales.
Shelle Stormoe, AHPP’s education outreach coordinator, and her colleagues in the community outreach department leverage their Professional Writing skills to weave Arkansas history into captivating guided tours and enlightening YouTube videos. At the heart of these projects is an effort to, as Stormoe puts it, “translate historical information in a way that is interesting.”
The AHPP YouTube page is filled with videos that recall the past in an interesting way. For instance, “Arkansas’s Haunted Historic Cemeteries” is Stormoe’s 22-minute documentary that explores ghost stories that have risen from the state’s spookiest burial grounds over the years. The video can be seen below:
Stormoe said the organization’s adoption of video as a storytelling medium makes script writing and film production valuable skills around the office. Potential interns and job applicants should consider brushing up on software like Adobe Premiere Pro, iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Stormoe said that in her experience, most elements of filmmaking can be learned on the job. “I am still learning how to do it as I go,” she said.
Sometimes making history interesting blurs the lines between Professional Writing and professional speaking. Rachel Silva, AHPP’s preservation outreach coordinator, hosts guided tours of the state’s historic properties–a task that comes with its own set of required skills and personality traits.
Stormoe said it helps to be talkative and able to respond to questions that crop up during tours. To prepare for the wide variety of questions, tour guides must be aware of the wide variety of people who ask them. Stormoe explained that there are “serious groupies” (fans of the AHPP who attend many presentations), locals who work or live near the property being toured, and people who decide to take the tour on a whim. Whether information is being conveyed on paper or in person, Professional Writers should always be mindful of their audiences.
Before AHPP writers can make videos or guide tours, a great deal of historical research must be done on the featured properties. Stormoe said this step of the process requires independence and resourcefulness. Google searches, phone calls and “serious library research with historical documents” are all part of the job. Stormoe emphasized the importance of having “library etiquette” when working with antique documents, a task that requires gloves and a delicate touch. It should come as no surprise that librarians would think twice about handing a historic artifact to a rambunctious, unprofessional researcher.
If you have a passion for using writing to make history feel more like an adventure in a time machine and less like a reading assignment with a dusty textbook, then you might enjoy working for an organization like the AHPP. Professional writers can turn back the clock with thorough research, engaging videos and entertaining guided tours.