Historians typically associate homesteading (the practice of settlers claiming government land free of charge through improvement) with the Great Plains states. Yet, one could argue that Arkansas is a particularly prominent location in this history: As early as the 1830s, petition campaigns from the Arkansas Territory demanded such a law, and beginning in 1840, the state government distributed tax-forfeited lands under conditions that anticipated the 1862 federal Homestead Act. Moreover, statistics show that from the 1870s to 1920s, tens of thousands of Arkansans used the federal law to acquire farms within their state.
In his talk, scholar Julius Wilm traces the long history of free land in Arkansas from the campaigns of the 1830s to the settlements of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras. In doing so, he presents his research and poses questions about Arkansas’s social history that have yet to be definitively answered.
Julius Wilm is a postdoctoral researcher at Leipzig University’s Collaborative Research Project 1199: “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition.” In his book Settlers as Conquerors: Free Land Policy in Antebellum America (2018), he traces the history of early federal free land schemes and their role as instruments of conquering Indigenous land. This year, he published (with Robert K. Nelson and Justin Madron) the web map “Land Acquisition and Dispossession: Mapping the Homestead Act, 1862–1912” (https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/homesteading/ ). His current research focuses on the intersection of democratic and imperial spatialization imperatives in the post–Civil War United States.