The integration of “thinking” and “doing” is at the heart of public history.
Established in 2000, the public history program at UNLV blends theory and practice in innovative and unconventional ways. From the seminar room to the field, we train graduate students to merge academic research and hands-on training; we integrate courses on digital history and cultural preservation with environmental topics and material culture studies; we collaborate with experts and organizations at UNLV, in the larger Las Vegas community, and beyond.
Our methodologically diverse research has resulted in award-winning oral history projects, museum exhibits, documentaries, 22 National Register nominations, National Landmark designations, Multiple Property Documents for Yosemite National Park, and digital history collaborations with the National Park Service (our Teaching with Historic Places initiative) and UNLV Special Collections (the Culinary Union collection.) All of these projects are the result of graduate seminars built around real world projects carried out with community or agency partners, who are collaborators in the seminar room and in the field.
While we emphasize practical experience, our program is intellectually rigorous, and students are expected to read, discuss, and produce academic scholarship. Public history students hail from diverse backgrounds — law, the social sciences, the performing arts, public health, education, business—but they share a common goal: to move beyond the confines of the traditional historical inquiry and application. Students learn to analyze and interpret history for the benefit of the very people who make it and live it.
UNLV is also home to the Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA) and public history graduate students are active participants in its administration. Preserve Nevada is run by graduate students (including a graduate Associate Director) and a statewide Board of Directors. The Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association is housed in the UNLV Department of History. For over a century, the PCB-AHA has been a home to engaged historians working across the American West and offers innovative Graduate Assistantship opportunities and connections with the AHA on a variety of fronts.
Hate it or love it, Las Vegas is one of the best-known cities on Earth. Americans and legions of international visitors understand the culture of Las Vegas as one of indulgence rather than restraint. Still, most do recognize Las Vegas as a place that has somehow endured. Some might even know that it is a place with an interesting and complicated history driven by many of the most important issues of our time: immigration; labor; race and equality; water, energy, and resource extraction; and the creation of community in a fast-changing multicultural world. Sustainability in all its meanings are imperatives for this city located deep in the quintessential North American desert. The actual history of this place—as opposed to the powerful myth of its creation—complicates widespread assumptions about Vegas as an ill-conceived and obviously unsustainable place fundamentally different from other twentieth-century cities.
In the American southwest tying rapidly evolving understandings of environmental sustainability into public history education and linking efforts in historic preservation to environmental research has an intuitive logic. Our crazy town is an excellent place to study twentieth-century history and evolving understandings of sustainability, and Las Vegas is a wonderful laboratory for students who work at the intersections of western, environmental, and public history.