Our Practice

From the glamor of the Strip and the labor that built it to the remnants of atomic culture throughout and surrounding the city, Las Vegas has played an integral role in the development of the American West. Our aim is to preserve that history. Finding inspiration in our backyard allows us to actively engage our community and to connect our research to regional and national publics. Our faculty and students practice public history in many forms, including both physical and digital exhibits that stem from the environment and material culture that surrounds us.

The American Intermountain West

Aerial view of Hoover Dam with Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge under construction, May 22, 2009. Jamey Stillings Collection. Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada

Inspired by place, our program emphasizes the history of the American Intermountain West. Through historical preservation, archival research, oral history, and digital humanities, we examine the relationships between culture and nature in the desert Southwest. We partner with a wide range of groups such as Preserve Nevada, the National Park Service, the Morelli House, the Huntridge Foundation, and the Neon Museum, allowing our students to gain hands-on experience preserving and interpreting history. We collaborate with regional organizations such as BYU’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and the National Atomic Testing Museum to create digital humanities projects

Atomic Culture

Image by Kristian Purcell in Andy Kirk's Doom Towns: The People and Landscapes of Atomic Testing

With strong ties to our physical geography, the program has an emphasis on the history and enduring legacy of atomic culture in the American West. Our award-winning The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project began nearly 10 years ago as a collaborative endeavor that played upon our strength in oral history. Spearheaded by Department Chair Andy Kirk, environmental sociologist Robert Futrell, and noted atomic scholar and oral historian Mary Palevsky, the project features 150+ interviews and is dedicated to preserving and disseminating the remembered past of persons affiliated with and affected by Nevada Test Site during the era of Cold War nuclear testing. Public history graduate students conducted 50 percent of the interviews and served as research assistants.

In 2013, Kirk lead graduate students on a first-of-its kind cultural exchange with Karaganda, Kazakhstan, home of another nuclear testing site. Organized through The Atomic Testing Museum and financed by a prestigious grant from the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, UNLV professors, graduate students and Clark County School District students participated in a thirty-day exchange. The study of atomic culture has provided a way for graduate students to reveal connections between nature and culture and link regional public history with global efforts. The project culminated in the 2016 release of Andy Kirk’s graphic history Doom Towns, which included an exhibition of the book’s artwork sponsored by Nevada Humanities and curated by public history graduate students.

Las Vegas Material Cultural

Las Vegas is a dynamic place to practice public history, and our program’s central focus on material culture prominently features the city’s vibrant entertainment scene. Program director and costume curator, Deirdre Clemente oversees undergraduate and graduate students as they research, curate, and install clothing exhibitions that celebrate Las Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world. Our material culture exhibitions demonstrate to our students and the public the power of clothing and objects to convey larger concepts in history, including women’s power as consumers, the exchange of US culture with the rest of the world, and the creation of identity on and off stage. These concepts are exemplified in collaborative projects such as Ready to Roar, “Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful”: Liberace and the Art of Costume, and Vegas Style: Spectator and Spectacle.

Women in Society

Left to Right: Maya Miller, Jo Gonzalez, and Gloria Steinem at Nevada Women's Conference, Las Vegas, NV, June 18, 1977. Nevada Women's Conference Photograph Collection. Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada

Through oral history collections, exhibitions, and digital history projects we explore women's roles in creating social and cultural change. From women’s evolving public and political positions to the influence of technology and the environment in their daily lives, our students practice researching and exhibiting local and national trends in women’s history.

Recently, graduate students under the direction of Dr. Joanne Goodwin developed a digital project related to women's civic engagement in Las Vegas called Changing Women, Changing Lives. The project covered topics ranging from community engagement to campaigns for suffrage and was completed in Spring 2018.