In Practice

Our faculty practices public history in its many forms and our graduate students are at the center of much of this work. We find our inspiration in our back yard—that makes it easy to get to and immediately relevant to our community. Here are examples of faculty/student collaboration from past and present.

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 has a strong emphasis on the history of the American West. Methodology includes archival work, oral history, and digital history.  Historic preservation is central to many of our projects around the city and the region and it is at the heart of our partnership with the statewide preservation group Preserve Nevada. Graduate assistantships allow selected students to serve as the Associate Director of Preserve Nevada and oversee its various preservation efforts. For both internships and class projects, our students have worked with preservation groups associated with the historic Huntridge theater, the mid-century modern Morelli House, and the Neon Museum.

Featured here are materials produced by graduate students in 2011 relating to The Walking Box Ranch in Searchlight, Nevada. The  silent screen star Clara Bow and her cowboy film star husband Rex Bell built and ran the cattle ranch and named it for the industry term for a movie camera. The site remains remarkably intact and a wonderful laboratory for the study of desert environments and the cultural history of the American West. 

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

Atomic Culture

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 project that played upon our strength in oral history. The project, spearheaded by Andy Kirk, environmental sociologist Robert Futrell, and noted atomic scholar and oral historian Mary Palevsky, 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 through independent studies, graduate assistantships, internships, and class work.

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 ten-day exchange. Using photography, video and social media, participants interpreted the effects of nuclear testing in both areas.

With the 2016 release of Andy Kirk's graphic history Doom Towns:  The People and Landscapes of Atomic Testing, atomic culture has provided a way for a new crop of graduate students to see the connections between nature and culture. In collaboration with Nevada Humanities, Kirk and his students curated and installed an exhibition featuring the artwork for the book. For summer internships, students have worked with the Department of Energy, the Atomic Testing Museum, and the oral historians at UNLV's impressive Special Collections. Special Collections leads many of our program's digital initiatives.

Las Vegas Social and Cultural History

Las Vegas is a dynamic place to do public history, and our program’s strong focus on material culture puts the city’s vibrant entertainment scene front-and-center. 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.

In 2017, public history students collaborated with leading Vegas attraction The Mob Museum to celebrate women's evening wear during the Prohibition Era. The exhibition, "Ready to Roar" featured dance-ready, beaded sheaths, fur coats, and cases of the remarkable fashion accessories of the 1920s. The exhibition demonstrated to many students the power of clothing to speak to larger themes in history including: women's labor and power as a consumer; the influence of Europe on the United States; the rise of synthetic fibers and dyes; and the evolution of Art Deco.

Other Vegas-inspired clothing exhibitions include ‘Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful’: Liberace and the Art of Costume, which ran for six months at The Cosmopolitan. The exhibition, curated by Clemente and graduate student Shannon Nutt, featured a dozen of the pianist’s most iconic ensembles and attracted national press coverage. In Winter 2013, pubic history students opened Vegas Style: Spectator and Spectacle at the Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas. Included were costumes from Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Shecky Greene, and Penn & Teller.  

Working directly with museum professionals to create and install an exhibition, our students learn first-hand the “hows” and “whys” of the business. Museum staffers teach and learn, as students inspire creative alternatives to established methods of design and display. 

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

The history of women sits front and center in both our coursework and our public history practice. Through oral history collections, exhibitions, and digital history projects we explore women's roles in creating social and cultural change.

Important projects include the highly successful "Ready to Roar: Women's Eveningwear in the Probation Era," which ran at The Mob Museum in 2016 and 2017. Researched, curated and installed by graduate students, the exhibition featured 15 ensembles and explored the lives and mores of women. Key themes included the development of the modern clothing industry, women's evolving public roles, and the rise of Art Deco as the definitive aesthetic of the era. 

Currently, graduate students are developing a digital project related to women's civic engagement in Las Vegas. Under the direction of Dr. Joanne Goodwin, graduate students are researching topics ranging from community engagement to campaigns for suffrage. The project will be completed in Fall 2018.