We here in the UNLV Public History Program are proud of our alumni and the amazing things they have accomplished. This is a page dedicated to them and their work, highlighting the integral role the study of public history plays in their careers and lives, regardless of what paths they take. Part blog, part autobiography, these posts feature stories about the many transferable skills these historians developed as students of public history at UNLV.
Leisl Carr Childers
April 26, 2018
I arrived in Las Vegas and entered UNLV’s doctoral program in History in the fall of 2005. One of the first things a graduate student in the program asked me was whether or not I was going to be doing public history. All I knew about the field was what my mentors had told me, so I told him no, I wasn’t. He levelled a look at me and asked me if I wanted a job. That made me pay attention. What I didn’t understand at the time, but soon came to realize is that public history was the pathway for me to be a better historian.
My first job at UNLV was on the Nevada Test Site Oral History project and the work really put me through my paces and caused me to pay attention to the Great Basin’s history, a place often ignored. Besides adding a wide array of interdisciplinary skills to my repertoire, including oral history interviewing, transcription, and editing, the project required me to manage my time more closely and work collaboratively with other groups on campus such as the digital librarian and special collections archivist in Lied Library. These skills changed the way I approached my research and writing, widening the ways in which I interacted with historical sources and crafted interpretations.
In addition, my participation on the project fundamentally changed the shape of my research career. My mentors encouraged me to make use of the work I had been doing on the NTSOHP with ranchers and radiation monitors and reshape my dissertation project. Coursework that ranged from content and historiography to cultural theory and public history practice provided me with an excellent platform from which to approach the topic of Great Basin history. My mentors gave me plenty of room to be creative and opportunistic throughout the process.
The path the project set me on has led me to some very unexpected places. I have published a monograph on the subject, which won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in Contemporary Nonfiction in 2016, and worked with history centers, including the Rural West Initiative at the Bill Lane Center at Stanford University, the Center for the American West at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the American West Center at the University of Utah. I have also worked with reporters from the High Country News, Washington Post, and PBS’s Frontline.
In 2005, I could not have imagined doing any of these things. But, because of the opportunities afforded me in the public history program at UNLV, I was able to put together a set of skills and resources that launched my career as both an academic and public historian. There was no better place for me to train for my future career.