“One of the best summer seminars I’ve experienced from any organization!”
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“The program was excellent, and it was a tremendous learning experience for me.”
Welcome to Hoover Dam and the Shaping of the American West, a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for college and university faculty. We are excited to present this program, which examines issues in early 20th century America through the lens of the construction of Hoover Dam.
The institute will run from July 8 to July 20, 2018.
Hoover Dam is undoubtedly an icon of American engineering, an enduring symbol of modernism, and a memorial to those Americans who overcame one of the most inhospitable environments on earth to ensure its construction. Even before its completion, Hoover Dam was destined for renown. In the years and decades before the first blasts of dynamite began to reshape the walls of Black Canyon in preparation for what was to become the largest dam in the world, those who championed the project declared it a sublime tribute to American technological progress and a symbol of American ingenuity and pride.
“the greatest constructive project of our generation. There is nothing comparable to it within our memories, save the construction of the Panama Canal.” Senator Hiram W. Johnson
Senator Hiram W. Johnson, co-author of the Swing-Johnson Act that legislated the dam’s construction, wrote in 1928 that once completed it would be “the greatest constructive project of our generation. There is nothing comparable to it within our memories, save the construction of the Panama Canal. It is a project of national importance.” An article in the Los Angeles Times in October of 1933 states, “this great structure presents a picture of massive power, which overwhelms even the modern concept of the great Mayan builders.” Describing it as surpassing the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis, Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, and the pyramids of Egypt, the Times pronounced the dam to be “in fact, the greatest structure ever built by man.” At its dedication ceremony on September 30, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the dam was a “great feat of mankind,” “the greatest dam in the world,” and a “twentieth-century marvel.”
Countless politicians, journalists, scholars, and others have since declared Hoover Dam to be one of America’s greatest achievements. Roosevelt, however, also cautioned in his dedication that, “Beautiful and great as this structure is, it must also be considered in its relationship to the agricultural and industrial development and in its contribution to the health and comfort of the people of America who live in the southwest.” It is this very consideration that drives the focus of our program.
Although the saga of the American west is a complicated one that involves a wide range of issues, there is one feature that pervades every aspect of its history: water. The need for water in the American west and efforts to control its distribution for human benefit extend back millennia. Long before the Bureau of Reclamation was formed to “make the desert bloom,” white settlers, Mormons, and Native Americans devised innumerable ways to divert Colorado River water into the arid Colorado Desert for irrigation or drinking. Nevertheless, every one of these efforts eventually succumbed to ravaging floods, blistering drought, salinity buildup, and other problems.
Hoover Dam was the monumental undertaking that sought to finally “tame” the Colorado River. Its resulting flood control, drinking water, and cheap hydropower spurred the metropolises of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, and allowed vast agricultural development in the Imperial Valley of California.
For more information on the program and how to apply, please explore the rest of this website.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website or at this institute do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.