Hoover Dam and the Shaping of the American West, is a two-week NEH-funded Summer Institute for middle and high school teachers. The institute will be located in Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada, and will run from June 27 to July 9, 2021.
“One of the best summer seminars I’ve experienced from any organization!”
“The program was an amazing experience.”
“Overall, the program was an incredible success. Not only will the institute shape how I teach my American history survey classes, but the institute also has helped me develop courses in Nevada history, Western history, and environmental history.”
“This was a fabulous learning experience. The location was perfect and my fellow participants were completely involved.”
“The program was excellent, and it was a tremendous learning experience for me.”
“An amazing experience, with an exceptionally good group of colleagues, as well as leaders and visiting speakers. It will both change how I will teach about the American West and opened an exciting new avenue for my research.”
“Overall assessment: Outstanding. This experience will most definitely enhance my teaching. I feel I have a more nuanced understanding of the environment, technology and human communities that created the Hoover Dam. I’ll long remember this institute and draw from my learning experiences for years to come.”
“Fantastic experience all around. Seriously. I will be able to bring in what I learned to almost all of my classes – from my American history survey to my American West class to my Cold War class.”
“This experience in the Hoover Dam Institute will have an enormous and immediate effect on my classes, both the modern US History survey that I teach each semester in multiple sections and this Fall’s biennial American West Junior/Senior level course.”
“An excellent and incredibly useful institute. It will certainly improve my teaching and has given me some ideas on potential scholarship that I hadn’t anticipated. I have learned a great deal which will be incorporated into several classes I teach and even some pedagogical methods that I will experiment with in the future.”
“This NEH Institute was excellent. The overall structure of the program provided a thorough overview of the topic—the dynamic and continually evolving role that Hoover Dam has played in the growth of the American West”
Welcome to Hoover Dam and the Shaping of the American West, a National Endowment for the Humanities funded Summer Institute. We are excited to present this program, which examines issues in early 20th century America through the lens of the construction of Hoover Dam.
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.
Institue Overview: At Hoover Dam and the Shaping of the American West we will explore the societal consequences (positive and negative) of Hoover Dam’s construction. Throughout the program, leading scholars will guide us in a variety of sessions that center on three central themes: technology, environment, and human communities. We will consider such ideas as the role of Hoover Dam in the development of the American southwest, how Hoover Dam’s construction reflects broader issues of early 20th century American society and the legacy of Hoover Dam (and other large water infrastructure projects) for future generations.
We will examine archival materials such as letters, photographs, and oral histories. We will get the opportunity to explore the damsite itself, as well as Boulder City, Lake Mead, the Boulder City Museum, the Nevada State Museum, and various archives. We will learn about the challenges and triumphs of the construction process, as well as the physical workings of the dam and its distinctive architectural design. We will engage such topics as politics, economics, labor history, civil rights, westward migration, and the environmental legacy of US water policy, all through the lens of Hoover Dam. These topics will serve to show that the story of Hoover Dam can be instructional of a variety of humanities-oriented themes that reach well beyond its celebrated feats of engineering.
Site studies: Classroom sessions will be augmented by site studies in which both the natural and built environments of Hoover Dam and its surrounding areas serve as touchstones to draw out larger issues of the dam’s construction. Boulder City, Lake Mead, the Valley of Fire, the Black Canyon damsite, the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association archives, downtown Las Vegas, the Springs Preserve, and the Nevada State Museum will serve as the sites where educators will gain a better understanding of the history and consequences of Hoover Dam’s construction.
Principles of Civility: NEH encourages an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse. For more information, please go to the NEH’s Principles of Civility information page. NEH welcomes comments, concerns, or suggestions on these principles at email@example.com
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.