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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, wow 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 the special collections archives at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 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 UNLV Special Collections archives, 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.
Themes: Over the course of the program we will explore three broad thematic areas that encompass the overarching implications of Hoover Dam’s construction: technology, environment, and human communities. Each of the days will focus on these themes through a purposeful triangulation of topics, people, and physical sites.
Below are a few frequently asked questions.
- What will the weather be like?
- What should I wear?
- Where will we stay?
- Where can we eat?
- What about transportation?
- Can I bring my family?
- Should I bring a laptop computer?
- What should I do to prepare for the institute if I am selected?
Weather & Outdoor Activities
The Hoover Dam was built in Black Canyon, a short distance from Boulder City, Nevada. According to U.S. Climate Data, the average July temperature in Boulder City is 99 degrees! Participants should expect physical activity on a daily basis, occasionally in very hot conditions.
Erma Gobdey, who lived near the damsite and whose husband worked on the dam, is quoted in the book Building Hoover Dam: An Oral History Of The Great Depression (2001) as saying, “It was terrifically hot. My God, it was terribly hot and dusty… It would get to be 120 by nine in the morning, and it wouldn’t get to be below 120 before nine at night…I would wrap my babies in wet sheets just so they could sleep.”
It is safe to say that it will be extremely hot. We will also be doing quite a bit of walking: from architecture tours, to tours of the dam, to an all-day excursion to Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire. You should expect moderate physical activity each day in very hot and dry conditions. We will make every effort to ensure that participants are well hydrated and to avoid strenuous activities in the hottest parts of the day, but you should be prepared to be outside in the Mojave Desert in the summertime.
What should I wear?
It will be very, very hot during the day and some time will be spent outside each day. We will also be doing quite a lot of walking. You should plan to bring comfortable shoes, hats with wide brims, sunscreen, sunglasses, and cool clothes.
However, we will also spend time in libraries, archives, and meeting rooms so you may wish to bring a light sweater or long sleeved shirt for the times we are in air conditioning. All attire will be informal.
Where will we stay?
Information on this is available on the Housing & Stipend page.
Where can we eat?
There are many restaurants within walking distance in Boulder City. There are also some instances in which we will be away from civilization and bag lunches will be provided. We will discuss lunch preferences at the beginning of the week.
Here are some of the available options: https://goo.gl/BO9Y73
What about transportation?
The program starts on Sunday evening, around 5:30 at the restaurant at the Boulder Dam Hotel. The welcome address by Dr. Anthony Arrigo will start around 6:00 p.m. In order to make it for the start of the institute, you should try to arrive in Las Vegas by no later than 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
If you are flying, you should go to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. We will work with participants to arrange transportation to and from the airport. We cannot, however, guarantee that we can provide transportation for every person. If you are unable to make it for one of the shuttles or carpools, you can also take a taxi or Uber service.
Can I bring my Family?
Participants are expected to be fully engaged in the activities of the institute, which will take the majority of your day, every day. In addition to planned activities each day, there are optional activities on some evenings and weekend days. If you choose to travel with your family, please be aware that there will be few opportunities for activities outside of the institute.
Should I bring a laptop computer?
We encourage you to make the most of your time at the institute including doing research, planning courses, and other scholarly activities. You should be aware, however, that many of our site locations will not have wifi access. Also, some of our days will be spent in archives, museums, or out in the field where laptops would be impractical.
What should I do to prepare for the institute if I am selected?
The most important thing to do is to complete the assigned readings prior to each day (Please note that you do not need to print out the .pdf readings, a reading packet will be mailed to you). In order for you to get the most out of the workshop, you should be prepared to engage our scholars with questions and comments that advance everyone’s knowledge.
Participants will also receive a copy of Dr. Anthony F. Arrigo’s Imaging Hoover Dam: The Making of a Cultural Icon (2014), and Dr. Michael Green’s latest book Nevada: A History of the Silver State, which will serve to provide contextual background for the major themes of the institute. Participants are encouraged to read those books.
Additionally, you should begin thinking prior to the workshop about how you will use this workshop to enhance your own curriculum or research, and specific things that you want to take away from the program, and what your scholarly contribution to the institute can be; you should be prepared to ask questions and engage in dialogue.
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.