Since its founding in 2003, the Oral History Research Center (OHRC) has collected oral histories as part of focused projects designed to produce a series of interrelated histories. Projects are described below.
Current Oral History Projects
OHRC’s inaugural project captures the history of the Las Vegas by collecting stories of historical events, neighborhood and family interactions, and political proceedings. Always open-ended, allowing OHRC to interview residents over many decades and to enlarge the demographics whenever necessary, this project houses the history of dancers and showgirls, maids, politicians, golfers, dealers, teachers, and many others that share memories of Las Vegas. The project is named after OHRC's founding benefactor, Dr. Harold Boyer, who donated funds to the UNLV Libraries to capture the stories of early Las Vegas Rotary Club members and ensure additional projects would follow.
This project shows the Strip in the heyday of entertainment from a different angle, from the point of view of band members. What was it like to play behind Sammy Davis, Jr., or Bobby Darrin? Why did this type of music end? Did the musician’s union make the right decision by striking? Las Vegas history is multi-layered and this group permits a look into the back door of stage.
The Blue Diamond Oral History Committee is comprised of dedicated village volunteers who collect stories from neighbors past and present. The quaint village nestled in Red Rock Canyon is home of the richest gypsum ore in the state, thus the name Blue Diamond. A grassroots effort, Claytee White trained and still consults with the volunteers on oral history methods. Members of the Committee have collected almost 100 interviews, obtained a 501(c)(3) designation, applied for grants, and developed a play from the histories that was performed at the Southwest Oral History Conference and in the village.
Between 1970 and 2010, Southern Nevada’s population increased seven-fold. The urban skyline changed dramatically, while dense suburban tracts pushed at the edges of the desert. The UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives launched the Building Las Vegas collecting initiative in 2016 to collect and preserve evidence about this dramatic growth. This focused effort ensures future students and researchers -- urban planners, geographers, architects, historians, sociologists, and others -- can study and learn from our unique built environment. So far, we have collected over 100 oral histories with individuals who shaped our region’s built environment.
A true community project combining the efforts of community advisors, regional cultural heritage repositories, and city and county agencies, this project (2012-2017) collected oral histories as well as photographs, documents, and manuscripts. Community members includes Hannah Brown, Sonya Horsford, Jarmilla McMillan-Arnold, Courtney Mooney, Todd Robinson, Carrie Sampson, and Brenda Williams. Partner institutions included Henderson Public Library, City of Las Vegas, Clark County Museum, Las Vegas Clark County Public Libraries, the UNLV Libraries, Weiner-Rogers Law Library at UNLV's Williams S. Boyd School of Law, Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas National Bar Association, and Vegas PBS. Hosted by the UNLV Libraries, the online portal, Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas, provides access to collected materials. In collaboration with Vegas PBS, this project also resulted in the production of a documentary, African Americans: the Las Vegas Experience, and a curriculum guide for grades K-12.
An often told story is that Moe Dalitz, legendary casino owner, built Sunrise Hospital. Did other colorful residents play major roles in early heath care? Who were some of the early doctors? Why was the highway between the city and the Nevada Test Site referred to as the "widow maker?" The unique challenges of doctors and health care personnel in Las Vegas are described as they evolved from a tent hospital to the modern facilities of today.
Launched in 2018, the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada is an oral history and community engagement project to collect the diverse history of the Latinx communities of Las Vegas and surrounding areas. The project will involve students in connecting with the community and engage multiple generations in reflecting on the lives and experiences of the region’s Latinx residents
On October 1, 2017 a horrifying tragedy struck Las Vegas. A gunman opened fire into a crowd of 22,000 attending Route 91 Harvest Festival. Fifty-eight victims were killed and almost five hundred people were injured in one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. We are collecting oral histories to collect and preserve first-hand testimonies from first responders, witnesses, and survivors.
The Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project documents the lives and contributions of Southern Nevada's Jewish community. Between 2014 and 2018, over 200 oral histories were collected, and over 24,000 historical items were digitized about Southern Nevada’s Jewish heritage. In addition, more than 60 archival collections documenting the Jewish experience were collected and preserved in Special Collections and Archives. In addition to oral histories, photographs, historical documents, and more, the project website includes carefully researched biographies, timelines, and histories of institutions, events, and prominent themes showing the integral roles Jews have played in the history of Southern Nevada.
UNLV marked its 50th anniversary in 2007. UNLV is so young that it was possible to record stories of many "firsts." This project peers into many campus units as well as into early student life. One can learn the story of the school’s colors, mascot, and about classes that began before the first building was erected. The OHRC conducted over 60 interviews with faculty, staff, and alumni to celebrate this milestone.
The John S. Park Neighborhood was the first Las Vegas residential community listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The general boundaries of the John S. Park Historic District are Las Vegas Boulevard and South Ninth Street to the west and east, and Charleston Boulevard and Franklin Avenue to the north and south, respectively. Baby boomers that grew up there include city leaders, county commissioners, and governors. The oral history project divulges neighborhood conflict with Bob Stupak of Stratosphere fame, stories of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and how neighbors built that sense of community through the National Register application process.
Adjacent to the area where the early city’s water supply spewed up from the earth, these neighborhoods have held their charm and housed legends. Well known communities in this area include Artesian Heights, Glen Heather, McNeil, the Palominos, the Ranchos, Scotch Eighties, and Westleigh. Some families can trace generations who live in these neighborhoods. We learn why and begin to understand why these prestigious neighborhoods are now being included in the "new downtown" demographic.
Other Oral History Projects Preserved in UNLV's Special Collections
The Arnold Shaw Interviews document the early days of Las Vegas entertainment. Showcasing stars like Debbie Reynolds, Wayne Newton, Steve Lawrence and Edythe Gorme, Joe Williams, and Paul Anka, the collection contains memories from the era of elegance.
The Oral History of the Public School Principalship project, initiated in 1986, contains interviews with former elementary, middle, and high school principals. Conducted by Professor Carlton and his graduate students, the documents capture the views, reminiscences, and accumulated knowledge of these veteran administrators. The collection consists of approximately 400 first-person accounts of service in public school administration by men and women serving in Nevada, Virginia, and 24 other states. Initiated at Virginia Tech, the project and collection activities “migrated” to UNLV in 2000, when Professor Carlton joined the faculty of the College of Education. Collection continued until late 2010.
UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske is the patron saint of Las Vegas oral history. Beginning in the early 1970s, Roske commenced the task of documenting the history of Las Vegas by training students and having them collect interviews.