UNLV Libraries and UNLV Film Receive NEH Grant to Process, Preserve Howard Hughes Motion Picture Papers

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced today that the UNLV University Libraries and the UNLV Department of Film have received a $271,580 National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Award for their project, “Inventing Hollywood: Preserving and Providing Access to the Papers of Renegade Genius Howard Hughes.” 

The Tony Stark of his era. That is perhaps the most concise description of Howard Robard Hughes (1905-1976), arguably one of America’s most significant visionaries. Intuitive, mercurial, and insistent upon continual out-of-the-box innovation in everything he did, Hughes pushed himself and everyone around him to shape the future by looking beyond the possibilities of the present. 

He leveraged an initial inheritance from his parents to build one of the largest private fortunes in the world as he pursued an intense personal interest in motion picture production and aviation engineering. 

Hughes established strong ties to southern Nevada during the latter half of his life, and donated his company records and photographs to UNLV for preservation and study. The Howard Hughes Motion Picture Papers were obtained for the institution in 1996 by the first chair of the Department of Film, Dr. Hart Wegner, who had the foresight and determination to recognize their long-term research value. 

The records span nearly a half century and focus on Hughes’ motion picture enterprises from the late 1920s through the mid-1970s, including an impressive range of materials related to the art, technology, economics, and social impact of American cinema.

“This extensive collection contains the traces of a unique and perhaps unrivaled pattern of inventive energy that had a lasting impact on the evolution of Hollywood,” said Heather Addison, current chair of the UNLV Department of Film, who will co-lead the grant project with Cyndi Shein, Head of Special Collections Technical Services at UNLV Libraries. “This project is intended to provide access to that evidence, not just for current researchers, but for a bold new generation of inventors, scholars, and historians.”

This project will preserve the items in the collection by relocating them from storage to the climate-controlled environment of the University Libraries and rehousing them in acid-neutral folders and boxes as they are carefully catalogued and organized.

Once the project is complete, the materials will be physically accessible in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room in Lied Library. The Libraries will also make the materials globally discoverable and facilitate their use by describing and arranging them in accordance with all applicable professional standards.

As a relatively young and rapidly growing urban public university, UNLV has devoted intense time and energy to cultivate its identity as a research institution capable of highly professional stewardship of specialized collections, and it has made great strides, as evidenced by the the university’s recent R1 designation and UNLV Libraries’ management of other significant collections.

“Since 2013, UNLV Libraries Special Collections and Archives has had an infrastructure that supports adherence to national best practices and standards for accessioning and processing archival materials,” said Shein. “The processing methodology requires holistic evaluation of the collection that includes analysis of the collection’s research value, potential for use, and current physical and intellectual accessibility.”

Once processed, the motion picture papers will complement other Howard Hughes materials already accessible for research in UNLV’s Special Collections and Archives, which include: 

  • The Howard Hughes Professional and Aeronautical Photographs (1916-1997)
  • The Howard Hughes Public Relations Photographs (1930-1950)
  • The Howard Hughes Public Relations Reference Files (1931 to 1997), which document Hughes’ attempts to understand and manage his public image
  • The Hughes Electronics Corporation Records (1935-2003), which chronicle the growth of the company as it built experimental aircraft for Hughes, developed systems for the United States military and NATO forces, and manufactured communication satellites and space probes for NASA

The UNLV University Libraries has also digitized more than 1,700 select items (primarily photographs) from these collections and made them available online at http://digital.library.unlv.edu/hughes/.

Together, UNLV Libraries and the UNLV Department of Film will usher in a new age of stewardship and accessibility for the Howard Hughes Motion Picture Papers, a project that will serve as an exciting testament to the evolution of UNLV as a premier research institution.


Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

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