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UNLV Center Preserves Local History

In an era of blogging, YouTube, and instant communication, there are still a dedicated few who take the time to slow down, listen, and make a personal connection.

"Oral history affords us an opportunity that the written word cannot; it is rich in the nuances, accent, and the tone of the person speaking," says Lisa Gioia-Acres, a recent UNLV graduate and volunteer for the Oral History Research Center. "Each interviewee gives me something that I take away with me. In just the two years I’ve been doing oral histories, I have heard some poignant and wonderful stories," she says of the accounts of Broadway, vaudeville, and jazz stars.

"Oral history is another tool in the arsenal of a historian’s equipment," said Claytee White, Director of the Oral History Research Center. "It makes history more real, similar to a journal or a diary."

The center—located in the UNLV Lied Library Special Collections—conducts and collects audio taped interviews, sometimes supplemented by video segments, of people selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on historical topics focusing on Las Vegas and Southern Nevada, according to White.

The center was formally established in 2003, in part by private funding.

"Our initial donor was Dr. Harold Boyer. His donation actually justified the start of the center," said White.

The gift created the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project, which focuses on documenting the history of early Las Vegas—experiences such as the Helldorado Parades, cruising Freemont Street, and relaxing at the Blue Onion. This project will remain active as the center continues to record early Las Vegas life.

"Our funding sources know what a unique opportunity this is in a town like ours. Las Vegas is a new city with lots of old timers who have great memories," said White.

Many of those memories don’t just come from high profile citizens, but from valets, maids, and dealers who helped make Las Vegas not just a vacation destination but a community.

"Without them, our history will not be complete. Oral history is a way of collecting history from the bottom up instead of from the top down," said White.

As the center continues to grow, White is enthusiastic about contributing to the community.

"Collecting history in this manner is exciting and allows the university to enter the community in a very intimate way," said White. "It makes learning an exciting, one-on-one experience for our narrators, volunteers, and especially the wonderful students we are blessed to train."

Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center, collects stories from those who made history.

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