Alicia Barber | KUNR

Alicia Barber

Historian, Time & Place

Alicia Barber, PhD, is a professional historian and award-winning writer whose work focuses on the built environment and cultural history of Nevada and the American West. After earning a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, she moved to Reno, where she taught at the University of Nevada, Reno for the next ten years, and directed the University of Nevada Oral History Program from 2009-2013.

She is the author of the book Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City as well as multiple articles and chapters for both popular and scholarly publications, and the co-founder and editor of Reno Historical (renohistorical.org), a map-based smart phone app and website that identifies and describes historic sites throughout the city. Founder of the historical consulting firm Stories in Place, Dr. Barber collaborates frequently with government agencies, museums, artists, architects, and community groups on projects ranging from oral histories to historical displays and exhibits. In 2014 she was honored with the Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.

Police speak with one of the student members of UNR's Black Student Union in 1971. Photo from the 1972 edition of the University of Nevada, Reno yearbook, Artemisia.
Credit Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.

This fall, there’s been a lot of talk and media coverage about the campus climate at the University of Nevada, Reno in light of several incidents of hate and bias on campus. Those have included graffiti of swastikas and flyers for a white nationalist group.

With campaigning well underway for many local, state, and federal elected offices, it’s a good time to look back at how Nevada’s political landscape has changed through the years. In this episode of “Time & Place,” historian Alicia Barber takes a close look at Nevada’s seats in the United States Congress.

Today, the cities of Reno and Sparks make up one large metropolitan area. But unlike Reno, Sparks wasn’t known as a destination for gambling until the 1950s. Historian Alicia Barber tells the story of the Sparks casino that changed all of that, in this episode of “Time & Place.”

Courtesy Special Collections, University of Nevada Reno Libraries.

Our media landscape is constantly changing with the introduction of new technologies and formats, but it all began with words printed on a page. Historian Alicia Barber traces the evolution of Reno’s daily newspapers in this installment of Time & Place.

An old picture of Morrill Hall, the first building on the UNR campus.
Courtesy of University Archives / University of Nevada, Reno Libraries

Classes are underway at the University of Nevada in Reno. And in this segment of “Time & Place,” historian Alicia Barber tells the story of how, why and where it all began. 

Dick Belaustegui (back row, second from right) poses with his class in front of the Orvis Ring School in northeast Reno, late 1940s.
Courtesy of Dick Belaustegui.

It may not feel like fall out there yet, but for students throughout our region, summer vacation is over and school is back in session. In this episode of “Time & Place,” historian Alicia Barber takes a look back at the development of Reno’s public schools and some of the neighborhoods they served.

Courtesy California State University, Chico, Meriam Library Special Collections

Summertime in Northern Nevada can really bring the heat. Fortunately, for most of us, cooling down is as easy as heading to the refrigerator. But it wasn’t always so easy for our region’s residents to chill out in the hot weather, as historian Alicia Barber explains in this episode of “Time & Place.”

Pappy Smith at the Harolds Club.
Courtesy Special Collections, UNR Libraries.

Today, casinos are run by corporations that operate under a set of industry-wide standards and practices, but in the early days of Nevada gaming, the way a casino operated could tell you a lot about its owners. Historian Alicia Barber describes one notable example in this episode of Time & Place.

Women ride in mock paddy wagon.
Neal Cobb Collection, Nevada Historical Society

The Reno Rodeo celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding this year, and as you might imagine, the event has inspired a wide range of traditions over the course of a century. Historian Alicia Barber highlights one of them in this installment of Time & Place.


Special Collections/UNR

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a massive undertaking that employed thousands of Chinese immigrants. In this installment of “Time & Place,” historian Alicia Barber explains some of the challenges faced by the Chinese residents of the Sierra Nevada after the railroad was finished.

As a warning, this segment contains historical accounts of physical violence fueled by racism and may not be suitable for children.

Lone Star Ranch 1943
Courtesy Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.

It’s well known that the landscape around Reno was once filled with working farms and ranches. And as the tourism industry developed, some ranch owners noticed a growing interest among visitors in playing cowboy—or at least in meeting one. Historian Alicia Barber explains in this installment of Time & Place.

1940 Virginia City
Courtesy Special Collections Department, UNR Libraries.

Today, Virginia City, Nevada attracts more than two million visitors each year. But that wasn’t always the case. In this segment of “Time & Place,” Alicia Barber explains how early promoters helped turn the historic mining town into a national tourist destination.


The cribs of the Stockade brothel
Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society

The fact that prostitution is legal in some parts of Nevada remains a source of controversy both inside and outside the state. Although it’s not allowed in Washoe County today, the city of Reno has been more permissive in the past.

Courtesy of the Western Nevada Photo Collection

This month, KUNR is featuring stories about Reno's iconic neon in a series called Sparked: Northern Nevada’s Neon. In this installment of Time & Place, historian Alicia Barber explains how the shifting popularity of neon has been reflected locally in the evolution of Reno’s most celebrated landmark.

Mexican workers in Bracero Program
Courtesy of Neal Cobb.

As neighboring countries, the United States and Mexico have a long history of bilateral agreements. In this installment of “Time & Place,” historian Alicia Barber looks at one cooperative program introduced during World War II to benefit residents on both sides of the border.

Johnson-Jeffries fight
Photo courtesy of Neal Cobb.

Perhaps the most famous event in the history of Reno, Nevada took place on July 4, 1910. As we close out Black History Month, that momentous day is the focus of this segment of Time & Place from historian Alicia Barber.

Image courtesy of Lear Theater Inc.

February is Black History Month, and in this segment of “Time & Place”, historian Alicia Barber discusses a groundbreaking African American architect from California whose contributions crossed the border into Nevada more than seventy years ago.

Workers pick up rocks near Fallon, Nevada.
Courtesy of Armando DeCarlo.

In the 1930's, the effects of the Great Depression reached nearly every community in the United States. In this segment of Time & Place, Historian Alicia Barber describes one federal relief program that helped rebuild Nevada while putting thousands of Americans back on their feet.

A black and white image of four showgirls on a stage.
Courtesy of Barbara Davis.

Decades before Nevada was known for its casinos, it was world famous for offering quick divorces. In this segment of Time & Place, historian Alicia Barber explains how the process worked for those who traveled to the Silver State to end their marriages.

A black and white photo of Frank Sinatra between two other women.
Courtesy Special Collections Department, UNR Libraries

Nevada’s casino industry is one of the most tightly regulated in the world, but it takes a lot of legislation and enforcement to keep it that way. In this segment of Time & Place, historian Alicia Barber describes one of the earliest challenges to the state’s strict gaming laws.

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