University begins Shared History Program

Historical recounts of JFK’s assassination continue to conglomerate

1/3/2014 - By: Patrick Harris
Linn Exhibit University of Nevada, Reno students Anne-Elizabeth Northan, front, and Mark Cooley, assemble the six displays of the Linn Exhibit, opened in November 2013. Part of the Shared History Program, the exhibit features a layered historical view of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Oral History Program opened the Linn Exhibit, an intricate historical model of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 from the eyes of Travis Linn, the University’s first journalism dean. The exhibit is on display in the Shared History Lab of the University’s Mack Social Science, Room 109.

“Through the projects of the program and related coursework, the department seeks to prepare students for research and interpretative careers utilizing the innovative presentation tools of the 21st century,” Anita Watson, coordinator of the Shared History Initiative, said. “Shared History offers them exciting opportunities to connect their training with initiatives from the local community, to the benefit of both.”

The Linn Exhibit is part of the Shared History Program, which developed from the University’s previous Oral History Program. Created in 1964, the Oral History database recorded, preserved and provided the public with spoken histories of mining, ranching, government and the experiences of various ethnic groups and cultures in Nevada and the Intermountain West. This program, however, lost funding in 2009. Rather than shut it down, the University’s history department used its own resources and endowment income to expand and reenergize the archives. In 2013, the Shared History Program was born.

“The Shared History Program has enhanced the history department, and made projects like this possible,” Anne-Elizabeth Northan, a student who helped assemble the Linn Exhibit, said. “The orientation and dedication that the history department has toward its students is unparalleled.”

Rather than focus on oral accounts, the Shared History Program actively seeks out oral, public and digital information and accounts. Sources can include, but are not limited to, individuals, interviews, written reports, social media and archives. As a result, the program offers a multifaceted historical account of events that educates the public and also seeks their contributions.

University students in the College of Liberal Arts help contribute to the amalgamation of historical information. For example, the earlier Oral History Archive was recently digitized and made available as part of the University's Special Collections.

To further develop the Shared History Program, Watson sought out college students Northan and Mark Cooley. Northan is a dual major in history and English literature and plans to graduate in May 2015; Cooley has a bachelor’s degree in history and is in pursuit of his master’s degree. The two were contacted by Watson and began working on the program’s first project: the Linn Exhibit.

“Working on the exhibit has been a privilege; both Dr. Watson and Anne-Elizabeth have been a pleasure to work with,” Cooley said. “I also got to interview a judge and a relative of Dr. Watson’s for the project, which was a blast.”

The students worked with Christine Johnson, curator of artifacts and registrar for the Nevada Historical Society. Johnson provided direction on mounting and designing the exhibit cases.

“We very much appreciated Christine’s help; we learned a great deal from her,” Northan said. “The entire experience has been extremely educational, and the Linn collection was an exemplary example of primary source material. I was able to get outside of my comfort zone and connect with people in our community by conducting interviews, and I was able to gain valuable exhibit experience.  Connecting with professors, students and members of the community was exciting, collaborative and educational.”

The Linn Exhibit features six panels of collections that display the events of Nov. 22, 1963, the day United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The first case, entitled, “Travis Linn and the JFK Assassination,” recounts the day’s events from the eyes of Linn, then a journalist for the WFAA radio station in Dallas, Tex. Linn covered the arrival of President Kennedy into Dallas and covered the aftermath of the shooting. Memorabilia from Linn’s accounts are featured in the exhibit, including his typewriter, his glasses, and his written account of the day’s events. The mementos were supplied by Linn’s wife, Sheila.

“I have participated in a major drama of history,” Linn wrote. “I have personally seen and described events which I could not myself believe. I have covered the assassination of the only President I have ever loved. I have personally witnessed the monumental continuity of American government. And I have lived four days which I shall never, never forget. Not in all our lives shall we forget them.”

Other exhibit cases, such as “Nevada Remembers” and “That Day in Dallas” feature newspapers, photos, magazine covers and additional accounts of the day from members of the Reno community.

Though on display, the exhibit may expand from community contributions. Visitors to the exhibit can fill out a five-part questionnaire that asks respondents to detail their accounts of the assassination. Questions include how respondents felt when they heard the news, their thoughts on conspiracy theories, and what President Kennedy meant to them.

The Linn Exhibit can be found in the Shared History Lab of the University’s Mack Social Science and will be displayed through the spring.

For more information or to contribute to Shared History, contact Anita Watson at anitaw@unr.edu or 775-682-6466.


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