Alicia Barber, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, historian, and consultant. She is the author of “Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City.”

Alicia Barber and Demetrice Dalton of Our Story, Inc.

NM&VG: What first inspired your interest in the history of the American West?

AB: My mother’s family settled in Washington state in the 19th century, my father was born in Alaska Territory, and I grew up in California and Utah. The region has always been my home, and its history has always felt like my history. I fell in love with Western American literature in my 20s, reading everything from Louise Erdrich to Wallace Stegner, and I dove headfirst into studying the cultural history of the American West in graduate school.

NM&VG: Why do you find the history of Nevada so compelling?

AB: Nevada to me is quintessentially Western, with its vast, open landscapes punctuated by tight-knit communities. I think of its core identity as a crossroads. On one hand, it’s defined by passage, from the trails established by native communities, explorers, and emigrants to the railroads and highways carrying generations of travelers. But a crossroads is also a place where people gather, some for short periods like miners, divorce-seekers, gamblers, and tourists, with others laying down roots for generations. That dynamic has brought the state a constant infusion of new ideas that have mixed and mingled with established cultural influences to create something truly unique.

NM&VG: Can you tell us about Reno Historical?

AB: Reno Historical is a map-based website and mobile app that features stories of the city’s historic places. We founded it back in 2014 at the University of Nevada, Reno in order to help illuminate what lies below the surface—and not just the stories behind the existing landscape, but of places long lost to demolition and destruction, like Club Harlem and Reno’s Chinatown. The project is now hosted by the Historic Reno Preservation Society, and I’ve served as its editor from the beginning. We’re constantly adding new entries, and you can take virtual tours to explore various themes and neighborhoods. 

NM&VG: When friends or family visit, what are your “must-see” Nevada destinations? 

AB: I’m drawn to places where you can immerse yourself in the experiences of those who were here before us. The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum in Carson City is immensely powerful. Another favorite is the Historic Fourth Ward School & Museum in Virginia City. And everyone needs
to wander through Sundance Books and Music in Reno. 

NM&VG: Finish the sentence: “To me, history is …”

AB: “….an ever-evolving effort to gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of the past.”