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Public history professor selected for 2004 Darnall Award

Jon Hunner, a professor of public history at New Mexico State University, has been selected to receive the 2004 Dennis W. Darnall Faculty Achievement Award.

Jon Hunner, director of public history at New Mexico State University, has been selected to receive the 2004 Dennis W. Darnall Faculty Achievement Award. (New Mexico State University photo by Greg Mays)

The award, named in honor of a former associate dean, is presented each year to a faculty member for achievements in teaching and research and for service to the community and the university.

Hunner is the director of the Public History Program at NMSU. In this role, he assists communities around the state in documenting, interpreting and publicizing their history and culture. He and his students have published two books of historic photographs, one on Santa Fe and the other on Las Cruces. Hunner and his students also have conducted surveys of historic buildings in Columbus, Mesilla, Las Cruces and Las Trampas.

From 1998 to 2001, Hunner organized the List of the Most Endangered Historic Places in New Mexico for the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance and served on the Cultural Properties Review Committee for the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division.

"We don't know the future, but we know parts of the past," Hunner said. "If we interview people, preserve buildings and put up museums, we know where we came from and are better prepared for the future."

Hunner said working with the fabric of the past is fun. "This is where we have been," he said. "Things haven't always been the way they are today."

The public history master's degree program, which started in 1984, trains students to go into communities and interpret and preserve their culture.

In addition to his work with public history, Hunner also is a historian of the Atomic West. His book, "Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community," will be out this fall from the University of Oklahoma Press. He also has recently published chapters in "Atomic Culture: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" and "Western Lives: A Biographical History of the American West."

For his next book project, Hunner will use a $2,000 grant from the American Institute of Physics to research the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Hunner plans to write a biography about Oppenheimer, who was the civilian director of Los Alamos National Laboratory during World War II when the atomic bomb was being developed.

"Without his leadership, the United States might not have been the first to build an atomic bomb," Hunner said.

Hunner, whose father safeguarded nuclear weapons for the Air Force, said he has always been fascinated with the development of the Atomic Age.

"The Atomic Age created the potential for changing humanity, both in good and bad ways," Hunner said. "Nuclear medicine and radiation treatments for cancer are just some examples of things atomic energy has brought to our lives."

In 2001, Hunner was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to assist Vaxjo University in Sweden in developing a public history program and an American studies program.

Hunner teaches public history, oral history, historic editing, heritage tourism, several classes in U.S. history, and time traveling, an innovative course that trains students to do living history in museums and classrooms.

Hunner's time travel course, "Time Traveling through New Mexico's Past," will receive a commendation from the American Association for State and Local History this fall. Hunner also recently received a Heritage Preservation Award from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division in recognition of his leadership of NMSU's Public History Program.

It was in memory of Darnall's broad interests and service that family and friends created the Darnall Faculty Achievement Award to recognize the broad-based achievements and service of other dedicated university faculty.

Darnall was head of New Mexico State's chemistry and biochemistry department, associate dean and director of the Research Center of the College of Arts and Sciences, the founder of Bio Recovery -- a company based on his research, and an award-winning teacher and researcher.