Hello! My name is Rachel, and I am one of the graduate assistants for the Atlas of Drowned Towns. I joined the team in January 2023 while pursuing my M.A. in Public History at Boise State University. Although I recently graduated in May, I will continue to work with the Atlas team through the summer.
I am originally from Washington State and received a B.A. in History from Whitworth University. After my undergraduate degree, I moved to central Oregon, where I played in the outdoors for a few years, before moving to Boise for graduate school. Having now lived in all of the states that comprise the Pacific Northwest (if you don’t count Montana), I am very familiar with the history of harnessing Pacific Northwestern waterways for hydroelectricity, flood control, and irrigation, amongst other motivating factors.
In elementary school, I participated in field trips to local dams, and I remember being struck by the size of the turbines in the dams’ powerhouses. They seemed especially large compared to my short, third-grade self. These visits were educational, yet never once did I learn about the communities that they displaced, the habitats they destroyed, or the lives they disrupted. Although the history of large-scale river development has been extensively investigated, its history is incomplete. There are many other histories that need to be examined in order for the full story to be told.
For example, my master’s research explored the roles and experiences of Indigenous women in the Fish Wars of Washington State in the 1960s and 1970s, which was a series of Indigenous-led demonstrations to protect fishing rights. The decline of Pacific Northwest salmon—a direct result of the dams—led Washington State to impose fishing regulations, which defied treaties established in the mid-1800s. Northwest Indigenous groups’ inability to fish threatened their cultural, economic, and social ways of life. This story is unique, but there are many other unique histories throughout the Pacific Northwest that echo similar themes of displacement and disruption due to river development. These histories were either forgotten or purposefully ignored in favor of the rising waters, but the Atlas of Drowned Towns seeks to rediscover them.
The project’s goals to recapture and redefine the past align with my personal and professional beliefs. I believe that history can be a powerful agent of empathy, and this can be accomplished by ensuring that all peoples’ histories are being fully represented and respected. With this belief guiding my academic and professional work, I strive to craft a more complete, meaningful narrative of the past that is more inclusive for past participants, present observers, and future readers.
I look forward to the opportunity to connect and collaborate with the communities surrounding inundated places through the various community outreach programs that the Atlas has planned. Stay tuned for more information on the History Jamboree, a digital collection day and community program, which will be held in Detroit, Oregon, on October 21-22!
In the meantime, check out our new social media pages to stay updated on our research, the new digital platform that will be launched this Fall, and all the exciting programming events we have coming up. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram.