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History Professor Earns Pair of National Grants

April 28, 2023
Rachel Miller

On April 18, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced $35.63 million in grants for 258 humanities projects across the country.

Of the 258 grants, only two were awarded in the state of Idaho – both to Dr. Rachel Miller, Assistant Professor of History at The College of Idaho.

“I was thrilled,” Miller said of learning her proposals had been accepted. “It was possible because my colleagues in the department and also my colleagues in the field of cultural history supported my application.”

The two grants serve two different objectives. The first grant will fund a larger, educational project growing from her teachings at the College. “Voices of the Treasure Valley” has its roots in a class she taught in 2022 (first introduced here) focusing on the recent history of the Boise Valley. She explained that many are familiar with accounts of the pioneers, the Simplots, and other stories of Idaho from earlier times in the state’s history. This will target more contemporary times in the Gem State.

“I don’t think we have a great sense of what it’s been like to live here over the past 50-60 years for regular, ordinary working people. So the point of this project is to document it before everyone is gone and before the area is so different that we can’t even try to imagine what it was like,” Miller said. “In my most utopian vision, this project is a vehicle for students, but also people outside of the College community to really learn about and think about where they live, how it has changed over time, and what they’d like it to look like in the future.”

The research-based project builds on something the College prides itself on but expands to different branches of that educational tree.

“The College has a great tradition of student research in the sciences,” she said. “In the humanities and social sciences, we’re not as used to doing collaborative research or collaborative research with students, so one of the things I was really excited about was the chance to bring undergraduates into the research process and into the project designs.”

Miller cited previous research by College colleagues such as Diane Raptosh and Rochelle Johnson as models of work she’s hoping to see more of. A more recent example is the Redline Project, research that Miller herself has been actively involved in.

“It’s an attempt to really connect the College and its students and its faculty to the wider Treasure Valley,” she said.

The second grant Miller received is a summer-stipend bonus that will allow her to complete a book project. The NEH received over 800 applications for a summer stipend grant and only 11 percent of those grants were awarded. Miller’s book focuses on the entertainment industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries, from performers to musicians, and how those industries evolved in early America. Miller has a keen interest in theatre history because of her personal experience in the performing arts and she took that interest and experience and wed it with the history of the industry.

“Everybody I knew before I went to grad school was in a band and also working in a restaurant,” Miller explained. “I was interested in the longer history of how people who are committed to the performing arts make a living and how they handle changes in how the industry is structured.”

Miller hopes to have the initial draft of the book completed by the end of the summer.

The College of Idaho has a 132-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit