Resources for Teaching about Los Alamos

Los Alamos, New Mexico is an area with a rich history, both in terms of the physical location and the impact the small town has had on the world. Looking at different perspectives from the people that lived and worked at Los Alamos can provide a deeper understanding of the history and impact that Los Alamos has had, and continues to have, on the world. Here are some good sources to get teachers started on your journey through Los Alamos’s diverse and enriching history.

These six perspectives were curated and created with the idea that students could look at the various different kinds of people working in Los Alamos during World War II and just after the war. From scientist to apprentice carpenter, the summaries and further readings are sure to broaden your thoughts on the people of Los Alamos.

The Office of the State Historian for New Mexico has a lot of valuable information and resources about Los Alamos as a whole. They also have specific information about the Zia Company and what it did for Los Alamos between 1946 and 1986. Further, at the end of each of the articles there are a list of resources for possible further research and discovery.

Graphic novels can convey more emotion than traditional text through their use of visual imagery, and there are a fair few graphic novels about Los Alamos and the people there that can help bring forth new ideas about those same people working there when they are given humanizing properties like a face and a setting behind them. Feynman is about the entire life of Richard Feynman, though there is a significant portion dedicated to his Time at Los Alamos. Trinity is a more comprehensive look at the race to build the first atomic bomb but does have perspectives from both scientists and military working on the hill as well as some of the coping many people had to do in order to live in this hastily-built military installation. Finally, Fallout looks at some of the biggest names in science during this time and how they contributed to the politics and science behind the entire journey to making the atomic bomb, and the ensuing “fallout” of that science. There is a heavy focus on Oppenheimer in this graphic novel, but he was a major part of Los Alamos.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation has a vast and fantastic collection of oral histories from many different people from around the country that were working on the Manhattan Project. Of course, there are many interviews that center on the people of Los Alamos, but since access was so strict, more of the interviews and surviving people were working on other projects. Regardless, oral histories are a great way to get perspective on everyday life in these installations and what they had to deal with being present at a top-secret facility creating one of the most devastating weapons mankind has brought forth.

If you enjoy reading primary documents and dated newspaper clippings then Los Alamos: The First Forty Years is right where you want to be. Providing only light commentary by the editor, this book is full of innocuous documents either published by Los Alamos’ newspaper Los Alamos Times or letters written about or by the people of Los Alamos throughout the first forty years of Los Alamos’ existence.

There are even documentaries about Los Alamos. Taking striking footage and photos from World War II and Los Alamos and compiling a general overview of the creation and accomplishments of the Los Alamos Lab. The documentary World’s First Atomic Bomb is both the longest and most in-depth with its view on Los Alamos. The piece goes over the creation, as well as the lives of the people there, from women, scientists, military personnel, and children, there is no shortage of information to pique anyone’s interest. A shorter, more digestible video called The Town that Never Was still goes over the important points. It does have the “early documentary” feel to it, but the information provided is still very good in quality.

Getting started is often the hardest part of research and understanding. However, with these resources, teachers and students become Los Alamos experts. Taking that knowledge and thinking about the people present at that place critically will broaden your understanding of history and broaden the horizons of those you come in contact with. Have fun learning more about Los Alamos and remember to show your gate pass to the guard. 

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