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Paul Reeve

Paul Reeve knows who he is — and what he isn't.

The Hurricane native is a self-identified "southern Utah boy." What he's not, however, is an accountant.

The combination of that identity with that realization may have complicated his career path, but it has served Reeve well. The assistant professor of history at the University of Utah has found success in a field he loves, a greater sense of self-awareness and an understanding of how history can enrich lives.

"I'm just interested in discovering who I am, and a lot of the answers come to me through my religion, but history fills in a lot of the gaps," said Reeve, whose book, "Making Space on the Western Frontier," was recognized by the Mormon History Association at last month's awards banquet in Sacramento, Calif.

Not bad for someone who didn't have much of a plan when he graduated from Brigham Young University in 1992.

Reeve began his college education as an accounting major, but after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto from 1987-89 and returning to the Provo campus, he decided to study history, despite his family's concerns over how he would earn a living.

"I just couldn't see myself being an accountant for the rest of my life," he said. "My heart wasn't in it. I finally decided I was going to do something that I really loved, ... and I just kind of fumbled my way through it."

Reeve admits that after earning his bachelor's degree, he didn't have much of a long-term goal. He dived straight into graduate studies at BYU, and after finishing a master's in history in 1994, Reeve took a break from studies and did some adjunct work at Salt Lake Community College.

"I wasn't terribly concerned about making a lot of money," said Reeve, who was still single at the time. "Not that you can make money in history anyway."

His focus narrowed when he began pursing a Ph.D. in history at the University of Utah.

Reeve, whose ancestors were sent to southern Utah by Brigham Young as part of the Cotton Mission, stayed close to home when choosing the subject of his dissertation. He elected to research the social dynamics between Mormons, silver miners and Southern Paiutes on the southern rim of the Great Basin in the 19th century.

The impetus for the project was Hebron, a ghost town in Washington County. After being hired by the city of Enterprise to write its centennial history, Reeve became familiar with Hebron and the interaction between Paiutes and silver miners in the area. He thought it was a "story that needed to be told."

Reeve's research focused on those three groups and what he called their "competing notions of sacred space that they bring to the same place." The dissertation became the foundation of Reeve's book "Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners and Southern Paiutes," which last month shared "best first book" honors from the Mormon History Association with Matthew C. Godfrey's "Religion, Politics and Sugar."

Reeve, who came to the University of Utah after beginning his teaching career at Southern Virginia University, specializes in Utah history and history of the American West. He's now married with four children, and considering a tight job market created by the proliferation of doctorate degrees in history, Reeve considers himself fortunate.

"I love coming to work every day," he said.

And it's not because he opted out of an accounting career. For Reeve, history is a "moral guidebook of sorts" that connects lives of the present with the past. This concept was reinforced when he received an e-mail from a woman who was the descendant of an individual about whom Reeve had written. The woman wanted to know more about her family history. For Reeve, it created a "personal connection" with his work.

History, he said, has a way of humanizing the lives of the past.

"It's helpful to understand that these people struggled with the same human failings," he said. "These are real-life people attempting to do the best they could with what they had."

E-mail: [email protected]