Historical Narrative: Area 51

Historical Narrative: Student a Historian

Area 51


"Is it ethical to test war technologies in the United States without informing the American public of the processes involved- and with their own tax dollars?"

As you examine these documents consider their validity and reliability.

            Aerial reconnaissance emerged as a way of gaining an advantage in war in the 1860s and 70s when forces would use hot air balloons to try to see what the other side was doing. The US began maximizing the potential of aerial reconnaissance after World War II, and it was 1955 when Area 51 began its life as a testing site for spy planes and other wartime technologies.

            Area 51 was and remains a heavily guarded and secluded region. Sophisticated technologies are used to detect any curious people trying to catch a glimpse of something top secret.  The closest the public has ever come knowing what went on within Area 51 were eerie glimpses of bizarre aerial craft swooping over the region. The government has never adequately explained these sightings. A folklore centered on alien contact soon emerged around the region and Area 51 became a tourist mecca for those interested in UFOs.

            The mysterious objects were called UFOs, or Unidentified Flying Objects. The government wanted to keep its projects secret, so it didn't put much effort into dispelling the myths of alien craft flying over the region. The folklore continued and evolved, and even after the government acknowledged Area 51 as a testing site the rumors persisted. Some of the craft seemed to defy the laws of physics and conventional flight. This led to claims that the government had seized alien craft that had crashed in Area 51, and reverse engineered their technology for our use.

            The technologies to come out of Area 51 are numerous and mind boggling, and that doesn't include the advancements and technologies the government hasn't brought to the public eye. In fact, most of the technology the government admits to is nearly obsolete in lieu of more advanced models. 

            There are different opinions on the validity of the government's treatment of Area 51. Some see their silence on what goes on away from public view as a necessary part of national defense and security, particularly in the unstable international climate since 9/11. Others consider the enormous price tag of these state of the art feats of engineering and question how many billions were spent on failed or now obsolete technology. Others are focused on the safety of the land, employees, and residents around Area 51. There has been a large amount of concern about the negative environmental impacts, particularly how exposure to radiation of other dangerous elements has affected surrounding areas. Naturally, these elements are also harmful to humans. A widow filed a lawsuit on the grounds that her husband died due to exposure to unsafe radiation while employed at Area 51 but, due to national security, all related documents have been sealed and her case has not been heard.

            Despite the concerns raised about Area 51, the area has proven to be a valuable piece of real estate for the government, and will probably remain shrouded in mystery for years to come. The sitting president has signed a memorandum keeping all information about Area 51 classified since the 1990s and will likely to continue to do so.


Questions? email me

We are teacher education candidates at the University of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods.

Amber Blasingame and Cait Hart on 11/10/09