New State Historian aims to share a more inclusive, broader history of Colorado


DENVER — Dating back to 1924, the Colorado State Historian is a position that has been around for almost 100 years.

On Sunday, August 1—also known as Colorado Day—Dr. Nicki Gonzales began her one-year term as the official state historian.

More than 20% of Coloradans are Hispanic or Latino, and despite the state historian position being around for nearly a century, Gonzales is the first Latino to be named state historian.

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“Gonzales’ historical expertise focuses on Chicano history and Southwest social and political movements,” History Colorado wrote in a statement. “She plans to incorporate youth in the exploration of Colorado’s past during her term as State Historian, and to support more inclusive practices of historical inquiry. In doing so, Gonzales is eager to raise more awareness about historical events with significant contemporary legacies, such as the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, about which History Colorado is currently collaborating with tribal partners to present a long-term exhibition.”

Gonzales succeeds Dr. Duane Vandenbusche as the Colorado State Historian. Vandenbusche, a professor of history at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, was the first state historian based outside the Front Range. 

Before Vandenbusche, the Colorado State Historian was Dr. William Wei, who recently spoke with Rocky Mountain PBS about the history of anti-Asian racism in Colorado.

Gonzales is a professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Regis University. A mother of two sons, Gonzales is based in Denver, but her family has “deep roots” in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, according to History Colorado. She is also part of History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council.

“History is one of the most effective ways we can understand ourselves and our present moment,” Gonzales said in a news release. “I’d like to see more unrecognized stories shared publicly so we can arrive at a truer sense of where we’ve been and who we are.”

History Colorado said Gonzales is interested in researching Southern Colorado’s land grant movements as well as the experiences of Chicano Vietnam Veterans. She also served as an advisor for the History Colorado exhibit "El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado."

You can learn more about the movement in the Rocky Mountain PBS special "La Raza de Colorado - El Movimiento."