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New State Historian aims to share a more inclusive, broader history of Colorado
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Dr. Nicki Gonzales, Colorado's new State Historian.
Dr. Nicki Gonzales, Colorado's new State Historian.
Photo: History 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.

"Coming from the Latino community, the Mexican-American community and having really deep roots in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, my history was not always portrayed in the public," Gonzales told Rocky Mountain PBS.

Colorado Voices

Colorado's State Historian: Dr. Nicki Gonzales

Colorado State Historian is a position that has been around for almost 100 years.

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.

Gonzales said one of the main perks of her new position is that she can combine her personal values of equity and justice with the role of the State Historian "by encouraging the representation or promotion and advocacy of stories from under-represented communities."

"I love history, and I love Colorado history," Gonzales said. "And so to be able to represent or help interpret the history of my home state means a lot to me."

She added that being the first Latina State Historian makes her feel "a responsibility to my community to represent well and to be a role model for youth."

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."

RMPBS Specials

La Raza de Colorado - El Movimiento

El Movimiento examines the Colorado Chicano Movement during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.

“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' tenure begins at a time when many people in America are reckoning with the country's history of racism and violence against marginalized groups, and that fact is not lost on Gonzales. She describes the role of State Historian as "crucial" during this time.

One of her goals is to create "a more inclusive, broader history of our state."

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.

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