Every year on August 1, Colorado celebrates its birthday, the day it became the 38th state in the Union and garnered the nickname “The Centennial State.” On this day in 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Colorado was born. Today also marks the first official day of the new Colorado State Historian, Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, who will serve a one-year term.
"What do I love about Colorado? Well, I love the blue sky, and the mountain streams, and the clear water, and the high mountains, and the hay fields," Vandenbusche said from the Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of his favorite spots in the state.
State Historian Explains Colorado Day
The Colorado State Historian explains what Colorado Day is.
Vandenbusche is a professor of history at Western Colorado University in Gunnison. Holding the the position since 1962, he is the longest-serving active professor at any public higher education institution in Colorado. Rocky Mountain PBS profiled Vandenbusche in the 2018 documentary "Breaking the Mold" and he makes regular appearances on Colorado Experience.
“What an honor it is to be Colorado's State Historian. I look forward to representing the people and different regions of the state, especially the sometimes neglected Western Slope,” Vandenbusche said. “Colorado is a diverse state and I hope to emphasize that diversity during my tenure. It is important to me to show where Colorado has been, where it is now, and where it appears to be heading."
Vandenbusche succeeds historian and author Dr. William Wei as the state historian. The role of state historian dates back 96 years, and Vandenbusche is the first person based outside the Front Range to be chosen for the position.
Quoting writer Theodora Kroeber, Vandenbusche said, "Colorado is a state of mind, rather than a place, and we love it."
“To have Dr. Vandenbusche serve as the State Historian is a tremendous asset for the people of Colorado,” said Jason Hanson, History Colorado’s Chief Creative Officer and Director of Interpretation and Research, who facilitates the State Historian’s Council. “Few can match the depth of experience and knowledge he brings to Colorado's history, or his exemplary record across six decades as an ambassador throughout our state for the value of history.”
Colorado History's State Historian Council chooses a new leader every year on Colorado’s birthday. According to the council, "Each transition helps create better representation and reach for the state, amplify different perspectives, and reinforce the collective foundation of history and storytelling." The other council members are Nicki Gonzales, Tom Noel, Jared Orsi, and William Wei.
The following press release from History Colorado provides more details on the organization and plans for Vandenbusche's term:
History Colorado will share Colorado 101, ten entertaining podcasts spanning Vandenbusche’s knowledge of state history, throughout the coming year. Subjects include the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, great surveys of the American West, mining, narrow gauge railroads, ranching, skiing, Spain in Colorado, water, the Western Slope, and women in Colorado history.
Dr. Vandenbusche plans to provide entertainment as well as insight during his term. In celebration of his appointment, Coloradans can enjoy several songs performed by Vandenbusche in Colorado’s great outdoors beginning August 1 at this link.
About the State Historian’s Council
Founded on August 1, 2018, History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council reaches across the state to aid in interpretation of the history of Colorado and the West, providing opportunities to expand the understanding of the historical perspectives, cultures, and places of Colorado. The Council is entering an important year. It will partner with a commission to rename Denver landmarks and public spaces formed by Mayor Hancock in the wake of protests led by Black Lives Matter, and share informative historical contexts like We Can’t Afford to Fail This Time, a new essay by council member Nicki Gonzales widely shared by Colorado Public Radio.
About History Colorado
History Colorado’s eight museums around the state are now reopening to visitors. Inclusive, values-driven, and intentional, History Colorado has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an agile reorganization. Its blitz has created new educational channels for adults and youth (including at-home summer-camp kits now available), full-length episodes of its podcasts, a series of Archaeology & Preservation webinars, a major volunteer project, a weekly digest with over 28,000 subscribers, and one of the nation’s most comprehensive collecting initiatives: a partnership with dozens of schools, communities, and more than 40 newsrooms called History in the Making. While working from home, its State Historical Fund staff distributed more than $1 million in grant dollars to community projects across the state this spring. It continues its grant funding on schedule.
History Colorado’s outlets are publishing Black voices and confronting entrenched racism in historic preservation. It has employed artists of color to create new works that will be added to Colorado’s collection, and opened Women Behaving Badly by Black artist Adri Norris on July 23. Within the last year History Colorado has added curators of Latino Heritage and LGBTQ+ History to its staff, and added a full-time position to its Museum of Memory team, which works proactively to incorporate underserved communities and voices into its contemporary collecting initiative and other efforts.
History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, historic preservation grants, collecting, outreach to Colorado communities, the History Colorado Center and Stephen H. Hart Research Center in Denver, and nine other museums and historic attractions statewide. History Colorado is one of only six Smithsonian Affiliates in Colorado. Visit HistoryColorado.org, or call 303-HISTORY, for more information.