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Colorado’s new state historian will be the first Latina to hold the role

Dr. Nicki Gonzales, an expert on the history of the American West is taking on an important new role in service to Colorado.

COLORADO, USA — On Colorado Day, which is Sunday August 1, Dr. Nicki Gonzales will be the first Latino person to be Colorado’s State Historian, a position established in 1924. 

Gonzales is a professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Regis University.

She is a native of Denver and her family has deep roots in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Gonzales’ research interests include the land grant movements of Southern Colorado and the experiences of Chicano Vietnam Veterans. She is also a mom to her sons, Danny and Teddy.

According to a press release, Gonzales’ historical expertise focuses on Chicano history and Southwest social and political movements. 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.

 “I firmly believe that knowledge of our history, and in this case our states history, the history of where we’re living is essential to understanding our present moment, bringing attention to the unrecognized stories of our state, to promote those, especially through a social justice lens and to involve the youth," said Gonzales” 

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.  

“History is one of the most effective ways we can understand ourselves and our present moment,” said Gonzales. “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.” 

Colorado’s State Historian has been part of a five-person council since 2018 when History Colorado established the State Historian’s Council to amplify different perspectives and to reinforce the collective foundation of history and storytelling. 

The council rotates its leadership position every year on Colorado’s birthday. In keeping with the influential, forward-leaning practices of History Colorado, which is home to the nation’s largest state historical fund for preservation and operates 10 museums and historic sites statewide, the council embraces a collaborative and inclusive approach to leadership. Gonzales assumes the role of noted historian and author Dr. Duane Vandenbusche. Fellow council members are Vandenbusche, Tom Noel, Jared Orsi, and William Wei. 

“Dr. Gonzales harnesses history’s power to encourage empathy and mutual understanding and thereby lead us to a brighter future,” said Jason Hanson, History Colorado’s Chief Creative Officer and Director of Interpretation and Research, who facilitates the State Historian’s Council.

Vandenbusche hands the baton to Gonzales after an influential term for the council under his leadership. In the past year, its members have partnered with a commission formed by Mayor Michael B. Hancock to rename Denver landmarks and public spaces and contributed expertise to the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board.

Gonzales has been a member of History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council and in July 2020 was named by Gov. Jared Polis to the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, where she will serve as vice-chair beginning in August.  

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