Dr. Nicki Gonzales will become the first Latino person to be Colorado’s State Historian, which is a position established in 1924, 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. 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.
An expert on the history of the American West is taking on an important new role in service to Colorado. Dr. Nicki Gonzales, professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Regis University, begins her one-year term as the official Colorado State Historian on Colorado Day, Saturday, Aug. 1. Gonzales assumes the role from noted historian and author Dr. Duane Vandenbusche.
“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.”
“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. “She approaches her work with deep intelligence but also with humility, and is an adept communicator about even the most complex or fraught topics. Dr. Gonzales applies her scholarship in ways that benefit people’s everyday lives and will serve as a valuable asset for all people in Colorado as the State Historian.”
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. Fellow council members are Vandenbusche, Tom Noel, Jared Orsi, and William Wei.
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. Collectively contributing more than 590 donated hours of their time, the council also held two public roundtable discussions—their first since the group was formed—that are now available on History Colorado’s YouTube channel: Tumult and Transfer of Power and Lifting the Hood: Denver’s KKK Ledgers.
About Nicki Gonzales
Dr. Nicki Gonzales is a professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Regis University. She is 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. 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.
About the State Historian’s Council
Founded on Aug. 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. More information about council members is available at historycolorado.org/state-historians-council.
About Regis University
Established in 1877, Regis University is a premier, globally engaged institution of higher learning in the Jesuit tradition that prepares leaders to live productive lives of faith, meaning and service. Regis University, one of 27 Jesuit universities in the nation, has three campus locations in the Denver metro area and extensive online program offerings with more than 8,000 enrolled students. For more information, visit Regis.edu.
About History Colorado
History Colorado is a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit that has served more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. It is a 142-year-old institution that operates Colorado’s oldest museum, nine additional museums and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), which is the nation’s largest preservation program of its kind. More than 70 percent of SHF grants are currently allocated in rural areas of Colorado.
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.