Dr. Nicki Gonzales, a professor of history and vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Regis University, hopes to tell a more complete version of Colorado's story when she takes the title of official state historian, fittingly, on Colorado Day, Aug. 1.
Gonzales is the first Latino person to serve as Colorado's state historian since the title was established in 1924.
She takes a more inclusive approach to telling the state's story, raising awareness to issues such as the Sand Creek Massacre, a U.S. Cavalry attack on a peaceful tribe in 1864, killing 150 Arapahoe and Cheyenne, most of them women, children and the elderly.
History Colorado is working with tribal partners on a long-term exhibition.
“History is one of the most effective ways we can understand ourselves and our present moment,” Gonzales said in a statement. “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.”
Another of her goals as state historian is to get younger people more involved in learning about Colorado history.
Gonzales is considered an expert on the history of the American West with expertise in Chicano history and social and political movements of the Southwest.
Each state historian serves one year. Gonzales follows author Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, a professor of history at Western Colorado University who has taught in Gunnison since 1962.
Jason Hanson, the state museum’s chief creative officer and director of interpretation and research, spoke of what Gonzales brings to the title.
“Dr. Gonzales harnesses history’s power to encourage empathy and mutual understanding and thereby lead us to a brighter future,” said Hanson, who works with the State Historian’s Council, the five-person panel that appoints the state historian. “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.”
The state historian each year becomes part of Historian's Council. Gonzales will join council members Vandenbusche, the history author known as "Dr. Colorado," Tom Noel, Colorado State University professor Jared Orsi and University of Colorado professor William Wei.
In announcing Gonzales' appointment, History Colorado lauded Vandenbusche's accomplishments, including working with a commission created by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to rename Denver landmarks and public spaces, as well as provide expertise to the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board.