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Historian Nicki Gonzales in her office at the University of Denver, photo by Kevin Simpson.
Historian Nicki Gonzales in her office at the University of Denver. Photo: Kevin Simpson.

Nicki Gonzales: Colorado's first Latina to serve as state historian

Colorado historian Nicki Gonzales becomes the first Latina representative to serve as state historian in Colorado's 145 years as a state.

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On Sunday, Aug. 1, historian Nicki Gonzales became the first Latina to serve as Colorado's state historian in its 145 years of existence.

Dr. Gonzales now has the responsibility of "expanding the understanding" of what happened during the last century and a half in the region of the United States. A professor of history and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at Regis University, Gonzales is a member of the Colorado Council of State Historians and in July 2020, was appointed by Governor Jared Polis to the Colorado Geographic Names Advisory Council.

A Denver native with roots in Colorado and New Mexico, Gonzales specializes in the history of the American West, and focuses on race relations and social and political movements. With Gonzales' recent appointment, Polis highlighted her family's ancestral New Mexico roots and emphasized the historian's studies of land  use in Southwestern Colorado, a territory with a large Hispanic presence, as well as Chicano involvement in the Vietnam War.

"History is one of the most effective ways to understand ourselves and understand the current moment. I would like to see more as-yet-unacknowledged stories shared publicly so we can come to a more authentic sense of where we've been and who we are," Gonzales said through Colorado's history museum, History Colorado:

Gonzales plans to incorporate youth and children to try to make the inter-generational exploration of Colorado's state history. He will also seek to implement "inclusive practices" in those investigations and will work to "raise awareness about historical events with significant contemporary impact," such as the Sand Creek Massacre. 

Colorado's state historian position was created in 1924 and only in 2018 was transformed into a five-person board. The professionals are convened by the local governor and are headquartered at History Colorado, a space that assumes responsibility for "interpreting the history of Colorado and the Western" United States.

Gonzales is a graduate of Yale University and serves as a member of the Colorado Geographic Names Advisory Council and the Denver Historic Site Renaming Advisory Panel. She accepted the position of state historian because "the pandemic really transformed my priorities," specifically "paying attention to historically unrecognized histories in our state."

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