Patty Limerick Named State Historian as History Colorado Looks to Future

Patty Limerick. Additional photos below.
Patty Limerick. Additional photos below.
Center of the American West Facebook page

History Colorado has been making some history of its own over the past six months, with a complete reconfiguration of the board to make it leaner and meaner (at least when it comes to financial matters), buyouts and layoffs of staffers, and the departure of many of the organization's top managers, including state historian Bill Convery.

And now, as History Colorado continues to position itself for a more secure future, Patty Limerick has been named the new Colorado State Historian.

This is a move that puts a Colorado historian with a national profile into the top position (this past weekend, Limerick was in Atlanta, at the American Historical Association, working on a commemoration of the Vietnam War with the Department of Defense). It also cements the collaborative ties between the University of Colorado, where Limerick founded the Center of the American West, and History Colorado, which also falls under the state Department of Higher Education. Limerick will continue her work at the center, while offering unique programs at the History Colorado Center, raising the profile of the facility and pushing the importance of history around the state. 

But just as the announcement of her appointment took some time, Limerick will take her time deciding just how to do that.

History Colorado Center, positioned for the future.
History Colorado Center, positioned for the future.
David Tryba Associates

"'Act in haste, repent at leisure' was so not my slogan when I was a young person," says Limerick, who pops off more ideas in a ten-minute conversation than others might offer in a decade. Now, though, she says she's going to avoid rushing in when "a little more deliberation" will show which programs might be a good match between the center and History Colorado, all while creating opportunities "for people to know where they are located in time and space.”

And the History Colorado Center, which opened in 2012, has plenty of room to realize those opportunities. "It's a great space for a range for activities and programs," Limerick notes. "That’s winning the lottery for historians.”

One of the first things that Limerick and Jason Hanson, a colleague at the center who's been named deputy historian, will do is collect and compile ideas from the public for directions History Colorado might take.  "As compilers, I'll bet we’re going to see a lot of overlap and convergences of things people would like to see explored,” she predicts, “People should be very active in telling us what they’re thinking about.”

Want to make some history? Send your idea for History Colorado to jason.hanson@centerwest.org.

We first reported Limerick's imminent appointment last fall; the announcement has been on hold pending another development: Limerick has also been named to the National Council for the Humanities. But this morning, History Colorado made it official with this release:

Denver (January 11, 2016)—History Colorado and the University of Colorado Boulder have formed a collaborative partnership to advance the understanding and appreciation of Colorado’s vast history. As a key component of the partnership, Governor John Hickenlooper has named CU-Boulder Professor Patty Limerick to serve as the new Colorado State Historian.

“This strengthened partnership between these two Higher Education agencies is a demonstration of Colorado’s collaborative spirit and is a testament to the work that state agencies can do together,” said Governor Hickenlooper.

Limerick will continue in her role as the faculty director of the Center of the American West and as a professor at CU-Boulder. Jason Hanson, a member of the center’s research faculty, will serve as Deputy State Historian and he will be assisted by history PhD student Sam Bock. Among other initiatives, Limerick and her team will consult and collaborate on History Colorado Center exhibits, will put on a range of unique public events at History Colorado and will develop a university course that will give students practical training in exhibit development.

“Patty Limerick is an exceptional historian with a well-deserved international reputation, and her characteristic energy and expertise will serve the State of Colorado extremely well,” said University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson. “Her appointment will also further important ties between History Colorado and the University of Colorado, which will benefit our students and our state.”

Limerick co-founded the Center of the American West at CU-Boulder to serve as a forum committed to the civil, respectful and problem-solving exploration of important and often contentious public issues. She has published widely in the field of history. Her bookLegacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, is regarded by many scholars as a groundbreaking text that helped to revitalize the field of Western American history. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and other regional and national awards, Limerick was recently confirmed by the US Senate to membership on the National Council for the Humanities.   

Limerick will be meeting with the History Colorado board and staffers over the next few weeks; in the meantime, the History Colorado Center will be presenting a program today that pushes the importance of history. Richard Curtin will be talking about his new book, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects," at 1 p.m. today and again at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and discounted for members and students; go to historycolorado.org.


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