By Published: Dec. 4, 2019

For HannaLore Hein (Hist, EthnSt’11), the University of Colorado Boulder is more than an alma mater; it is in her blood.

HannaLore Hein

HannaLore Hein

Hein came from a family of CU alumni, and after spending her first college semester in Washington, D.C., Hein was frustrated by the scant opportunities to make connections with her professors. She decided to return to Boulder and to attend CU. 

“From the very first classes (at CU Boulder) that I remember taking, I had opportunities to know my professors,” Hein says. “I had opportunities to go to their office hours and let them know what I was interested in doing and talk about how their subject matter or their expertise could help me along my path.”  

In spring 2008, Hein joined the Center of the American West’s student certificate program. There she met Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the Board of the Center of the American West, CU Boulder professor of history, and former Colorado state historian. 

“I had enrolled in my first upper-division history course that just happened to be taught by Patty Limerick. It was history of the American West in the 20th century. I took the course, and over the course of the semester, I learned what the center was and how involved Patty was in the work the center did, and so I signed up for their certificate program halfway through the semester,” says Hein. 

“Once I met Patty and got involved in the center, I absolutely had a home there.” 

Hein’s passion for the history of the American West paired with her experience at the Center led her to become Idaho’s first woman historian since the position became credentialed in the 1950s.

“In 1907, we (the Idaho State Historical Society) became a state agency. At that point, our staff, if you could call it that, was made up of one or two people, and in the early years, those people were women ... I’m excited to learn about what their accomplishments were so that I can build on that foundation as a woman in this role.” 

As Idaho state historian, Hein aims to continue outreach programs with Idaho’s historical museums and societies and to support internal projects and initiatives of state agencies. 

Hein envisions “providing outlets and opportunities to engage with historical content that puts Idaho within a broader context, so that Idaho stories are more visible when it comes to the history of the American West.”  

Social media plays a role in Hein’s work as state historian. Hein believes social media can help historians share their knowledge of history and its relevance and ensure accuracy of information in public discourse. 

“(Social media) is an outlet which historians and people who want to share a broad base of knowledge can use to ensure accuracy of content.  We can use it as a platform to reach the people who maybe don’t think that history has a place in the modern world or in the future.”

As a former Boulder resident and CU alumna, Hein says it is important for students to see Boulder’s position within the greater West. 

“I think that it’s important that students coming out of CU Boulder remember that there is more to the West than Boulder, and that Boulder exists as a really unique place within this arid region.” The West has historically been a place of contention, where controversy existed, and different perspectives converged, and today, we can reconcile that past by acknowledging these stories, and examining the experiences of those that did not come from a place of privilege within the broader context of Colorado history, and that of the larger American West, she says. 

Hein believes one of the greatest benefits of a liberal arts degree is the opportunity to take classes in various programs, thereby discovering your own interests and meeting people with different interests and ideas. 

Patty Limerick

Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the Board of the Center of the American West, CU Boulder professor of history.

“It puts you in the room with people who think slightly differently than you, yet you are all focused on improving your communication,” says Hein. “You’re focused on building strong collaborative skills. That’s something liberal arts students get to do more than students pursuing other degrees.” 

It is also important to teach others how to look to the past to be more successful in the future, according to Hein. She hopes the skills that trained historians obtain, such considering the past when making decisions, will be recognized as universally applicable and important. 

“I think organizations seeking to fill positions on their boards of directors should look for historians or somebody with experience in the field of history. We provide a unique perspective and can help make decisions about the future. That is really the role that history needs to play and the role historians need to play moving forward. We have to be at the table.”