Published: Dec. 15, 2017

Original article can be found at The Denver Post  
Originally published on December 15, 2017 By Patty Limerick 

When I became the Official Colorado State Historian, I came into possession of a breathtaking portfolio of powers. 

Given the malfunctions in the civic sense of humor in 2017, it is important to move fast to correct any misunderstanding: that was a joke. 

In the nearly two years since Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed me as the state historian, I have not issued a single executive order nor put forth a single proclamation. And, since I serve as a volunteer, I am blessedly emancipated from salary, benefits, withholdings, billable hours, invoices for services performed, and any other form of paperwork. 

Remarkably unencumbered by bureaucracy, the state historian has a simple mission: to serve as team captain for the cohort of Coloradans who agree that, if we are going to cope with the challenge and dilemmas of our times, we must constantly review and enrich our knowledge of history. 

This role has provided me with a cascade of opportunities to connect with citizens. Many of these opportunities have led to face-to-face encounters in locales and venues from Buena Vista to Steamboat Springs, from Pueblo to Laramie (the state historian carries a special visa for visiting neighboring states). 

And yet the most satisfying dimensions of serving as state historian come into play when I am not present. 

Thanks to Rocky Mountain PBS’s fine documentary series, “Colorado Experience,” I constantly intrude into living rooms and home entertainment centers to make my case for the value of historical knowledge. After an initial run on TV, I shift to flitting into view on the screens of laptop and desktop computers, and on projection screens in classrooms. 

Nearly two years ago, I first met with Julie Speer and Mariel Rodriguez-McGill, multi-taskers of the highest order who were serving as directors, producers, camerapeople, researchers, scriptwriters and interviewers for these documentaries. (In more recent times, Rodriguez-McGill has become the state’s deputy film commissioner, and Speer has been named vice president of culture content at RMPBS.) 

When I learned that the state historian would be on call as a “talking head” for “Colorado Experience,” my first response was not tranquility, confidence or inner peace. 

Back in the olden days of 2016, when it came to matters like the history of Elitch Gardens, Denver’s disability rights movement, the ghost town of Animas Forks, the sugar beet industry, the Rabbit Ears Motel, and the Denver Mountain Parks (and lordy, does that list ever go on!), my expertise was skimpy and deficient. 

But certain characteristics of my personality came to my rescue: I am endlessly curious, and I am a quick learner, capable of going from a standing start to a 60 mph on-camera interview. 

Expertly preparing questions for me and giving me those questions well ahead of time, Speer and Rodriguez-McGill engineered a major expansion of my knowledge of Colorado history. 

Still, human memory is an uncertain instrument, which brings us to the unique and enviable advantage held by a talking head. 

In other arenas of life, if I forget a story worth remembering, I’m just in the soup. But when I have contributed newly acquired knowledge to “Colorado Experience,” I can simply go to the RMPBS website — and recapture the story by listening to myself tell it.