Our Mission

The Center of the American West serves as a forum committed to the civil, respectful, and problem-solving exploration of important and often contentious public issues. In an era of political polarization and contention, the Center strives to bring out “the better angels of our nature” by appealing to our common loyalties and hopes as Westerners.

We believe that an understanding of the historical origins of the West’s problems, an emphasis on the common interests of all parties, and a dose of good humor are essential to constructive public discussion. As part of our mission, we strive to increase awareness and knowledge about a variety of issues we face as Westerners by hosting a diverse array of public events each year. Recent luminaries for our Wallace Steger Award and Humor Initiative include Ken Burns, Timothy Egan, and Senator Alan and Pete Simpson and their wives Ann & Lynn and for our Modern Indian Identity series, Charlotte Roderique.

Our Programs

In our Academic Programs, we sponsor a wide range of opportunities, giving students the chance to venture beyond classrooms and textbooks and to interact with leading scholars, writers, public servants, and faculty members. These opportunities include our Western American Studies Certificate ProgramGrace Kempton Student DinnersInternshipsHoffman ScholarsThompson Awards for Western American Writing, and the Beardsley Family Scholarship.

Our Projects and Publications

The Center of the American West works on a variety of regional issues as diverse as the West itself. They include energy, immigration, public landswater, wildfire, and much more! We have a library of Resources to help the public navigate the often complicated underlying issues we face.

In addition, the Center has published numerous books, including A Ditch in TimeThe City, the West, and Water, a history of water in Denver, the influential Atlas of the New West, and a series of lively, balanced, and to-the-point reports on compelling Western issues, including The Nation Possessed Hydraulic Fracturing GlossaryGlosario del Fracturamiento Hidráulico, What Every Westerner Should Know About EnergyCleaning Up Abandoned Hardrock Mines in the WestK-12 Education Resource Sets and What Every Westerner Should Know About Energy Efficiency and Conservation. Our film, The Lover’s Guide to the West, chronicles the past, present, and future of America’s love affair with energy. Limerick and Center staff are currently working on several projects, including a book about the role of the Department of the Interior in the West, based on the “Inside Interior” series of interviews previously hosted by the Center of the American West.


CU Boulder’s Center of the American West was founded in 1986 by Patty Limerick, and CU Law Professor Charles Wilkinson. Patty Limerick served as Faculty Director until 2022.  During that time, she built the center into a nationally respected resource illuminating the history, culture, politics and tradition of the American West.  In 2022, Tom Zeiler became the interim Faculty Director.