Elizabeth Fenn
Distinguished Professor
Early America / Native American History

Hellems 244

Professor Fenn is currently on leave for the 19-20 Academic Year.


Professor Fenn studies the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. 


Professor Fenn teaches courses pertaining to early American, Native American, and the early American West history. Some of the courses she teaches include: "American History before 1865," "Epidemic Disease in U.S. History," "The Revolutionary War," and a seminar in called "Discovering Lewis and Clark." In September 2018, in recognition of exemplary teaching, research and service, the Regents of the University of Colorado designated Professor Fenn a Distinguished Professor, one of the highest honors awarded to the university’s faculty members.

Professor Fenn earned her B.A. at Duke and her Ph.D. at Yale. Her Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (Hill & Wang, 2002) unearthed the devastating effects of a smallpox epidemic that coursed across North America during the years of the American Revolution. In 2014, Fenn published Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People (Hill & Wang), which analyzes Mandan Indian history from 1100 to 1845. For her work, Fenn received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History and a 2019 Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fenn is also the coauthor, with Peter H. Wood, of Natives and Newcomers: The Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770 (The University of North Carolina Press, 1983) a popular history of early North Carolina. Professor Fenn is currently at work on an expansive biography of Sacagawea, using her life story to illuminate the wider history of the northern plains and Rockies.

Professor Fenn is accepting M.A. and Ph.D. students for fall 2020.
Her current research interests lie in the Indigenous history of the early West, especially before 1848 and she is eager to work with graduate students interested in early North America, epidemic disease, Indigenous history, and the early West. Professor Fenn encourages graduate students to embrace geographies that span the continent and chronologies that embrace the true depth of the continent’s human past. She also encourages grad students to approach history as a literary endeavor with the potential to reach audiences as diverse as they are wide.