Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of CU Boulder’s Center of the American West, will play a central role in Colorado’s historic effort to reassess names of state landmarks.
Gov. Jared Polis appointed Limerick and several others to the Colorado State Geographic Naming Advisory Board beginning Aug. 1.
“This collaborative group of people will bring their unique perspectives and expertise to the board and ensure we have an inclusive naming process,” said Gov. Polis. “This work is very important, because place names reflect who we were, who we are and are of intergenerational importance moving forward.”
Limerick is familiar with the challenges of reassessing historical names. Soon after she arrived at CU Boulder in the 1980s, Limerick wrote a report on a dormitory bearing the name of a participant in the Sand Creek Massacre. Limerick’s work led to the residence hall being renamed Cheyenne Arapaho in 1989, honoring the Indigenous people whose land it occupied.
“This experience gave me a lasting knowledge of the best approaches to and strategies for reckoning with controversial historical subjects associated with particular places,” Limerick said. “Disputes over the names of places, I have learned, carry the bedrock good news that people care, and are deeply committed to associating themselves with those places and their history.”
More recently, the Center of the American West has worked with Rocky Mountain National Park and the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes to educate visitors on the important ties Indigenous people maintain to the park’s landscape.
As a part of the board, Limerick said she plans to rely on connections she’s developed over 35 years of civic engagement from Paonia to Burlington and from Trinidad to Meeker.
“In truth, every place name acts as a brief—but concentrated and very resonant—poem, with every form of expertise and sector of society called upon to reveal its meaning,” Limerick said.
According to the governor’s executive order creating the advisory board, the Center of the American West is granted a designee on the board, alongside representatives from History Colorado, the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, the Colorado Geological Survey and other state agencies and local governments.
Patty Limerick's writing on monuments and other subjects can be found on her blog, Not my First Rodeo.