Colorado’s new state historian brings a fresh focus on Black history

Luke Perkins / History Colorado

On today’s A Public Affair, KGNU News Intern Ivonne Olivas sits down with Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia, who assumed the role of Colorado State Historian last month.


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    Colorado’s new state historian brings a fresh focus on Black history Ivonne Olivas

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On August 1, 2023, Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia, professor of English at Colorado College, began her tenure as Colorado’s latest state historian.

The interdisciplinary scholar will bring a renewed focus on Black history in the state and she hopes to start multiple community conversations during her tenure.

 Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia: The job is, I think, primarily being an ambassador for History Colorado and a variety of of communities across the state, also aiding and advising and supporting the History Colorado mission, and in my case, I think, especially as it pertains to diversifying the perspectives that are reflected in the exhibitions.

I think the approach we have is how can they best use my expertise, my talents, my interest to support that mission?

And so right now what I’ve been thinking of is supporting, there’s a relatively new program called Blaxplanation, I’d also like History Colorado, like it’s not Denver-centric, even though of course the center is here since it’s our state capital, but to sort of beef up the outreach to different communities across the state.

I really love, since I’m a professor, conversations, and so one of the things I’m envisioning is helping organize conversations, again, that have a diversity of perspectives among the panelists, to spark broader community conversations about issues such as: can multicultural democracies survive?

(This) is a question I’ve been worried about a lot lately, and I had put together a collaboration just a couple months ago with History Colorado and again Chautauqua, where we brought in someone from India, you know, which has a big and contentious multiethnic and multicultural democracy, a Latin American specialist and a European specialist to talk about the challenges and opportunities of being a multicultural, multiracial, genuine democracy or republic.

So I’d like to continue, especially as we’re preparing for the state of Colorado’s 150th birthday, to organize conversations around that.

Ivonne Olivas: Historical censorship is a large topic of conversation especially in education. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia: Yes, of course, I have a lot of thoughts about that.

And in fact, that’s going to be the theme – the state historian gives an address in May, and that’s the theme, history and education is going to be the theme of that address.

And of course, I think about it just about every day, especially as a scholar who uses critical race theory, who focuses on race, who sees college students who come into my classes and say, ‘I’ve never heard these stories before. I’ve never heard of this person before, or this, you know, ground changing revolutionary book.’

So already we were not doing, I think in the United States in general, doing a good job in K-12 of introducing students to our real history, which I find, of course, extremely difficult as a Black woman, because there’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of abuse and exclusion in our history, but there’s also a lot of good, you know, adventurous thinking.

And so I think introducing students very early to the complexity of history is fundamental to any functioning, not just democracy but community.

But of course more recently, history, and this isn’t the first time like as someone with a historical perspective, when people start clutching their brains and saying ‘back in the day we used to value history and blah blah.’

No, history has always been used as a tool, as a political tool, as a political weapon, as a means of excluding and oppressing people.

You look at any dictatorship, the first thing they do is go for the history books, at the earliest levels, so, you know, you look at various countries and empires at various points in their history.

And so history has always been manipulated to serve the purposes of the powerful, so that’s nothing new.

I just think it’s particularly dangerous because what’s happening in the United States right now is that it seems to be a very targeted political backlash to hard won rights that people in various groups are still struggling for.

So not only groups of communities of color, but the LGBTQ+ community, you know, just about any community who’s been marginalized, silenced, or not allowed a seat at the table, it seems are being targeted by people who want to look at history as a fairy tale, and to put it bluntly, as a way of preserving what they see as the United States identity as white supremacist, ethno-nationalist, Christian, patriarchal country.

And so any narratives or perspectives that challenge that, of course have political implications.

And so I see this, for example, what Governor DeSantis is doing in Florida, trying to control the curriculum, not only of K-12, but in higher education as specifically targeting particular groups.

And so he’s very blunt and, you know, saying things like that ‘there’s nothing in the AP African American history curriculum that’s worth learning, or that students need to know.’

Or targeting LGBTQ families and individuals, basically saying they have no place in our society and certainly no voice and presence.

So I think that the backlash against history and an inclusive history is very much a backlash against people who are still struggling for being able to participate, to have their basic rights recognized, and to have a voice in our democracy.

Ivonne Olivas: At the end of your time as Colorado State Historian, what impact do you hope to leave behind?

Dr. Claire Oberon Garcia: I hope to have started a lot of conversations that may be difficult, but that are ongoing and that are relevant.

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    Colorado’s new state historian brings a fresh focus on Black history Ivonne Olivas

Ivonne Olivas

Ivonne Olivas


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