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Dr. William Wei Named as History Colorado’s State Historian
Recognized for his work in Asian American history and for his perspective on diversity, human rights and community connection
DENVER, Colo. (JULY 25, 2019)—On Colorado Day, Aug. 1, Dr. William Wei, Ph.D., professor of history at the University of Colorado in Boulder, will begin his one-year position as the official State Historian and leader of History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council, succeeding noted historian and author Dr. Tom Noel.
The five-person council rotates this leadership role every year on Colorado’s birthday, to create better representation and reach for the state, to amplify different perspectives, and to reinforce the collaborative foundation of history and storytelling.
History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council reaches across the state to aid in interpretation of the history of Colorado and the West, providing opportunities to expand the understanding of the historical perspectives, cultures and places of Colorado. Council members work with History Colorado to produce and share knowledge about Colorado and connect with more residents throughout the state. In keeping with the influential, forward-leaning practices of History Colorado—which is home to the nation’s largest state historical fund for preservation and operates the flagship History Colorado Center that was dubbed “the first great history museum of the 21st century” by Harold Closter of the Smithsonian—the council’s collaborative foundation represents one of America’s most innovative and inclusive approaches to historical leadership at the state level.
Before joining the State Historian’s Council during its inception in 2018, Dr. Wei was a former History Colorado board member, lead advisor on the History Colorado Center’s Zoom In exhibition, and contributor to History Colorado’s magazine, Colorado Heritage. He also is editor-in-chief of the online Colorado Encyclopedia and has held various national and international fellowships. In addition, he is currently working on a book featuring the 100 objects from the Zoom In exhibition. According to Dr. Wei, “I believe it is my responsibility to go beyond the confines of higher education, to share Colorado’s story with people outside of academics.”
Dr. Wei is an expert on modern Chinese history and the senior Asian history specialist in his department. Early in his academic career, he developed a professional interest in Asian American history and is now recognized as one of the foremost authorities on Asian American history in Colorado. Dr. Wei’s latest book, Asians in Colorado: A History of Persecution and Perseverance in the Centennial State, was a finalist for the 2017 Colorado Authors’ League’s “Award for General Nonfiction.”
“As State Historian, Dr. Wei will bring a fresh perspective to our shared history, helping us tell new stories and share new voices. He’s been an important part of History Colorado for many years, and with this new role, he will enhance the depth, history and interpretation of our collection – both inside and outside our museum walls,” said Jason Hanson, History Colorado’s Chief Creative Officer and Director of Interpretation and Research, who facilitates the State Historian’s Council. “The combination of Dr. Wei’s experience and commitment, along with the other State Historian’s Council members, will help present our state’s rich, complex history in ways that are relevant for Coloradans today.”
Meet Dr. William Wei
Dr. Wei views the State Historian position as an opportunity for speaking out on critical issues affecting Colorado, placing them in historical context. He shares the following vision and goals for this new role, while answering the following questions:
Why is your role so important to sharing Colorado’s history and reaching more communities?
“As the State Historian, I have a responsibility to ensure that the exhibits and the stories they tell are accurate. I hope to tour around the state, to talk with residents and school-age students, to hear their stories – which are all part of our collective history. After all, if you want a meaningful interpretation of history and culture, you need to talk to the people you are studying.”
What vision do you have for the State Historian’s Council?
“I want to encourage council members to engage in more ‘applied history,’ translating their knowledge of the state’s history and culture into a form that everyday Coloradans can understand.”
What new ideas and knowledge will you bring?
“My background as the senior Asian historian in my department at the University of Colorado gives me a broader perspective on the state’s history and culture, allowing me to place it in a comparative context – especially around human and civil rights.”
Especially during History Colorado’s 140th anniversary year, how can we bridge Colorado’s early history with today?
“History Colorado’s anniversary is an opportunity to visit some of the key moments in Colorado’s past to see how they are viewed today. In particular, I’d like to revisit the topic of immigration and refugees, which is not new — and has been part of our state’s history since the 1800s. I am planning to write some articles on this topic.”
What are three messages you’d like to share with Colorado communities?
“First, learning the history of our country and state will prepare you for what the future holds for our communities. Second, studying the state’s past will teach you about individuals who have fought to realize the country’s ideals, which are expressed in its founding documents. Third, knowing how Colorado has evolved over time will show you that our state is bending in a progressive direction, at least for now.”
As State Historian, Dr. Wei will play a key role in guiding History Colorado’s ongoing work to be a place of belonging for all Coloradans, while setting the groundwork for history, community connection, inclusion, and new relationships. His new role begins on Aug. 1, 2019, and continues through July 31, 2020.
Colorado residents are invited to meet Dr. Wei at the History Colorado Center on Colorado Day, when Dr. Noel passes the role of State Historian to him. Visitors can ask Dr. Wei questions and even play a game of Colorado history trivia with him, scheduled for 2:15–3:45 p.m. For more details, click here.
About The State Historian’s Council
The Council includes five historians from five different institutions around the state, who each experience a five-year term with annual rotations for the State Historian role. From Aug. 1, 2019, through July 31, 2020, Dr. Wei will lead the following council members in his role as State Historian: Dr. Noel (University of Colorado, Denver); Dr. Nicki Gonzales (Regis University); Dr. Jared Orsi (Colorado State University); and Dr. Duane Vandenbusche (Western State Colorado University). For biographical background on each historian, please click here.
During the council’s first term, from Aug. 1, 2018, through today, under Dr. Noel’s leadership, members of the State Historian’s Council expanded History Colorado’s reach through a variety of activities around the state, including 36 talks and lectures, 33 events and programs, 19 exhibition consultations, 10 tours and treks, three writing awards, two publications in Colorado Heritage, and one audio-tour narration.
“We are all grateful for Dr. Noel’s accomplishments and his service as State Historian this past term. Throughout his 50 years of working with History Colorado, Dr. Noel has done so much to bring us all together for greater collaboration and deeper understanding about our history and culture,” added Hanson.
About History Colorado
History Colorado is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and an agency of the State of Colorado, with a mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. The historical agency serves as the state’s memory, preserving the places, stories and material culture of Colorado through statewide museums, educational programs, historic preservation grants, research library, collections and outreach to Colorado communities. Visit HistoryColorado.org or call 303-HISTORY, for more information.
For a photo of William Wei, please click here.