History Professor Continues Exploring Colorado’s Past and Future as new State Historian Council Member
On April 19, 2022, Susan Schulten, professor in the University of Denver’s Department of History, was named to History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council. A distinguished scholar of 19th and 20th century American history, who has been both a Guggenheim Fellow (2010) and was awarded a Public Scholar Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2016), Schulten has been exploring Colorado’s history since she accepted her initial position at DU in 1996.
Schulten credits the academic and professional relationships she’s built over the years for her acquired knowledge of, and appreciation for, the ways that Colorado has been integral to American history.
“Time and again, I’ve been exposed to stories that I was entirely unaware of, stories which place Colorado and the West at the center of American history,” said Schulten, naming, as just one example, the disabled peoples’ protests of 1973 in Denver that helped lead to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Most recently, Schulten has researched the formation of a regional identity in the Great Plains during the 1800s, and has closely linked the formation of the Colorado territory to the outbreak of the Civil War. As such, Schulten takes being one of the newest members of the State Historian’s Council very seriously.
“I see part of my responsibility as finding new aspects of Colorado history to publicize,” said Schulten. “I also hope to amplify the work being done here on DU’s campus and around the state.”
As a new member of the State Historian’s Council, which is composed of history professors from universities around Colorado, Schulten will have a unique opportunity to promote projects and histories that would otherwise go unnoticed.
One of Schulten’s projects that continues to do the important work of revealing and discussing forgotten stories of Colorado’s past is the Lost Highways: Dispatches from the Shadows of the Rocky Mountains podcast. Presented by History Colorado, Lost Highways grew from an idea of DU alum Stephen Sturm (History, ’13).
“Stephen and his family have been significant supporters of DU, and the two of us kept in touch after he graduated,” said Schulten. “He was an avid listener of podcasts, and in early 2018 he observed that there was room for a new podcast that would focus on Colorado history, in part because so many people were moving to our state with little knowledge of its history.”
Sturm worked on the idea with History Colorado, which led to the hiring of Noel Black to produce and host the show. Schulten has been on the advisory board for the podcast from its inception, and serves as a history editor for its stories. Though she’s occasionally involved in brainstorming future episodes, Schulten says its her colleagues who dig deep into the state’s history to discover the most fascinating topics.
“Many of the best ideas come from those at History Colorado who have a knack for finding hidden, quirky and powerful stories that have yet to be fully explored,” said Schulten. Particularly powerful is the way Lost Highways brings history to bear on the present.
As she continues to work with the Lost Highways team, Schulten remains deeply engaged with historic maps, using them to explore hidden patterns and lesser-known events of Colorado and the West that have shaped American history. Most recently, Schulten wrote about how activists around suffrage and prohibition in the early twentieth century maps as a powerful visual rhetoric in their fight for suffrage.
“I consider maps to be extraordinarily rich portals onto the past,” said Schulten. “By capturing a moment in time, they contain layers of information that historians can unpack, covering everything from the content of the map to the technology behind its production.”
Now, with her role as a State Historian’s Council Member, Schulten looks forward to supporting DU students and colleagues in their research endeavors that investigate the past in order to understand our present.
“My goal is to tell stories that are more historical than historic,” said Schulten. “In other words, I don’t see history as a parade of heroes and villains, or a succession of landmark events. Instead, I see the past as producing the present, in ways that we often miss.”