Centennial traces the history of the plains of northeast Colorado from prehistory until the early 1970s. Geographic details about the fictional town of Centennial and its surroundings indicate that the region is in modern-day Weld County. Since the novel was written, the Denver suburb of Centennial has been incorporated, although its location in Arapahoe County is far from Michener's fictional town of the same name. Much of his book was based on the Weld County town of Greeley.
Many episodes in the book are loosely based on actual historical events in eastern Colorado and southeast Wyoming, which for novelistic reasons are brought to a single locale. For example, "The Massacre" is based on the Sand Creek Massacre which took place in Kiowa County, Colorado in 1864. Other parts of the book are loosely based on a family from Sterling in Logan County.
Centennial was made into a popular twelve-part television miniseries, also entitled Centennial, that aired on NBC from October 1978 through February 1979, and was filmed in several parts of Colorado. In 2008, NBC Universal began to market a six volume DVD set.