Patricia Nelson Limerick

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Patricia Nelson Limerick (born May 17, 1951) is an American historian, considered to be one of the leading historians of the American West.[1] She was born and raised in Banning, California.

Limerick received a B.A. in American Studies in 1972 from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1980 from Yale University. She worked at Harvard University as an Assistant Professor from 1980 to 1984. Previously she taught at Yale as a graduate teaching assistant, where she helped teach the highly regarded 'daily themes' class. Since then Limerick has been at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she is Professor of History and chair of the Board of the Center of the American West.

Limerick is President-Elect of the Organization of American Historians (2014) and is a former president of the American Studies Association (1996-1997) and the Western History Association (2000). She is known for her 1987 book The Legacy of Conquest, which is part of a body of historical writing sometimes known as the New Western History. In 1995, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.[2]

Her essay on the Modoc War, titled "Haunted America" appears in the collection Ways of Reading, a textbook widely used by undergraduate English students. She also co-edited a collection of essays, titled Trails: Toward a New Western History] which relate to her 1989 "Trails Through Time" exhibit.

History professor William Weeks of the University of San Diego argues that in her writing:

It is easy to tell who the bad guys are – they are almost invariably white, male, and middle-class or better, while the good guys are almost invariably non-white, non-male, or non-middle class.... Anglo-American represented as patriarchal, racist, genocidal, and destructive of the environment, in addition to hypocritically betrayed the ideals on which it supposedly is built.[3]


  • Desert Passages: Encounters with the American Deserts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-8263-0808-5 (1985 paperback).
  • The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987. ISBN 0-393-30497-3 (1988 paperback).
  • Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-393-32102-9 (2001 paperback).


  1. ^ The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, Patricia Nelson Limerick, W. W. Norton & Company, 1988, ISBN 0-393-30497-3
  2. ^ The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. "MacArthur Fellows July 1995". Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  3. ^ William E. Weeks, "American Expansionism, 1815-1860," in Robert D. Schulzinger, ed. A Companion to American Foreign Relations (Blackwell: 2006) page 65

Further reading[edit]

  • Lauck, Jon K., “How South Dakota Sparked the New Western History Wars: A Commentary on Patricia Nelson Limerick,” South Dakota History 41 (Fall 2011), 353–81.