Patricia Nelson Limerick

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Patricia Nelson Limerick
Patricia Nelson

(1951-05-17) May 17, 1951 (age 67)
Banning, California
NationalityUnited States
Known forHistoric studies of the American West

Patricia Nelson Limerick (born May 17, 1951) is an American historian, author, lecturer and teacher, considered to be one of the leading historians of the American West.[1][2] In 2016 she became the Colorado State Historian.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Limerick is the daughter of Grant and Patricia Nelson and was born and raised in Banning, California. She received a B.A. in American studies in 1972 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in American studies in 1980 at Yale University.


She was an assistant professor of history at Harvard University 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 was president of the Organization of American Historians (2014)[4] 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.[5]

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.

In January 2016 she was named to the post of Colorado State Historian. Her acceptance of the position comes about through a new partnership between CU-Boulder and History Colorado, an agency that manages Colorado's major museums and archives. Limerick will serve in this new role while maintaining her responsibilities as a professor and researcher. The new role will include developing exhibitions and public events.[3]



  • — (1985). Desert passages : encounters with the American deserts. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0826307941.
  • — (1987). The legacy of conquest : the unbroken past of the American West. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0393023909.
  • —; Milner II, Clyde A.; Rankin, Charles E., eds. (1991). Trails : toward a new western history. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700605010.
  • — (2000). Something in the soil : legacies and reckonings in the New West. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0393037883.
  • —; Hanson, Jason L. (2012). A ditch in time : the city, the west, and water. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub. ISBN 978-1-55591-366-3.


  • Monthly column for the Denver Post (current)[6]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Alumni Achievement Award, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1990[7]
  • State Humanist of the Year, Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, 1992[7]
  • Official Fool of the University of Colorado, from 1987 to 2008[7]
  • MacArthur Fellow, 1995–2000[2][7]
  • Hazel Barnes Prize, University of Colorado's highest award for teaching and research, 2001[2]


Limerick's first marriage was to architect Jeffrey Limerick, who died of a stroke in 2005.[8] She married J. Houston Kempton in 2007.[9]


  1. ^ The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, Patricia Nelson Limerick, W. W. Norton & Company, 1987 ISBN 0-393-30497-3
  2. ^ a b c "Patty Limerick". Center of the American West. University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b Patty Limerick named Colorado State Historian The Denver Post, 11 January 2016
  4. ^ "About the OAH, 2014–2015 OAH Executive Board". Organization of American Historians. Organization of American Historians. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  5. ^ The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. "MacArthur Fellows July 1995". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  6. ^ Limerick, Patty. "Patty Limerick opinion column". Denver Post. Denver Post. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Faculty Short Biographies, Patricia Limerick". Department of History, University of Colorado, Boulder. University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  8. ^ Dining With Jeff the New York Times, 25 June 2005
  9. ^ Limerick, accessed 16 January 2016

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.

External links[edit]