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CU Denver professor named Colorado State Historian

Dr. Colorado strives to make history accessible

State Historian Noel plans to make history attractive and interesting.
Photo: Ayden Adair· The Sentry

This year on Colorado Day, Aug. 1, CU Denver Professor Tom Noel, nicknamed “Dr. Colorado,” was named by History Colorado as state historian. The position of state historian establishes Noel as the top authority for any fact involving Colorado state history. While the position of state historian has existed since 1924, Noel is the first state historian to chair the newly established State Historians Council.

For nearly 100 years, the organization History Colorado  has appointed a state historian tasked with knowing state history inside and out. Whenever a question arises from the press or other Colorado historians, Noel is the definitive authority for history-based questions. He reports, interprets, and communicates the  documented history of Colorado to the public in ways that he hopes will create a more extensive interest in history.

As the chair of the State Historians Council, Noel oversees five other Colorado historians, all working together to increase public awareness and promote student work on a broad scale. He hopes to concentrate on publishing works completed by CU Denver students.

Whether it be leading tours to pubs and bars or having his students dress up and perform as noteworthy Colorado historical figures for tour attendees to interact with, Noel’s primary goal as state historian is to make history accessible and interesting to as many as possible.

While receiving his Ph.D. from CU Boulder, Noel focused on a lesser observed aspect of life: pubs and bars. He studied the activities of bars that go beyond drinking and into the foundations of culture.

“They were a place for [different] ethnic groups, a place for unions to organize, a place where you go to find a job, find a spouse, or a place to live. In old time immigrant saloons, what country you were from, you would go to that particular bar,” Noel said.

His Ph.D. thesis inspired him to lead walking tours of the city on a daily basis. One day while leading one of his tours, rain began to fall,  and professor Noel led the group into Charlie Brown’s bar—a local bar teeming with Colorado history, opened since the end of prohibition. Once the tour migrated inside, interest began to rise in each member of the group. 

“I found it a great way to get people who normally aren’t interested in history. You say, ‘Let’s go on a tour of a bar,’ and use that to teach the ethnic history and immigrant history,” Noel said.

Noel has taught at CU Denver since 1978 and has grown a special appreciation for CU Denver students. He notices their work ethic and drive to learn, leading him to publish his students’ studies, help create connections with historical organizations to secure jobs for history students, and make history a subject that every Denver citizen will enjoy.

Students who want to learn more about Noel and his work can find him leading the occasional city tour, on his biweekly appearance on 9 News, or read any of his 53 books, some of which he has co-written with CU Denver students.

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