Celebrating Creativity in the Craft

Historians Imagine is a monthly webinar devoted to this dimension of the craft.  Patty Limerick and Matthew Jacobson talk with path-breaking historians about the inventiveness and vision of their work, and about the more mysterious aspects of their practices—their imaginative spark and the virtues that lie beyond rigor and out of reach of your typical “how to” manual. These conversations will appeal to professional historians, to be sure, and might offer liberation from the academy’s constraints and the disciplining demands of convention. But they will equally engage anyone who is interested in how new stories are made from old materials, and how great storytellers and historical sleuths think to do what they do.

Writing history is like jazz improvisation. Good history is made of intuitive flourishes and counterintuitive riffs; it is a call and response, the soloist plays both with and against the ensemble of fellow historians; it hews to established principles, but reaches ever toward the original and unfamiliar. If the presentation of history is an inherently creative venture, then why is it so often mischaracterized as a tedious, dry pursuit? And why in their teaching do history professors themselves typically stress rigor over creativity, aptitude over artistry? The academy’s many rules do engender integrity. Historians should be judicious in the questions they ask of the past; they should search out reliable sources and mine them with skepticism and care; they should fashion their blueprints according to the best evidence; they should credit their predecessors, never claiming a reinvented wheel as their own. But there is still plenty of running room for that spectacular human capacity called “creativity.” And indeed, the most highly regarded and compelling practitioners of the craft are those who are able to weave a vivid tapestry with words, to execute the unexpected interpretive bank shot, to render alchemic gold from the unpromising dross recovered from a meager archive. Creativity isn’t an add-on; our best work depends on it.


Free! And open to the public.

Join us Wednesdays at 12:00PM Mountain Time (2:00 Eastern)

February 10-June 9, 2021  by Zoom


Patty Limerick

Faculty Director and Chair of the Board, Center of the American West, University of Colorado Boulder

Matthew Jacobson

William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University

Featured Historians

February 10

Ari Kelman
UC Davis

Historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the politics of memory, and Native American history. Author of Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War and A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek.

Watch Now


March 10

B. Erin Cole
Minnesota Historical Society

Historian, museum professional and cartoonist. Currently turning some of her research on zoning, race and sexuality into a longform comic for public audiences. Author of the comics, I Am A Historian  I Make Exhibits and Am I Still a Historian?

Watch Now


April 14

Jenny Price
Jenny Price, Washington University

Public writer, artist, historian, and author of Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto. Co-creator of the Our Malibu Beaches mobile-phone app.



Watch Now


Photo Credit: Igor Heifetz.

May 12

Phil Deloria

Social, cultural and political historian of the relations among American Indian peoples and the United States. Author of Playing Indian, and Indians in Unexpected Places.



June 9

Natalia Molina
University of Southern California

Historian who examines the interconnectedness of racial and ethnic communities through her concept of “racial scripts.” Author of How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts and Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1940.




We will work with ADA Compliance to attempt to fulfill any disability requests for ASL interpreting and/or real-time captioning for these events. Such requests should be made at least seven days in advance of the event. Requests received less than 48 hours prior to the event cannot be guaranteed.

To make a request, please email admin@centerwest.org or adacoordinator@colorado.edu.