Nate Plageman



Associate Professor Nate Plageman
African History
B-108 Tribble Hall; 758-4318




BioNate Plageman is a historian of sub-Saharan Africa interested in the dynamics of social and cultural change in colonial and post-colonial urban Ghana.  Nate grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and attended St. Olaf College outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was during a study abroad program to Ghana that he first began to appreciate the richness and complexities of African history.  After a brief hiatus as a ski bum, he attended Indiana University and completed his PhD. His first book, Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana (Indiana University Press, 2012), explored how different groups of Ghanaians used a genre of popular music called highlife to articulate and contest understandings of power, gender, and community during the periods of colonial rule and early independence.  More recently, Nate has started work on a social history of Sekondi-Takoradi, adjoining cities in Ghana’s western region. In addition to unveiling how colonial and independent authorities worked to shape the cities’ confines, the project seeks to uncover how the men and women who lived in them actively determined their spatial, political, economic, and social character.

B.A.      Saint Olaf College 2000
M.A.      Indiana University-Bloomington 2003
Ph.D.    Indiana University-Bloomington 2008

Academic Appointments:

  • Wake Forest University, Associate Professor (2014-present)
  • Wake Forest University, Assistant Professor (2008-2014)

Click here for the complete CV.


  • “Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa.” In Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, edited by Thomas Spear. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Available @:
  • “The African Personality Dances Highlife”: Popular Music, Urban Youth, and Cultural Modernization in Nkrumah’s Ghana, 1957-1965” in Modernization as Spectacle in Africa, edited by Peter J. Bloom, Takyiwaa Manuh, and Stephan F. Miescher, 244-267. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
  • “Colonial Ambition, Common Sense Thinking,and the Making of Takoradi Harbor, Gold Coast, c. 1920-1930.” History in Africa 40 (2013): 317-52.
  • Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.
  • “Isaiah Kehinde Dairo, MBE”, “Prince Nico Mbarga”, “E.T. Mensah”, and “Kobbina Okai.” In Dictionary of African Biography. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Emmanuel Akyeampong. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • “Accra is Changing, Isn’t It?: Urban Infrastructure, Independence, and Nation in the Gold Coast’s Daily Graphic, 1954-57.” International Journal for African Historical Studies 43.1 (2010): 137-159.
  • For a complete list of publications, click c.v.


  • HST 105 Africa in World History
    While popular imagination suggests that the African continent has been isolated from history and historical events, this course examines Africa and Africans as central to the development of the wider world.  Throughout the duration of the semester, we will analyze how Africans have influenced and were influenced by global events, particularly in the regions of the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, and expanding Atlantic World.  Major themes include the emergence and interrelations of early civilizations, the spread of Christianity and Islam, expanding networks of economic exchange, and migration.  The course places major emphasis on slavery, the Trans-Atlantic, Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades, and the creation of the African Diaspora.  After establishing Africa’s centrality to the emergence of the modern world, the class examines how Africans and peoples of African descent experienced and shaped major historical events and periods of the recent past.
  • FYS African Expressive Culture as History
    This course uses a number of African popular expressive forms—such as music, theater, art, sport, and clothing—to reveal local views and interpretations of historical events during the twentieth century.  Historical sources often relay the perspective of empowered actors (or those in power), but in this course we will examine the views and realities of African citizens who are often “invisible” in broader historical narratives.  More specifically, we will consider the historical perspectives and realities of a wide range of men and women, including musicians, artists, and actors.  As we analyze the ways in which these individuals have represented events of the last 100 years, we will collectively assess culture’s relationship to political, economic, social, and historical change.  More importantly, we will garner a greater understanding of the ways in which Africans have creatively used the resources at their disposal in order to engage with the past, present, and future.
  • HST 268 African History to 1870
    This course is an overview of African history prior to the establishment of European colonial rule, covering the period from the 4th century until 1870. It focuses on sub-Saharan Africa and uses case-studies in various geographic regions.
  • HST 269 African History since 1850
    This course is an overview of African history, beginning with the period following the abolition of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and ending with contemporary challenges of independent African nations. It emphasizes sub-Saharan African perspectives, initiatives, and historical agency.
  • HST 336 Gender and Power in African History
    Examines the close relationship between understandings of gender and power in African societies, with particular focus on the last several hundred years.  After addressing the sources and methods scholars have used to address these topics, the course examines conceptions of gender and power in pre-colonial African societies, the impact of the colonial period on men and women, the gendered nature of nationalism and independence, and the importance of gender and power to many of Africa’s post-colonial challenges.
  • HST 340 Social and Cultural Change in Urban Africa
    While popular imagination suggests that the African past is largely a rural one, many of the continent’s most explosive social and cultural transformations have taken place in its cities.  This course examines how urban residents have worked to creatively shape to some of sub-Saharan Africa’s major transformations.  Major topics for the course include the social and cultural fabric of pre-colonial African cities, the impact of colonialism on African towns, cities as sites of revolution and independence, and the contemporary conditions and challenges facing contemporary urban residents.
  • HST 390 Colonial Africa, 1884-1994
    This course, a History Department research seminar, centers its attention on Africa’s colonial period (c.1884-1994), a long-century that had a significant impact on the political, economic, social, and cultural realities of African peoples. Throughout the first third of the semester, we will think about Africa’s colonial period from various angles, around numerous topics, and in ways that accentuate our understanding the world in which we live. Over the rest of the semester we will conduct original research on topics and themes of our choosing—an exciting opportunity that allows us to pursue individual interests, consult a range of primary and secondary sources, and share our findings.