Nate Plageman is a historian of Africa interested in the dynamics of social and cultural change in colonial and postcolonial urban Ghana. Nate grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, 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. He joined the History Department at Wake Forest in 2008.
Nate's first book, Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana (Indiana University Press, 2013), attends to an oft-ignored moment of the week--"Saturday Nights"--and explores how different groups of Ghanaians gathered around the sounds of highlife, the nation's most dominant genre of popular music for most of the twentieth century. More specifically, it explores how people used music, dance, and forms of sociability to articulate and contest understandings of power, gender, and community throughout the period of British colonial rule, the movement towards independence, and the early years of Ghanaian nationhood. Included in Indiana's “African Expressive Culture” and “New Approaches to Ethnomusicology” series, the book is enhanced with audio and visual material on the Ethnomusicology Multimedia website (https://ethnomultimedia.org)
At present, Nate is working on a second book project entitled Urban Lines and Shadows: The Making of a City in Western Ghana. This project examines the spatial, political, and sociocultural landscape of Sekondi-Takoradi, adjoining towns that were amalgamated as Ghana’s first “planned city” and site of its principal port and railway terminus, from c. 1900-1970. More specifically, it uses a mosaic of source materials—archival documents, newspapers, maps and blueprints, oral interviews, local histories, photographs, and song—to reconstruct the city as a product of several distinct, but overlapping, pasts. The first is that of the state (colonial and postcolonial), which repeatedly deployed transnational logics of urban planning to transform Sekondi-Takoradi into a “model tropical town”. The second is that of its residents: a large, but to-date invisible, collective who moved to the city under varied conditions and with different aims.
By juxtaposing the “lines” state officials tried to impose upon Sekondi-Takoradi and the “shadows” concealing how these four groups of people worked with, against, and alongside them, this work reconstructs the city’s history in a complete—not piecemeal—fashion. More importantly, it employs methods of historical listening, analysis, and reconstruction to unearth how urban power relations influence cities’ formation and operation as well as scholars’ ability to access their complex, and oftentimes contentious, pasts.
B.A. Saint Olaf College 2000
M.A. Indiana University-Bloomington 2003
Ph.D. Indiana University-Bloomington 2008
- Coordinator, African Studies Minor (2016 - present)
- Wake Forest University, Associate Professor (2014-present)
- Wake Forest University, Assistant Professor (2008-2014)
Click here for the complete CV.
- 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
An overview of African history which examines topics crucial to the foundation and operation of different African societies prior to the beginning of colonial rule. Emphasizes individual case studies and primary source materials to access the diversity and range of pre-colonial African historical experience and varied methodologies historians have used to reconstruct African pasts. (CD)
- HST 269 African History since 1850
An overview of African history which examines topics crucial to African societies’ experiences with the onset, operation, and end of colonial rule. It also explores how some of African history’s best-known recent events, including South African apartheid and the Rwandan genocide, were products of a much longer history. Emphasizes primary source materials to enhance our understanding of Africans’ historical experiences. (CD)
- HST 336 Gender and Power in African History
Examines understandings of gender and power in African societies, with particular focus on the last several hundred years. After addressing sources and methods, the course examines conceptions of gender and power in pre-colonial African societies, colonialism’s varied impacts on men and women, the gendered nature of independence, and the importance of gender and power to projects of nation-building. (CD)
- HST 340 Urban Africa
Examines the dynamism of African cities, with particular emphasis on ordinary people rather than political or economic authorities. Focusing overwhelmingly on the colonial and post-colonial periods, this course’s major topics include the diversity of African cities, colonial visions for urban change, and cities as sites of social transformations, national revolutions, and political impositions. (CD)
- 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.
Monographs and Edited Collections
- Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.
For a complete list of publications, click CV.
Articles and Essays
- “A Failed Showcase of Empire?: The Gold Coast Police Band, Colonial Record Keeping, and a 1947 Tour of Great Britain.” African Music 10.2 (2016): 57-77.
- “Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa.” In Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, edited by Thomas Spear. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
- “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. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014: 244-267.
- “Colonial Ambition, Common Sense Thinking, and the Making of Takoradi Harbor, Gold Coast, c. 1920-1930.” History in Africa 40 (2013): 317-52.
- “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 CV.