Nate Plageman specializes in the history of colonial and post-colonial Africa. His research focuses on Ghana and uses social historical approaches, popular music, and written and oral source materials to understand the fluid fabric of Ghanaian urban life. He completed his PhD. in African History at Indiana University and joined the History Department at Wake Forest in 2008. His research has been funded by Fulbright and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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)
Nate’s second book-in-progress, State Plans and City Lives: Urban Itineraries and the Making of a West African Town, provides a longitudinal analysis of Sekondi-Takoradi, a small coastal settlement that became Ghana’s principal port and first “planned city.” Following its initial design, the city went through several master plans and near-constant revision at the hands of British (1890-1957) and Ghanaian (1957-70) authorities, but this project uncovers how the city’s rapidly growing population–not just the state– configured the city’s emerging environs. Taking inspiration from recent scholarship that employs ethnographic observation, literary analysis, and cultural theory to examine contemporary African cities from several angles, of multidimensional power relations, and as contexts of intersection, I use a rich mosaic of source materials to consider the interactions between and intersections of state officials’ and different residents’ urban itineraries throughout much of the 20th century. By attending to a wide array of sources and multiple acts of urban imagination and city-building, the book offers a single, but multivocal, narrative about Sekondi-Takoradi’s past.