Nathan (Nate) Plageman

Nate Plageman

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 (

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.