PhD Candidate in the Department of History
Angela Tate is a PhD candidate in the Department of History in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on women in the African Diaspora and how their role as celebrities, artists, and performers helped to build the global civil rights movement. She is the co-coordinator for the Public Humanities Colloquium at Northwestern. In 2019, she participated in the Dissertation Proposal Development (DPD) Program hosted by The Graduate School and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I study Black women performers and artists in Pan-African social movements in the 20th and 21st centuries. I have a particular interest in exploring the lives and careers of women such as Etta Moten Barnett, Lena Horne, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and their relationship with celebrity, feminism, and activism.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
Being in a doctoral program. When I completed my associate’s degree in Anthropology at Sacramento City College and my bachelor's degree in Public History & American Studies at CSUSB, I was daunted by the prospect of more school! After a variety of career moves—from social media manager to intern for a fashion designer to freelance writer—and working in museums and archives, I finally found myself applying for graduate school.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I am inspired by my work in archives and museums and coming to understand what these institutions create in terms of memory and power. Furthermore, I have a deep love for Black archives and fostering a sense of urgency about where Black people fit into narratives that have historically excluded them.
What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
I've been fortunate that my mistakes are never truly devastating, but I have learned that I need to stop making hasty decisions based on fear or anxiety about the future. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, butut the goals, gifts, and talents I want to cultivate require sitting quietly and being thoughtful about my life.
Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
Too many to name, but these are the scholars whose work always moves me and inspires me to strive for clarity and compassion in my writing: Saidiya Hartman, Katherine McKittrick, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Keisha N. Blain, Deborah E. McDowell, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Darlene Clark Hine, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Hortense Spillers, and so many more.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
Because my work begins with the women I study—especially having worked on the personal archives of a few of them—the reward and challenge lies in building connections, forging a relationship, and maintaining them both. I love meeting the women or their relatives or their colleagues, but it requires building extra time and care in my methodology.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
Being part of a community of Black women archivists, artists, and scholars. Knowing that my work contributes to the conversations held in the past, the present, and the future about Black women is the biggest impact I hope to have through my work. I am inspired by those who came before me, those who are here now, and those to come. I am also extremely interested in how people learn about history online (h/t Sam Wineburg), so connecting through social media is another impact I have.
I wanted to live in Chicago. I did not fully understand what it meant to live in Chicago (hello snow!), but Northwestern being near Chicago was appealing. The biggest draw, however, was the Northwestern University Library having the largest African studies collection, the interdisciplinary community, and—truthfully? Buffy Summers got into Northwestern.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I have a balcony garden now, so I spend a lot of time tending to my vegetables and herbs.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
People matter. Community matters. You're not an island to yourself, and every step of the way requires generosity, grace, and kindness. Also, ask for help!
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
I am slowly planning to build a digital archive to accompany my dissertation project. I have photos and videos and other documents I would like to share with a wider public.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Re-starting the Northwestern University Public Humanities Colloquium with my partner in crime, Beka Bryer, a PhD candidate in IPTD. It's our little contribution to creating a community of graduate students, staff, and faculty interested in critical conversations about current events and public-facing scholarship.
Published: September 1, 2020
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