Barbara D. Savage

Barbara D. Savage

Geraldine R. Segal Professor Emerita of American Social Thought

Professor Emerita of Africana Studies


Barbara D. Savage is an historian and the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought in the Department of Africana Studies of the University of Pennsylvania.  She was a member of the University’s History Department from 1995-2013. She was the Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at the University of Oxford in 2018-2019. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in twentieth century African American history; the history of American religious and social reform movements; the history of the relationship between media and politics; and black women’s political and intellectual history.

Her book, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion (Harvard University Press, 2008), is an historical examination of debates about the public responsibility of black churches and the role of religion in racial leadership. That book was the winner of the prestigious 2012 Grawemeyer Prize in Religion. She also is the author of Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) which won the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Award for the best book in American history in the period 1916-1966. In addition, she is co-editor of Women and Religion in the African Diaspora (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) with R. Marie Griffith.

Savage is currently at work on an intellectual biography of Professor Merze Tate, an African American woman who pioneered in the fields of diplomatic history and international relations during her tenure at Howard University from 1942 to 1977. Trained at both Oxford and Harvard, Tate was one of the few black women academics of her generation. A prolific scholar with a wide-range of interests, her works covered the fields of disarmament, the diplomatic and political histories of the Pacific, and the role of railways and mineral extraction industries in the colonization of Africa. Her introductory essay on Tate is included in Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (UNC Press, 2015), a collection she co-edited with Mia Bay, Farah J. Griffin, and Martha S. Jones.

At Penn, among other commitments, she served as the chair of the Department of Africana Studies, Interim Director and Faculty Associate Director of the Center for Africana Studies, and Graduate and Undergraduate Chair. She also has been a member of the search committees for the President, the Provost, and the University Chaplain, and the Committee on Honorary Degrees. She has received external fellowship awards from the Smithsonian Institution, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University, the Princeton University Center for the Study of Religion, and the Scholars-in-Residence Program at the Schomburg Center on Black Culture of the New York Public Library. 

She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. She also is a Senior Advisor to the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics & Justice at Columbia University. In 2011, she served as a judge on the non-fiction panel for the National Book Award.

Savage received her doctorate in history from Yale in 1995, and also holds a law degree from Georgetown University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. Prior to entering graduate school, she worked in Washington, DC as a Congressional staff member and as a member of the staff of the Children's Defense Fund. During graduate school, she served as Director of Federal Relations, Office of the General Counsel at Yale University.


Research Interests
  • Twentieth Century African American history
  • History of American religious and social reform movements
  • History of the relationship between media and politics