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 Emerita of American Social Thought and Africana Studies; she also was a member of the University’s History Department from 1995-2013.  In 2018-2019, she was the Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at the University of Oxford.  She remains a Distinguished Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford where a thesis prize in Black History is named in her honor.

Savage has written three books and co-edited two others.  Merze Tate: The Global Odyssey of a Black Woman Scholar (Yale, 2023) is an intellectual biography of an African American woman who taught in the fields of diplomatic history and international relations at Howard University from 1942 to 1977. With graduate degrees from from Oxford (1935) and Harvard (1941), Tate was one of the few black women academics of her generation and a prolific scholar with a wide-range of interests.  Savage’s introductory essay on Tate was included in Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (UNC Press, 2015), a collaborative collection she co-edited with Mia Bay, Farah J. Griffin, and Martha S. Jones.

Her book, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion (Harvard University Press, 2008), was the winner of the prestigious 2012 Grawemeyer Prize in Religion. In addition, she is co-editor of Women and Religion in the African Diaspora (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), a collaborative project led by R. Marie Griffith.

Her first book was 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.

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. 

For 25 years at Penn, she taught 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. 

Among other commitments there, she served as the inaugural 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.

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