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In Memoriam: Ángel David Nieves

It is with unfathomable sadness that the History Department recognizes the passing of our colleague and friend, Professor Ángel David Nieves. In addition to being a brilliant and innovative scholar, Ángel was a dedicated mentor and a delightful colleague. He will be remembered for his warmth and generosity, his grace and humor and – above all – his willingness to imagine a better world and to fight for it. 

Ángel’s intellectual interests and energies were wide-ranging and he wore many hats. He was Dean’s Professor of Public and Digital Humanities, Professor of History and Africana Studies, and Director of the Humanities Center in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. He was a trained architect, a public historian, and an archivist whose scholarship and teaching focused on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, social justice, and technology. He experimented with many aspects of digital humanities and demanded that scholarly work be accessible and approachable. Ángel’s books include An Architecture of Education: African American Women Design the New South and People, Practice, Power: Digital Humanities Outside the Center. His articles appeared in journals from American Quarterly to The Journal of Planning History, among many others. Most recently, he was working on a digital book project, Apartheid Heritage(s): A Spatial History of South Africa’s Black Townships, that combines testimony of human rights violations with 3D reconstructions of sites damaged or destroyed by the apartheid-era regime.

Central to all of Ángel’s work was a spirit of collaboration and accessibility. He genuinely wanted to bring people together to reveal new stories, create meaningful connections, and forge more just futures. In the past few years he worked with students on the Apartheid Heritage Project and helped lead Reckonings: A Local History Platform for the Community-ArchivistReckonings works with members of historically marginalized communities to co-curate more accurate and more all-encompassing archives than can be achieved by conventional academic methods. Both projects are emblematic of the way Ángel sought to use the power of scholarly enterprise to build and empower communities to record their own histories. He was fiercely committed to making the world – especially universities – more inclusive and equitable places. 

Ángel was a teacher of the highest order, determined to increase access and visibility of traditionally underrepresented groups in public humanities and scholarly work. He ultimately found the most satisfaction in letting other people shine. This was one of his many superpowers: Ángel used his skills and ambitions not for self-aggrandizement, but to lift those around him, especially the graduate students he brought into programs as co-creators and vibrant members of his community. 

In the days since his passing, I have heard countless Ángel stories, little moments when he touched someone’s life in the small ways we often take for granted. He checked in on colleagues having bad days, remembered particularly joyful and painful events, popped into offices to say hello and share a little story or two. He had so many close friends because he exemplified an attribute too often missing in today’s world—he cared deeply for others. He supported graduate students with a fierce commitment to equity, inclusion, and respect. Even after the tragic loss of his much beloved husband Richard earlier this year, Ángel continued to share his energies with others. “He listened to me,” one graduate student said with wonder. On certain topics, he was the only person colleagues could speak to, and often at great lengths. Others explained: “I keep waiting for that slightly snarky, always hilarious text.” “I will miss the way he raised his eyebrows in boring meetings.” “He made me laugh when I was not supposed to.” And another: “He said the quiet parts out loud.” “I was lucky I got to work with him,” one student acknowledged, “even if it was just for a short time.” 

Images courtesy of Jarvis Chen.

It is the smallest of things that I will miss the most. The way Ángel would tap his foot when a meeting got too long or raise his eyebrows in mock disbelief. He was often irreverent and always direct; I will miss his honesty. I will miss the days he would knock on my door, come in for “a few minutes” and end up staying a few hours.

With a heavy heart, 
Gretchen Heefner
Chair, History Department