Tribute to Dr. Angel David Nieves

Dec 15, 2023

Two men standing in an architecture studio
Image Caption
The DHi space at Hamilton College, which Dr. Angel Nieves's then partner and later husband, Paul Richard Foote, redesigned. Photo courtesy of: David W. Dunlap.

Greetings, MAPP and HISP families,

I wanted to pass along that Dr. Angel David Nieves passed away on December 5th in Boston, where he was Dean’s Professor of Public and Digital Humanities at Northeastern University. He died of a massive heart attack in his young 50s. Angel’s first tenure track position was in HISP from 2003 to 2008, when Dr. Randy Mason was HISP Director. As the first tenure-track entry level professor hired once HISP became a program in MAPP, Angel taught several HISP classes, including HISP 610, Preservation Documentation and Research Methods and HISP 700, the former Final Seminar. He developed two new courses: HISP 635: Social and Ethnic Issues in Historic Preservation Practice and a special topics course on Cultural and Heritage Tourism. Beyond MAPP, Angel also taught two courses in and helped to found the U.S. Latino/a Studies Program at UMD, the first of its kind on the east coast of the U.S. Dr. Nieves was especially known for his mentoring of HISP, AMST, and USLT students, and for his mentorship of BIPOC students through UMD’s Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity, where he worked with CRGE Fellow Willow Lung-Amam, who was not coincidentally the first MAPP graduate student to receive a CRGE Fellowship.

Angel, as those of us who remember his time here know, was a dedicated social justice warrior. He worked hard to bring justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) values to HISP and MAPP, sometimes ruffling features through his advocacy. He embedded JEDI values in his teaching style, course content, programming efforts, interactions with MAPP staff persons, mentoring of students and fellow assistant professors, and through his modeling of activist scholarship.

During his time with HISP, Angel began as an Africana Studies researcher but emerged as the preservationist and heritage studies scholar who achieved renown nationally and internationally. He published two co-edited books during those five years, showcasing his penchant for long titles: “We Shall Independent Be:” African American Place-Making and the Struggle to Claim Space in the U.S., with Leslie Alexander (University of Colorado Press, 2008) and “The People Should Speak for Themselves:” Reflecting on the History and Origins of the Hector Pieterson Museum as ‘Memorial Architecture,’ with Ali Khangela Hlongwan (Johannesburg, South Africa: Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum Publication, 2006). While at UMD, Angel developed his interest in digital humanities—the scholarly field he was best known for when he died. He held two fellowships, from 2006 to 2008, at UMD’s Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), where he developed the Soweto ’76 Archive: A Living Digital Archive – proof- of-concept with Greg Lord as programmer. Soweto 76 was an important prototype digital public humanities and heritage project combining historical research, oral histories, archival collecting, cultural landscape studies and mapping, and virtual reality animation to document the student uprising in Johannesburg, South Africa that followed the murder of Hector Pieterson that brought the anti-Apartheid movement into a dominant political force in South Africa and abroad. While at HISP, and partly to support Soweto ’76, Angel began a successful career of grant-writing, earning four research grants plus a $141K grant to support curriculum development for the new USLT program at UMD.

In 2008, Angel left HISP and MAPP for a position at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, where he was able to join his partner and later husband, Paul Richard Foote, in Seneca Falls, NY, while Dick was taking care of his elderly father. Angel established a DH Institute at Hamilton and later went on to head up DH and Public Humanities Centers at San Diego State University and Northeastern University, where he held an endowed professorship when he died this week. I was lucky to attend Angel’s Mellon grant-funded Reckonings Summer Institute on Community Archiving and Social Justice in June 2023 with Ms. Maxine Gross, a fellow member of the Lakeland Digital Archive Team. HISP and UMD had a strong impact on Angel’s development as an internationally-recognized social justice-oriented digital and public humanities scholar focusing on heritage studies that center community studies and the built environment. He leaves behind an impressive body of scholarship and program building in the Digital and Public Humanities and many, many students and colleagues he has mentored and generously assisted over the years.

Dr. Mary Corbin Sies
Associate Professor Emerita of American Studies
HISP Affiliate since 1988

Program / Center Affiliation