Tanisha is an acclaimed writer, historian, and professor working at the intersection of politics and culture.
A native of a small Midwestern city, Tanisha C. Ford enjoys telling the histories of often-overlooked people and places. She is the author of three books: Dressed in Dreams, Liberated Threads, and Black is Beautiful. Tanisha is an accomplished writer, researcher, and cultural critic who has forged an international reputation for her groundbreaking research on the history of Black style/fashion + social movements. In 2019, The Root named Tanisha one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans. She is currently Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where she teaches courses on African American history, biography and memoir, and the geopolitics of fashion. And, she is also a co-founder and director of TEXTURES, a pop-up material culture lab, studying global Black migration through objects. Read more
BOOKS BY TANISHA
Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion
St. Martins, June 2019
Dressed in Dreams is a story of desire, access, conformity, and black fashion innovation. From sneakers to leather jackets, a bold, witty, and deeply personal dive into Black America's closet In this highly engaging book, fashionista and pop culture expert Tanisha C. Ford investigates Afros and dashikis, go-go boots and hotpants of the sixties, hip hop's baggy jeans and bamboo earrings, and the #BlackLivesMatter-inspired hoodies of today.
Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul
UNC Press, October 2015
From the civil rights and Black Power era through antiapartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond, black women across the African diaspora have used their clothing and hair not simply as a fashion statement but as a powerful tool of resistance. Whether using stiletto heels as weapons to protect against police attacks or incorporating African-themed designs into everyday wear, these fashion-forward women, in cities such as New York, London, and Johannesburg, celebrated their identities and pushed for equality.
Black is Beautiful
Aperture, May 2019
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph―the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career―tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.
In graduate school, I began developing the method that would come to define my scholarship: eclectic archiving.
I am an interdisciplinary historian. This means that historical methods ground my research, but I understand that I must use them in conjunction with other methods to reveal things for which the archives cannot explain or account. I expand an archive of paper records to include objects like family heirlooms, yearbooks, album covers, and vintage restaurant menus.
Eclectic archiving is the means by which I assemble and read these objects, vis-a-vis manuscript collections, oral interviews, and cultural ephemera. I take into account that objects have a different texture than paper documents - they live and breathe differently.
When I account for their different textures and tones, the result is a written body of work or a visual story that is multi-dimensional - ALIVE! - in its variegated narrative work. I love to piece together vibrant, untold histories of women who came of age during the turbulent 1960s. I aim to write stories that allow us to be messy and flawed, fully HUMAN. Learn more about my journey.
In The Works
What I'm Up To
Writing a New Book
For the past several years, I’ve been quietly working on a book on the black women powerbrokers who raised millions of dollars for racial justice causes during the Civil Rights era. I’m happy to share that that book will be coming to a bookseller near you soon...if I can meet these writing deadlines. Follow my book journey on Instagram!
Partnering with the Smithsonian
I've been named a Smithsonian Research Associate, affiliated with the National Museum of American History. I am excited to work with a team of brilliant curators and scholars on a multi-year African American Fundraising Initiative. This project is richly aligned with my new research on Black women's philanthropy and the cultural-economics of money in urban communities.
I travel for a loving (yes loving)--meaning I love to travel. The covid-19 pandemic as forever altered our lives. For the past two years, it has been nearly impossible to see family, friends, or explore other parts of the world. My soul's been crushed! I am now figuring out how to travel smartly and safely given our "new normal." My spirit needs it.
WORK WITH TANISHA
Tanisha’s lectures take audiences on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, making history come alive for them in fresh new ways. She is also a thoughtful and innovative consultant who brings more than a decade of experience advising organizations—from the Chicago History Museum to Essence—on how to ethically and fastidiously center race and gender issues in the content they produce. She also advises corporations on ways to foster equity in the workplace.