Celia Stewart Applegate is professor and William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of History at Vanderbilt University. A scholar of modern German history, Professor Applegate has previously taught history at Smith College and the University of Rochester, where she served as director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Studies and held an Affiliate Faculty position in the Department of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music.
Applegate received her bachelor of arts degree Summa Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College, majoring in history at Haverford College through the two schools' longstanding cooperative relationship. She earned her PhD in German history from Stanford University in 1987, where she focused on the development of German national and regional identity in the early 20th century. 
Celia Applegate was born in Elmira, New York, a small city near the Pennsylvania border, where her father, James Earl Applegate, served as a member of the English Department faculty at Elmira College, a small liberal arts college for women. Her mother, Joan Strait Applegate, was a PhD candidate in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music, part of the University of Rochester. Throughout their time in Elmira, Joan Applegate focused her primary attention on raising her family, while also maintaining an active home-based music practice. She taught classical piano theory and technique to children and young adults from the surrounding area, including her own children.
Celia was the third of four children (and the only one who became an excellent piano player). Her oldest sibling, John Strait Applegate (b. 20 March 1956), is an attorney and scholar in environmental law, currently serving as a high-ranking administrator at Indiana University. Her sister, Mary Sinclair Applegate (b. 12 September 1958), is a public health physician with special expertise in maternal and infant health, currently directing the New York State Preventive Medicine Residency Program and serving as associate dean for public health practice at the University at Albany (SUNY) School of Public Health. The youngest sibling, James David Robert Applegate (b. 24 September 1967), is a geologist and science policy expert, now directing the Natural Hazards section of the United States Geological Survey in the Department of the Interior.
The family moved from Elmira, NY, to Chambersburg, PA, in 1965, where James Applegate served as chair of the English Department at Wilson College, another small liberal arts college for women. Joan Applegate continued to work as a full-time parent for several years after the move to Chambersburg until 1972, when she began teaching in the Music Department at Shippensburg State College (now Shippensburg University), 11 miles north of Chambersburg.
Celia completed her primary and secondary education, from grade 1 through 12, in the Chambersburg Area School District, first at the Mary B. Sharpe Elementary School a few blocks from the family's house, followed by the J. Frank Faust Junior High School and the Chambersburg Area Senior High School. She graduated first in her high school class in 1977, enriching her final year of high school by taking several courses at Wilson College as a 'special secondary student." At Wilson she studied with Professor Helen Nutting, a Bryn Mawr alumna, who had a profound impact on Celia's college and career directions.
Celia's childhood in the shadow of Wilson College was a happy one, marked by dance and art lessons taught by Wilson students, many years in the Girl Scouts, selling cookies with her sister in the Wilson dormitories, and theatrical performances with the college theater troupe in such roles as Lost Boy in a 1970 production of Peter Pan.
The family spent two sabbatical years in England, enabling James and Joan Applegate to do library research in the British Museum. During the first sabbatical (1962-63), the family lived in a village north of London called Hazelmere near High Wycombe. The house where they lived that year was named Wychwood. During the second year abroad (1971-72), they lived in Putney, a pleasant residential section in southwest London. The three oldest Applegate children attended the nearby Elliott Comprehensive School, made famous as a location for scenes in several major motion pictures, including Love Actually (where it is described as being "at the dodgy end of Wandsworth") and at least one of the original Planet of the Apes movies. Both sabbatical years ended with weeks of travel on the Continent. After the second sabbatical, the entire family (ages 4 to 48) spent four months living in a VW camper plus two tents, travelling throughout Europe: France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. It was a memorable summer.
- "A Europe of Regions: Reflections on the Historiography of Sub-National Places in Modern Times", American Historical Review, October 1999
- A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat. University of California Press. 1990. ISBN 978-0-520-06394-5.
- Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn's Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Cornell University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8014-4389-3
- Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter, Music and German National Identity, August 2002, ISBN 978-0-226-02130-0