Perspectives Daily

AHA Member Spotlight: Nicholas Ostrum

Matthew Keough | Feb 5, 2021

Nicholas Ostrum is an adjunct instructor at the University of New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Clark State Community College. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been a member since 2009.


Nicholas Ostrum

Alma maters: BA (liberal arts), Sarah Lawrence College, 2006; MA (history), State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2012; PhD (history), State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2017

Fields of Interest: Germany, Europe, energy and trade, foreign relations, globalization

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

In my final year of undergraduate study, a favorite professor, David Castriota, advised me to take a modern language in addition to the Latin and Old English I had already pursued. I was hoping to become an ancient art historian, medievalist, or something along those lines. In my final year of college, therefore, I took my first German course. After graduating I spent a few months in a language immersion program in Germany, returned to New York and, after a year of unfulfilling generic office work, found a position at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. This is where I gained my first real postcollegiate exposure to academic debates about contemporary history and Holocaust education. And this is where I decided to pursue a PhD in German history.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a project that examines West Germany’s navigation of the global petroleum economy with a special focus on Syria, Libya, and Nigeria. The Syria and Libya portions are based on my dissertation and have since been refined in a series of papers and pending publications. The Nigeria portion is based on research I began last summer and will continue once this Covid situation gets under control.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

Absolutely they have. Since then, I have expanded my focus from petroleum flows to broader patterns of trade, development aid, and geopolitics. I have also opened my investigation to a wider swath of the globe.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

I am not the first to say it, but this is a really challenging question. One of the most interesting finds I have revisited lately is a document from the German Ambassador to Libya, Günther Franz Werner, in which he laments recent Libyanization efforts as a “kind of absurd theatre,” “perverted fascism,” and a step toward “white slavery.” This document is not just hyperbolic, albeit in response to a confusing and chaotic situation. It also introduced me to a new line of inquiry: Why did German representatives in certain countries seem to accept indigenization and nationalization programs, but not those in others? The intensity and timing of such policies certainly played a role, but only a partial one.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) is one of the most challenging, disturbing, and effective movie portrayals of the Shoah I have encountered yet. I used it in my last course on the Holocaust, and students really responded to it.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

I appreciate the AHA’s advocacy for historians and history education. And, especially through publications such as the AHR, being a member keeps me in the loop about research outside of my immediate field.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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