Alum Wins Prize, Makes History
Brad Nichols (’14) has always been fascinated with the stark duality of the German historical experience.
“The Germans have obviously enriched our world with an almost unparalleled track record of cultural and scientific achievements,” Nichols says. “At the same time, they have also been responsible for some of the most incredibly destructive and appalling behavior imaginable. My main interest is in exploring the relationship between the one and the other.”
As a history graduate student and fellow in the UT Humanities Center, Nichols had the opportunity to dive into this question while he worked on his dissertation, which recently won the 2017 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize from the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Nichols’ dissertation, “The Hunt for Lost Blood: Nazi Germanization Policy in Occupied Europe,” sheds light on an aspect of the wartime Third Reich and reveals the inner dynamics of Nazi racial policy and practices towards foreign nationals they suspected of being carriers of Germanic ancestry.
“My dissertation shows us quite clearly what the Nazis were ultimately trying to do in occupied Europe – construct a transnational community united by the bonds of race, which necessitated both the input and active participation of ordinary human beings,” Nichols says. “I don’t think we can truly comprehend the monstrosity of the Holocaust without coming to grips with this simultaneous drive to define, expand, and consolidate the German body politic.”
Since 1997, Friends of the German Historical Institute have awarded the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize to the best doctoral dissertation on German history written in North American universities. Nichols is the first UT history graduate to receive the award, which also includes an offer to publish the prize-winning manuscript with Cambridge University Press – another first for a graduate of the history program.
“I want to express my gratitude to the faculty and staff in the Department of History and the Center for the Study of War and Society for their unsparing support and inspiration over the years,” says Nichols, who is an example of how the history program attracts top students for their PhD work.
When he decided to come to UT for his PhD work, it was for two reasons: Professor Vejas Liulevicius and the collective German history scholarship in the department.
“I was particularly eager to work with Professor Liulevicius, whose cultural approach to military history had already greatly influenced my thinking as a master’s student,” Nichols says. “An equally crucial factor in my decision was the opportunity to be part of a program with no fewer than three historians of modern Germany serving on the faculty. This is an asset that very few departments can match. For me, it proved too appealing to turn down.”
Nichols came to UT from West Chester University and was one on the top applicants to the program.
“We were really excited to recruit Brad for our doctoral program,” Liulevicius says. “We could immediately see his great potential. As he progressed through our program, it was a pleasure to see his writing style go from strength to strength, observe his amazing successes in getting top research grants for work in German archives, and to watch as he honed his teaching skills. I think this is just the beginning for Brad.”
Nichols, who teaches history courses in the war and society concentration at Virginia Tech, praises the faculty and staff in the UT Department of History for their encouragement and support throughout his academic career.
“They prepare students for the professional world, regardless of their chosen career path,” Nichols says. “Whatever success I have attained in my professional life, it is largely due to the expert guidance I enjoyed during my time as a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee.”