Magazine Feature / People

Fulbright Scholar loves history in all its forms

German-language newsreels about expelled Germans probably wouldn’t make it into most people’s movie watch list, but for history buff Derek Holmgren, they’re just the ticket.

For his senior thesis, Holmgren, who will graduate in June with a BA in history and minors in German and political science, has been analyzing the films’ post-war impacts on Germany.

In December, funded by Partners In Scholarship (PinS), he traveled to Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, to view more than 25 hours of 1940s and ’50s newsreels in federal and private film archives.

Yeah, he likes history. In fact, he loves history of all forms and flavors. Last summer, through another PinS project, he assisted history associate professors Carol Helstosky and Susan Schulten with historical research in completely different historical realms — the history of pizza and the history of map-making.

“I learned what it takes to go through and find sources and how to really work your way through the literature of a certain subject,” says Holmgren, adding that research opportunities like these teach you more about the process than anything else.

“You’ve got to distill it down to what the historians are really getting at and then figure out how it fits with the work that you are doing.”

“Derek accepts new intellectual challenges and meets them with not only sophistication and ease but with an infectious enthusiasm,” says Helstosky, who is Holmgren’s adviser. It’s common for history students to pick their niche and not venture far from it, she explains.

Holmgren, however, embraces new areas, taking courses on Brazilian slavery, American history and European history. “He did a fabulous paper on the history of American barbecue,” she adds.

With a Fulbright Scholarship paying for his travel expenses, Holmgren will return to Germany in August to work for 10 months as an English teaching assistant — a position supported by a German government stipend. The time in Germany will give him the opportunity to expand his language skills and cultural understanding while he applies to graduate history programs.

Holmgren says he hopes to complete a PhD in history, with a focus on German history, and teach at the collegiate level.

“I’ll get to work in a subject area that really fascinates me, and the chances that I’ve had in the past to teach have been really rewarding,” he says. “To me it seems like an ideal job to have.”

[Editor’s note: DU students Laura Johnson, a graduate English major, and Todd Martinez, a senior international studies major, are also Fulbright Scholars this year.]

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