History professor presents research to be featured in his next book

By Ali DeRees

Nazis: Most people cringe when hearing the word. 

The Nazi involvement in WWII is a sensitive subject, one that history professor Derek Hastings has spent nearly 20 years researching.

“How a country that was so highly cultured could wind up embracing such a brutal ideology,” Hastings said.

Hastings has been working at Oakland University for 10 years. His major fields of study include modern Europe, German history, nationalism and religion and society.

Recently, Hastings presented for the history department’s History Comes Alive Lecture series. His presentation “The Remarkable Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Nazi Icon: The Case of Ernst Röhm,” gave a look into the career and life of Nazi leader Ernst Röhm.         

Röhm was an officer in the Bavarian Army and eventually worked alongside Hitler in the early Nazi party.

Hastings described Röhm as “a gay man in a homophobic movement.”    

This along with his growing power in the Sturmabteilung (the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) lead to his execution in the political purge known as the Night of the Long Knives.

The presentation drew not only Oakland University students, but students from local area high schools.

Lake Orion High School seniors Kaitlin Parrott and Arianna Ilenich are enrolled in an Advanced Placement European history course.

“The lecture was optional for our class,” Parrott said.

“We are currently learning about World War II,” Ilenich added.

Fellow Lake Orion classmate Maddy Marquardt said that supplemental lectures like this make classroom lessons much more interesting.

Hastings’ presentation on Röhm couples with the book he is writing on the Nazi leader, which will be out in the next few years.

Oxford University Press published his earlier book, “Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism,” in 2009.

Along with the Röhm book, Hastings is working on a book on nationalism in modern Europe.

Hastings grew up in Michigan and moved to New York when he was 18. He attended Sony Brook University in Long Island for his undergraduate degree and attended University of Chicago for his Ph.D.

“By the time I went to grad school, I knew I wanted to do European history,” Hastings said.

He participated in a summer fellowship in Munich in 1997 and also did research at the University of Munich from 1999 to 2000.

Hastings still travels to Germany every summer, usually spending two months. This summer he went to Munich for research on Röhm.

When doing in-depth research, Hastings said he looks at what other historians have written and look for what he calls “holes in the literature.”

Hastings said, when you find one piece of information, it leads to the next.

“It morphs from one aspect to the next aspect,” Hastings said. “You don’t know what the puzzle looks like at the outset.”

While teaching, Hastings said he likes to see his students engage in “the active interpretation” of history.

Through his work and teaching, Hastings said there’s a great lesson to be learned from Nazi history.

“Trying to make the world aware of what happens to the world when you are uncomfortable with people who are different from them,” Hastings said.