Nicole von Germeten’s research in early-modern Spanish America has taken her around the world.

Nicole von Germeten

Nicole von Germeten

By Jaycee Kalama, CLA Student Writer - December 18, 2023

In her role as Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts, Nicole von Germeten values helping students and faculty, practicing compassion for different perspectives, and working on her de-escalation techniques.

“It's really rewarding to be able to have people come to me with really difficult conflicts or crises that they're experiencing, and then being able to help them,” von Germeten said. “It gives me a sense of achievement, like, 'okay, we did that.'”

Von Germeten started as an assistant professor at OSU in spring of 2003 and after becoming a full professor in 2016, she then transitioned into the role of director for the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion in 2017. Now, von Germeten serves the entire college as an associate dean.

While it was a natural, direct path, it wasn’t necessarily an obvious one.

“I never thought of being director,” von Germeten said. “When you've been doing some things of service, like helping with people's promotions, or acting as the associate director for history, and then they have an opening, it's just natural for people to say you should do it.”

Von Germeten continues to teach as a full professor in addition to her administrative duties.

“I really enjoy teaching, in order to engage with students on a daily basis,” von Germeten said. “I love making syllabi. I love doing PowerPoints. I like all that stuff.”

According to von Germeten, she has loved reading and the idea of teaching since the first grade. She grew up in Paradise Valley, Arizona in the 1970s and, then, moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts for all of the 1980s and early 1990s. Her interest in Latin American history began during her childhood—possibly before she was even born.

“It might be a little mystical, but my parents visited Mexico City about a year before I was born,” explained von Germeten. “I think they somehow imparted their interests to me. “In middle school, I took Spanish, and then in college I majored in history, but since I had taken Spanish, I started enrolling in all the Spanish literature classes. Obviously, anyone who studies history likes reading, so I just got really into it—reading literature, especially from the 1600s, because it's very obscure, difficult, and baroque and that's just the kind of thing that I like.”

Drawing from many years of work in Colombia, Spain, Mexico and a few university libraries in the United States which hold collections in her area of expertise, von Germeten has written nearly 100 publications, ranging from books, to essays, reviews, and articles for edited volumes, online resources, and articles in academic journals. She has published five single-authored books and two edited book-length translations since 2006, with the most recent being Death in Old Mexico—published in March 2023 by Cambridge University Press. Two of her most popular books will be released as audiobooks by Tantor Media in early 2024. She is currently writing a new book on the gendered and trans-Atlantic history of theater and dance in 18th-century Mexico City and is co-editing two collections of essays, one for Bloomsbury and the second for Cambridge.

After shifting from an emphasis on religion in the Latin American African Diaspora,“I have been working on judicial history and criminal history for about 10 years,” von Germeten said. “I have a five-book series on crimes in Spanish America, and 2023 marks 10 years since the first book in the series came out. ”

According to von Germeten, the series has come together slowly because that's how this work must be done. Everything she does is a case study—hand-written investigations dating from the 1500s to the early 19th century.

The intersection of her interests in history and criminology came into the picture when von Germeten first started researching primary sources. Her training taught her that the best social history nuances can come from historical court cases.

“History is where students can escape into vibrant storytelling,” said von Germeten. “Similar to literature, we tell stories based on historical characters from reviewing primary sources. If that’s something you’re interested in, then history is where it's at.”

“Dr. von Germeten was my advisor,” said Ismael Pardo, BA ‘20. “Because I am a Mexican American, I was very much interested in the histories of Mexico and Latin America. Being a cutting edge expert in that particular field made me seek her out as an advisor. I also was able to accompany her on a research trip to Mexico City to work in the Mexican National Archives. Additionally, I took almost all of her courses.”

Some of Pardo’s favorite courses included “Slavery in the Americas,” “Modern Mexico,” “History of Witchcraft,” and a sort of crash-course independent study where he read an overview of the historiography of Mexico to prepare for grad school.

“All of these courses have been vital,” Pardo said. “I’m currently doing my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Colonial Latin American History and have found the knowledge and especially the methodology for historical analysis and production invaluable. Also, as a teacher, I must say that I have also learned a lot from Dr. von Germeten’s pedagogical approach, particularly with her welcomed engagement with public facing historical work. One assignment that I’ll never forget was having to update Wikipedia pages under her supervision.”

According to Pardo, he was able to make lasting friendships and mentor-mentee relationships with faculty and other history students, adding that his time in the department really helped him better understand himself and what he wanted to do after receiving his B.A.

“I think that the classes offered in the department, spanning from Islamic history, Buddhist philosophy, colonialism and imperialism in Africa, the study of conflict resolution philosophies, American religious history, and yes, Latin American history can provide crucial insight into not just our own lives, but also the lives of different peoples,” Pardo said. “I think that’s a huge deal, especially in times like these.”