William Niven

Professor in Contemporary German History

School of Arts & Humanities

Staff Group(s)
History, Languages and International Studies


  • Undergraduate Teaching: Third Reich, Dividing and Uniting Germany, various lectures on the relationship between history and memory at year one and year two level. Professor Niven is currently introducing a new third year module on the Holocaust in History and Memory.
  • Postgraduate Teaching: Making History MA Programme Leader. Co-coordinator of History and Heritage Guest Speaker Series.
  • Conference Organisation: In recent years Professor Niven has organised several postgraduate symposia on literary representations of the past; and three major conferences on the relationship between culture, politics and memory in Germany and Europe.
  • Faculty Committees: Professor Niven has served on a range of faculty committees (e.g. the Research Degrees Committee).
  • Research Leader: For a number of years, Professor Niven acted as Research Leader for German, and has acted as Research Leader for History and Heritage.

Research areas

Professor Niven's teaching and research interests are in the history and culture of post-1918 Germany. Above all, it is Germany's attempts to come to terms with its "double past" of National Socialism and communism that have formed the focus of his research over the last ten years. His two books Facing the Nazi Past (2001) and The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction and Propaganda (2007, German edition autumn 2008) represent the most extensive outcomes of this research. More recently, he has turned his attention to contemporary Germany's increasing fascination with the wartime suffering of German civilians (through Allied bombing, and in the course of flight and expulsion from Germany's former eastern lands in 1945). His edited volume Germans as Victims (2006) contains a range of essays by different scholars on salient aspects of this fascination.

Recently Professor Niven has been working on two monographs. The first focuses on the representation in East German literature and film of the flight and expulsion of Germans at the end of WW2. Contrary to popular and academic assumption, flight and even expulsion featured repeatedly in GDR film and novels (as well as plays and poems). The loss of homeland in the former German East was processed almost as much in East German as in West German literature. The second monograph focuses on the way the theme of flight and expulsion has been represented across different genres (film, memorials, museums, political and historiographical discourse), seeking to establish to what extent differences in representation are not merely diachronic (e.g. as a response to political and generational shifts), but also synchronic, due to the variety of cultural genres, governed as they are by different conventions and speaking to different expectations and even publics.

Professor Niven has supervised students in the areas of post-1945 German culture and history. Most of his students investigate some aspect of cultural, political or social memory of the German past. He is happy to act as supervisor in these areas in future, but would also welcome the opportunity to supervise students wishing to research any area of post-1918 German history.  Opportunities to carry out postgraduate research towards an MPhil / PhD may exist in the areas identified above and further information may be obtained from the NTU Graduate School.

Professor Niven is also happy to be consulted on any questions pertaining to Germany's relationship to its Nazi and socialist past.

Current PhD Students

  • Daniel Long (Director of Studies) PhD Student

External activity

  • External Examiner for undergraduate degrees (Bristol, Leicester and Warwick Universities, Trinity College Dublin, Department of German in all cases)
  • External Examiner for PhD and MSc/MA theses (e.g. UCL, Queensland, Cambridge, Nottingham, Reading, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Amsterdam universities)
  • Editorial Boards of Journal of War and Culture Studies, Jahrbuch für Politik und Geschichte, Forum for Modern Languages Studies, Irish Germanistenjahrbuch
  • Frequent reviews and review articles for many journals
  • Television appearances (Channel 4, 3SAT, ARD, including a major contribution to the making of a television documentary, based in part on one of his books)
  • Radio interviews and contributions (Radio3, Deutschlandradio).
  • Invitations to speak (since 2005) at e.g. Amsterdam, Cambridge, Michigan State University, St. Andrews, Brandeis, Harvard , Munichand Tübingen universities
  • Invitations to workshops (since 2005) organised by Duitsland Institut (Amsterdam), Stanley Burton Centre (Leicester) German Historical Institute (Washington), Potsdam/Free University of Berlin, Research Centre for the Holocaust (Royal Holloway)
  • Invitations to speak at conferences (since 2005) in e.g. Dublin, Munich, Potsdam, Wittenberg, Leeds, Dresden

Sponsors and collaborators

Between 2002 and 2005, Professor Niven was co-participant in a British Academy Networks Grant project ("Beyond Normalisation: Politics, Culture and Society") run from the University of Leeds. He was also co-participant in a British Academy Large Research Grant project ("From Victims to Perpetrators: German Discourses of Wartime Suffering") run from the University of Leeds.

More recently, he was in receipt of two British Academy small grants to support archival work in Germany in connection with research projects on the sinking of the "Wilhelm Gustloff" and on cultural representations in post-war Germany of the flight and expulsion of Germans at the end of World War Two.


Selected publications

For full list click 'Go to William Niven's publications' link above.

See all of Bill Niven's publications...