Nikolas Oktaba, FCLC ’15, a classics major who won the highly coveted Gates Cambridge and Beinecke scholarships during his time at Fordham, has been named a Luce Scholar, a prestigious fellowship that will enable him to spend a year studying in Asia. Oktaba is one of just 18 scholars nationwide to receive the award.
He will depart in June, and although his placement is not yet finalized, he hopes to study manuscripts and documents about suffering and trauma, and how these stories are told and retold.
Oktaba has had previous experience analyzing texts in the service of advancing discussions of trauma and human suffering. For his Gates Cambridge study, he read the Dionysiaca—at 20,426 lines, the longest surviving Greek poem from antiquity. His research integrates literature and the humanities as a whole into discussion of identity, sexuality, and trauma. It has touched on topics ranging from Dionysiac cult practices to the nightlife of Weimar Berlin, and he has presented his findings in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
In the past two years, Oktaba has taught courses in military history at Oxford and at Cambridge University, where he earned a Master of Philosophy degree. He is translating ancient Greek magic scrolls for a book about pharmaco-religious beliefs of Late Antiquity and their continuing contemporary resonance.
In Asia, he hopes to deepen his understanding of trauma from a global perspective, using storytelling to investigate various forms of witnessing in post-traumatic survival, and exploring new ways to bridge academic and public discussions on trauma and its symptoms.
“Trauma is not a unidirectional narrative. It’s not simply a javelin that’s hurled from Point A to Point B. It is affective, and it is contagious,” he said.
Launched in 1974 by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Luce Scholars program identifies potential future U.S. leaders in order to promote cross-cultural understanding between the two regions.