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Helen Gibson


10/2015 – present       

Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

10/2012 – 09/2014     

M.A. in American History, Culture and Society, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

08/2001 – 05/2005    

B.A. in American Studies, University of Virginia


Academic Employment

04/2013 – 04/2014     

Tutor, Amerika-Institut Writing Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Grants and Awards

09/2020 - 12/2020

STIBET grant, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

10/2015 - 09/2019

Doctoral Fellowship, German Research Foundation (DFG)


Heidelberg Spring Academy grant, Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA)


Futures of American Studies grant, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies (JFKI)

Conferences and Colloquia Co-Organized

"From Canada to Mexico: Doctoral Lab in North American History," Freie Universität Berlin, May 2016 – May 2019.

16th Annual NYLON Conference, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, March 23-25, 2018.

Postgraduate Forum (PGF) of the German Association for American Studies (DGfA/GAAS), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, November 9-11, 2017.

“Flows and Undercurrents: Dimensions of (Im)mobility in North America,” GSNAS Graduate Conference 2016, Freie Universität Berlin, June 2-4, 2016.

Workshops Organized

“NYLON Mixtapes: A Workshop on Critical Social Research.” Workshop co-conducted at the 15th Annual NYLON Graduate Student Conference, New York University, NYU Institute for Public Knowledge, March 31-April 2, 2017.


NYLON Berlin

German Association for American Studies

Courses Taught

"On Care Work: Black Midwifery and a History of Science, 1619 to 1877" (WiSe 2020/21)

"The History of Felon Disenfranchisement and Race in the United States Pre-1877" (WiSe 2017/18)

Research Interests

Helen's research interests include the intersection of the histories of citizenship and incarceration in the United States and the limits of consumption-as-citizenship in American society. In her dissertation project, entitled “Joyriding across the Color Line: Automotivity and Citizenship in the United States, 1895-1939,” she explores the unique circumstances faced by Black Americans in the twentieth-century American pursuit of freedom through driving.

Book Reviews

Helen Gibson: Rezension zu: Michael, Butter; Franke, Astrid; Tonn, Horst (Hrsg.): Von Selma bis Ferguson. Rasse und Rassismus in den USA. Bielefeld 2016 , in: H-Soz-Kult, 27.04.2017, www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-26577.


"Felons and the Right to Vote in Virginia: a Historical Overview" in The Virginia News Letter 91, no. 1 (January 2015): 1-9.


Journals Edited

with Anne Potjans, Simon Rienäcker, and Jiann-Chyng Tu (eds.), Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies (COPAS) 19, no. 1 (2018), https://copas.uni-regensburg.de/issue/view/37.


Invited Lectures and Public Panels

"Diversity Roundtable Initiatives." Panelist at "(out)Rage in America (and elsewhere)--Structural Racism, Resistance, and Responsibilities: The situation in the US and Germany" Townhall Meeting, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, June 24, 2020.

"Chauffeur Blues and Joy in Cars: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Early American Automotivity." Lecture prepared for the Historisches Institut: Nordamerikanische Geschichte department colloquium, Universität Köln, May 14, 2019.

"Jim Crow Automobile Insurance: Racialized Logics of Joy and Risk on American Highways." Lecture prepared for the Geschichte des europäisch-transatlantischen Kulturraums department colloquium, Universität Augsburg, January 16, 2019. 

"Leisure and Risk in Cars: Resisting Racist Surveillance by Early Automobile Insurers.” Lecture prepared for the Ringvorlesung 2018/19, John. F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, December 5, 2018

“Limits of the Open Road: Driving While Black in Jim Crow America and Today.” Lecture prepared for the annual Chemnitz and Rostock American Studies Teacher Seminars, Sächsische Bildungsagentur Chemnitz and Universität Rostock, March 14 and 16, 2018.

"The Divide - Photography by Raymond Thompson, Jr.: A Portrayal of Collateral Damage of Incarceration on Families in the United States." Exhibit opening talk with Raymond Thompson, Jr. Amerikahaus München, January 26, 2018.

“‘We the People?’ Nation/State/Community.” Panelist at the 10th Anniversary of the Graduate School of North American Studies conference (“The Fault Lines of Democracy: Conversations, Contestations, and Cross-Cultural Comparisons”), Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, October 20, 2017.

Speech given at Rathaus Schöneberg on behalf of the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies/Freie Universität Berlin at large in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy, May 29, 2017.


Papers Given

"Joy, Terror, and Humiliation in Cars: Emotional Black Worldmaking at the Twilight of the Long Nineteenth Century." Paper prepared for the symposium African American Worldmaking in the Long Nineteenth Century, Universität Potsdam, October 12, 2019.

"Volatile Humanity: Joy and 'Joyriding' in Cars." Paper prepared for the 17th Annual NYLON Conference ("Knowledge Production in Volatile Times and Spaces"), London School of Economics and Goldsmiths, April 5-7, 2019.

"Remembering Jim Crow Auto Insurance." Paper prepared for the Young Scholars Forum of the 41st Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGfA/GAAS, Franken-Akademie Schloß Schney, Lichtenfels, February 9, 2019.

"'Oh, if I had that Ford V-8!': Automotivity, Anti-Lynching Campaigns, and Imagined Black Liberation, 1934-39." Paper prepared for the Joint 32nd European Association for American Studies and 63rd British Association for American Studies Conference, King's College London, April 4-7, 2018.

“The Invisible Whiteness of Being: Thoughts on the Annual Conference of the German Association of American Studies.” Paper prepared for the workshop Diversity and/in the GAAS, Amerikahaus München, October 21, 2017.

“Chauffeur Blues: Cars as Spaces of Social Transgression, 1895-1939.” Paper prepared for the Heidelberg Spring Academy, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, March 20-24, 2017.

“Joyriding across the Color Line: Chauffeuring and Citizenship in the United States, 1895-1918.” Paper prepared for the Young Scholars Forum of the 39th Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGfA/GAAS, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, February 11, 2017.

“Joyriding in the Early Twentieth-Century United States: Race, Mobility, and the Right to Consume.” Paper prepared for the Futures of American Studies Institute, Dartmouth College, June 20-26, 2016.

"Hog Stealing in Virginia's Colonial Statutes: Racially Discriminatory Seeds of Felon Disenfranchisement Sown in the Colonial Capital." Paper prepared for the 5th annual Lemon Project Spring Symposium, College of William & Mary, April 10-11, 2015.