Helen Gibson

Helen Gibson defended her dissertation on joyriding otherwise at Freie Universität Berlin in 2021 and is currently researching the history of granny midwifery as spiritual practice.

A picture of Helen Gibson.

Research Project

Helen is researching the ambivalent positionality of granny midwives—Black and Indigenous midwives and healers—in the context of the total violence of slavery in British North America and the United States (Ferreira da Silva 2022). Granny midwives, Tanya Hart writes, birthed most people in the antebellum South, and brought purportedly commodified people into the world (Hart 2015). The people they helped birth were foundational to racial capitalism and the many layers of expropriation it entailed. Specifically, as Jennifer D. Morgan has shown, black women’s wombs became fungible property under slavery that tied blackness to the abject (Morgan 2018). Yet, granny midwives were arguably the primary people providing access to spiritual nourishment that superseded the context of slavery.

The aim of this project is to fundamentally question the legitimacy of post-Enlightenment understandings of private property and, more abstractly, ‘value.’ Embracing a decolonial methodology, Helen's research questions at the moment are: What was the juridical, economic, ethical and symbolic significance of granny midwifery? In what ways do granny midwives’ practices evidence a social poiēsis that demonstrates the impossibility of total commodification (Hartman 2016; Judy 2020)? How are the metabolic legacies of racialization and commodification available to cosmic and quantic fractality (Ferreira da Silva 2022)? Her/Their methodology entails an embrace of black mysticism—a spiritual practice that does not recognize religion or theology proper—and a black feminist poethical (political, ethical) reading (Moten 2013; Crawley 2016; Warren 2017; Ferreira da Silva 2022). This reading is a practice, developed by Denise Ferreira da Silva, that foregrounds decolonial aims and understandings and centers the lived experiences and theorization of Black women.



Scientific publications
  • Gibson, Helen A. (2024): “The Cosmogram as Alternative to Property for the Eigentumslosen”, In: Gibson, H. A. Bianchi Mancini, S.; Schuck, D.; Vinzent, M. (eds.), Relating to Land. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, (forth.).
  • Gibson, Helen A.; Obermüller, A. (2024): “White Supremacist Hate Groups and Racist Terrorism”, In: Niedermeier, Silvan (eds.), Rassismus in den USA. Ein Handbuch zu Geschichte, Gesellschaft und Politik, UVK (forth.).
  • Gibson, Helen A. (2024a): “Granny Midwives’ Epistemic and Embodied Care”, In: Schmidt, K.; van Loon, J. (eds.), Herausforderung Solidarität. Konzepte – Kontroversen – Perspektiven, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.
  • Gibson, Helen A. (2024b): “Teaching Towards Calvin Warren’s Nonmetaphysical Historiography”, In: Löffler, P.; Rauscher, N.; Werner, W. (eds.), Participation in American Culture and Society, American Studies: Monograph Series. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter.
  • Gibson, Helen A. (2022): “Access to Labor and Leisure in Cars: Early Black Motorists' Automotivity in Miami”, In: Mondes du Tourisme, article no. 303.: https://journals.openedition.org/tourisme/4549.
  • Gibson, Helen A.; Potjans, A.; Rienäcker, S.; Tu, J. (eds.) (2018): Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies (COPAS) 19, no. 1 (2018).
  • Gibson, Helen A. (2015): “Felons and the Right to Vote in Virginia: a Historical Overview”, In: The Virginia News Letter 91, no. 1 (2015): 1-9.
Media and podcasts
  • Helen Gibson (2023): Review of Brückmann, Rebecca: Massive Resistance and Southern Womanhood. White Women, Class, and Segregation. Athens 2021, In: H-Soz-Kult. (15.03.2023)
  • Gibson, Helen (2022): “Unpayable Debt: decolonial redress beyond the knowable”, In: blog of the Collaborative Research Centre “Structural Change in Property”. (published on 22.12.2022)

Download complete list of publications.

  • “Versklavte Hebammen und ihr kosmologisches Wissen.”, .Lecture prepared for the Erfurter Kolleg, Universität Erfurt, May 3, 2024 (upcoming)
  • “Kosmologisches Verlernen: Granny Midwifery Jenseits des Eigentums.”, Paper prepared for the Kolloquium Geschlechtergeschichte, Universität Basel, March 15, 2024.
  • “Teaching Reproductive Justice from Granny Midwives to the SisterSong Collective.”, Lecture prepared for the Wittenberg Teacher Academy 2023, Muhlenberg Center for American Studies, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. (16.-18.11.2023)
  • “Memphis Minnie’s Chauffeur Blues: Gender, Automotivity and Sustainability in theSecond and Third Reconstructions.”, Lecture prepared for the Ringvorlesung gender*bildet, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. (24.10.2023)
  • “Is There an Elder in the Room? Divination in Contemporary Black Midwifery.”, Paper prepared for the 27th Biennial Associazione Italiania di Studi Nord-Americani (AISNA) Conference, University of Perugia, 21.-23.09.2023 (upcoming).
  • “Spiritual Breath in Granny Midwifery.”, Paper prepared for the Biennial Conference of the Nordic Association of American Studies (NAAS), Uppsala Universitet, 25.-27.05.2023.
  • “Beyond Teleology and Eschatology: The Stasis of ‘Taking Flight’ in Cars.”, Paper prepared for the Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGfA/GAAS, Akademie für Politische Bildung, Tutzing, May 5-7, 2023.
  • “Joyriding Otherwise: William Pickens’ Automotivity as Spiritual Practice.”, Lecture prepared for the 2022 Rolf Kentner Dissertation Prize ceremony, Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA), Heidelberg University, April 27, 2023.
  • “The Reception of the Theory of Path Dependency in Historical Science.” Paper prepared for the SFB TRR 294 workshop “Theorien der Pfadabhängigkeit in den Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften”, Jentower, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jan. 19-20, 2023.
  • “The Cosmogram as Alternative to Property for the Eigentumslosen.”, Paper prepared for the SFB TRR 294 workshop “Relating to Land”, Max-Weber-Kolleg, University of Erfurt, Nov. 4, 2022.
  • “Joyriding as Spiritual Practice.”, Lecture prepared for the Oberseminar Neuere/Neueste Geschichte, Giessen University, Oct. 26, 2022.

Download complete list of lectures


  • Helen A. Gibson and Julia-Alexandra Ackermann: “Epistemic Reparations: Attending to the Grievances and Harms of the Colonial/Racial/Capital”, A02 Project Workshop. (24.11.2023)
  • Helen A. Gibson, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Jobs and Dr. Nadja Klopprogge: “Knowing/Refusing ‘Value’: Reclaiming Kinship at the Expense of Capital”, Workshop co-organized via the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien (DGfA/GAAS) at Rostock University. (01.-03.06.2023)
  • Helen A. Gibson, Sofia Bianchi Mancini, Dirk Schuck, and Markus Vinzent, “Relating to Land”, Workshop co-organized with Collaborative Research Centre / Transregio SFB TRR 294 “Structural Change of Property” at the University of Erfurt. (04.11.2022 and 28.04.2023)
  • Helen A. Gibson, Dr. Barbara Lüthi: “Race and Propertization” Workshop co-organized via the SFB TRR 294 and the Historisches Seminar of University of Erfurt at the Kleine Synagoge in Erfurt. (18.-19.11.2021)
  • Helen A. Gibson, Verena Wolf and Petra Gümplová: “Property ‘Objects’ and their Discontents”, jointly organised workshop SFB TRR 294 at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. (12.11.2021)



  • SoSe 2024: “Rootwork and Reciprocity: A History of Healing with Plants in Black and Indigenous Communities”, Universität Erfurt
  • WiSe 2023/24 “The History of Racial Capitalism”, Universität Erfurt
  • SoSe 2023: “History and Physics: Cosmic and Quantic Moments”, Universität Erfurt
  • WiSe 2022/23: “Histories of Enslavement”, Universität Erfurt
  • SoSe 2022: “Gender History, Black Feminist and Womanist Theory", Universität Erfurt
  • WiSe 2021/22: with Dr. Barbara Lüthi: “The Politics of Mobility: Mobile Subjects and Stasis in the United States”, Universität Erfurt
  • SoSe 2021: with Prof. Dr. Eva Boesenberg: “Topics in American History”, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • WiSe 2020/21: “Care Work: Black Midwifery and a History of Science, 1619 to 1877”, Freie Universität Berlin
  • WiSe 2017/18: “The History of Felon Disenfranchisement and Race in the United States Pre-1877”, Freie Universität Berlin