Helen Gibson


Helen Gibson is a researcher in the field of Black Study working in the department of history at the University of Erfurt. She/They is/are the European Journal of American Studies editor for history, social sciences and international relations as well as a member of the editorial committee of the SFB blog "Transformation of Property." Helen completed her/their dissertation on Black joy and the history of Driving While Black at Freie Universität Berlin in 2021. Helen 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 Yet, granny midwives were arguably the primary people providing access to spiritual nourishment that superseded the context of slavery.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.


  • with 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, June 1-3, 2023.
  • with Dr. Barbara Lüthi: “Race and Propertization.” Workshop co-organized via the SFB TRR 294 and the Historisches Seminar of Universität Erfurt at the Kleine Synagoge in Erfurt, Nov. 18-19, 2021.
  • “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), Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, 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-Universität 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, Universität Erfurt, Nov. 4, 2022.
  • “Joyriding as Spiritual Practice.” Lecture prepared for the Oberseminar Neuere/Neueste Geschichte, Universität Gießen, Oct. 26, 2022.

Download complete list of lectures


  • "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
  • "Felons and the Right to Vote in Virginia: a Historical Overview" in The Virginia News Letter 91, no. 1 (2015): 1-9.
  • with Anne Potjans, Simon Rienäcker, and Jiann-Chyng Tu (eds.), Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies (COPAS) 19, no. 1 (2018).
  • Gibson, Helen A., “The Cosmogram as Alternative to Property for the Eigentumslosen,” in: Relating to Land, edited by Helen A. Gibson, Sofia Bianchi Mancini, Dirk Schuck, and Markus Vinzent. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag (forthcoming 2024).
  • Gibson, Helen and Alexander Obermüller, “White Supremacist Hate Groups and Racist Terrorism,” in: Rassismus in den USA. Ein Handbuch zu Geschichte, Gesellschaft und Politik, edited by Silvan Niedermeier, UVK (forthcoming 2024).


  • 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