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Columbia University (2002)


Columbia University (1998)


Columbia University (1995)

BA Brown University (1992)

Helen Kapstein is a Professor in the English Department at John Jay College, The City University of New York. She earned her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. A postcolonial scholar, her areas of interest include cultural and media studies, tourism and museum studies, and eco- and petro-criticism. Her first book, Postcolonial Nations, Islands, and Tourism: Reading Real and Imagined Spaces, was published in 2017 (paperback 2019) by Rowman & Littlefield International. Current projects include a theory of Nigerian literary and cultural production, in contract with West Virginia University Press’s Energy and Society series. Her work has appeared in Postcolonial Text, English Studies in Canada, and Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, among other venues. In addition to her scholarly work, her public-facing writing includes recent pieces in Ms. magazine, Hyperallergic, and The Conversation. She is a Past President of the Cultural Studies Association. On sabbatical, 2023-4.


JJC Affiliations
English Department, Environmental Justice Minor, Gender Studies
Courses Taught

Macaulay Honors Seminar, The People of New York City (Spring 2023)

American Stories (Spring 2023)

Research Across Disciplines (Fall 2022)

Senior Seminar: Telling Tales of Climate Crisis (Fall 2022), Literature After Nature (Spring 2020), Small Worlds: Miniatures, Islands, Books (Spring 2017), Crude Fictions: Oil Narratives, Energy, and Crisis (Spring 2015)

Literature as Witness: Witnessing Our Climate Crisis (Fall 2022), Witnessing the Future (Spring 2020, Fall 2019), Literary Tourism (Spring 2018), Plotting Terror (Fall 2017), Viewing Violence (Spring 2016, Fall 2015), Toxic Texts (Spring 2014), The South African Struggle (Fall 2013)  

Crime, Punishment, and Justice in World Literature (Spring 2022)

Justice by the Book: Doing Dickens Justice (Fall 2021, Fall 2020)

Topics in 20th Century Literature: Body in Parts (Spring 2021), Ecocriticism (Spring 2014, Spring 2011)

Topics in 19th Century Literature: Victorian Secrets (Fall 2020), Victorian Sensations (Fall 2019, Fall 2012)

Text and Context: Oil & Ink (Spring 2019), The Brontë Sisters: A Boxed Set (Spring 2018, Spring 2017)

Independent Study Supervisor (Spring 2019, Spring 2016)

Selected Historical Topics in Literature: Adventures in the Digital Archive: Exploring the Brontë Juvenilia (Fall 2018)

Introduction to Literary Study: The Literary Corpus (Fall 2018), (Fall 2014, Spring 2010, Fall 2007)

Honors Course Supervisor (Spring 2017)

Gender and Identity in Literary Traditions: Bad Girls (Fall 2015)

Word as Weapon: Commodity Satires (Spring 2015), Resistance and Protest Literature (Spring 2006)

Banned Books (Spring 2013, Fall 2009, Spring 2008)

Breaking with Tradition: Reading the Modern World (Fall 2013)

Cultures in Conflict: South African Literature (Spring 2012)  

Modern Literature: (Post)Colonial Writing (Spring 2013, Fall 2012, Spring 2008, Fall 2003, Fall 2002), Commodities and Culture (Spring 2012, Spring 2011, Fall 2011), Literary Tourism (Fall 2010), Colonial and Postcolonial Bodies (Fall 2009, Fall 2007), Commodities, Capital, Colonialism (Fall 2006)

Professional Memberships

Cultural Studies Association (CSA)

Modern Language Association (MLA)

American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

Professional Staff Congress-CUNY (PSC-CUNY)

American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)

Society for Critical Exchange United States

Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies

CUNY Academy

French; translation competency in Afrikaans and Spanish
Scholarly Work

“Petrofeminism: Love in the Age of Oil.” Oil Fictions: World Literature and Our Contemporary Petrosphere. Eds. Stacey Balkan and Swaralipi Nandi. The Pennsylvania State University Press. 2021.

Postcolonial Nations, Islands, and Tourism: Reading Real and Imagined Spaces. Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. (Paperback 2019.)

“Apartheid: A Crime Against Humanity.” Revised and republished. International and Transnational Crime and Justice. Ed. Mangai Natarajan. New York: Cambridge UP. 2019. 345-349.

“Crude Fictions: How New Nigerian Short Stories Sabotage Big Oil’s Master Narrative.” Postcolonial Text. 11.1 (2016): 1-18.

“The Hysterics of District 9.” Spec. issue of ESC: English Studies in Canada, “Hysteria Manifest: Cultural Lives of a Great Disorder.” 40.1 (2014): 155-75.




Honors and Awards

Co-Principal Investigator, Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative (BRESI) Award for “Decolonizing the John Jay English Major: Creating Foundational Introductory Courses,” 2022.

PSC-CUNY Enhanced Research Award, 2021.

PSC-CUNY Research Award, 2020.

Senior Scholar Release Award, Office for the Advancement of Research, John Jay College, 2019.

Research in the Classroom Award, CUNY, 2018.

Research Summary