Helen Kapstein

Helen Kapstein

Associate Professor
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PhD Columbia University

Columbia University

BA Brown University


Helen Kapstein is Associate 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 South African literature and culture, cultural and media studies, and tourism and museum studies. Her 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 postcolonial reading of the Brontes' juvenilia and a theory of Nigerian petrofiction. Her work has appeared in Postcolonial Text, English Studies in Canada, and Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, among other venues. She is President of the Cultural Studies Association.


JJC Affiliations

English Department, Environmental Justice Minor, Gender Studies

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

Course Taught

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

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

Literature as Witness: 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)  

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

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)

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

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)

Literature of the African World: Contested Commodities (Fall 2010)       

Medieval and Early Modern Literature: Imagined Geographies (Spring 2010, Spring 2007, Spring 2006) 

On the Case: Reading the Detective Novel (Spring 2007)

Literature of Apartheid: South African Writing and Culture Since 1948 (Fall 2005, Fall 2003)

Languages spoken/fluent in

French; translation competency in Afrikaans and Spanish

Scholarly Work

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

“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. Forthcoming.

“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.

“‘Coffins, Corpses and Wheelchairs’: Mass Hysteria and Postcolonial Constitutions.” Spec. issue of Studies in the Humanities on “Globalism from Below.” 39.1-2 and 40.1-2 (Jan. 2014): 57-88.



Honors and Awards

PSC-CUNY Research Award, 2020.

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

PSC-CUNY Research Award, 2018.

Research in the Classroom Award, CUNY, 2018.

Associate Professor Travel Award, CUNY Academy, 2017.

PSC-CUNY Enhanced Research Award, 2017.

Research Summary





Area of Expertise

Faculty Expertise: topics/keywords

Postcolonial literature and theory

Nigerian literature and oil politics

South African literature and culture

Contemporary and Victorian British literature

Cultural and media studies

Nationalism and globalization

Tourism and museum studies

Feminism and gender studies

Ecocriticism and island studies

Petroculture and commodity studies

Popular literature and genre studies

In The Media


Kapstein, Helen. “A Novel Future: The Pandemic Reveals Alarming Parallels Between Gilead and U.S.Ms. Magazine. April 14, 2020.

Online Presence

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