Helen Cafferty

William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of German and the Humanities Emerita

Emeritus faculty

Helen Cafferty has been in the vanguard of pedagogy since she first arrived on the Bowdoin campus nearly 40 years ago. She was the first woman in the history of the College to rise through all levels of teaching, beginning as an instructor in 1972, advancing to assistant, associate and full professor. She assumed a chaired professorship, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of German and the Humanities, in 1990.

She has written widely on political drama and theater, East German literature and feminist approaches to the German literary tradition, and was longtime editor of the prestigious journal Women in German. Cafferty has shared her love of literature and culture throughout the state of Maine as a longtime member of the governing board of the Maine Humanities Council.

Cafferty has made many innovative contributions to Bowdoin's academic life. As assistant dean of faculty from 1987 to 1990 she made great strides in diversifying the Bowdoin faculty and played a leading role in initiating Women's Studies at the College. 

As a teacher, Cafferty has mentored many honors research projects and greatly increased the number of non-German speaking students taking courses in German literature and culture.

Among her awards and fellowships, Cafferty has received a Fulbright grant and several grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


  • Ph.D., The University of Michigan, 1976
  • M.A., Syracuse University, 1966
  • B.A., Bowling Green State University , 1964

Selected Publications

"Orfeo and Sam: Racial, Sexual, and Ethnic Otherness in Dörrie's Keiner liebt mich (1994) and Sanoussi-Bliss's Zurück auf los (1999). In: Color and Signs of Ethnic Difference 1800, 1900, 2000. Ed. Birgit Tautz. Amsterdam: Rodopi: 2004.

Review: Ernst Toller und die Weimarer Republik. Ein Autor im Spannungsfeld von Literatur und Politik. Schriften der Ernst-Toller-Gesellschaft. Band 1. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1999. In: Monatshefte. Vol. 95, 2, 2003.

Sonnenallee: Taking Comedy Seriously in Unified Germany, in Textual Responses to German Unification. Ed. Kristie Foell, Carol Anne Costabile Hemming, and Rachel Halverson. Berlin: De Gruyter Verlag, 2001.

Berlin. In Encyclopedia of German Literature. 2 vols. Ed. Matthias Konzett. Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, 2000.

Review: The African-German Experience. Ed. Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996. In Colloquia Germanica. Internationale Zeitschrift für Germanistik.Vol. 31, 4. 1999

Review: Post-Fascist Fantasies: Psychoanalysis, History, and the Literature of East Germany. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. In Modern fiction Studies. Vol. 44. Winter 1998.

What's Feminist About It? Reflections on Collaboration in Writing and Editing, with Jeanette Clausen, in Common Ground: Feminist Collaboration in the Academy. Eds Elizabeth Peck and Joanna Stephens Mink. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Review: Gender and German Cinema: Feminist Interventions. Ed. Sandra Frieden, et al. Volume 1. Gender and Representation in New German Cinema. Volume 2. German Film History/German History on Film. Providence/Oxford: Berg, 1993, in The German Quarterly, Vol. 70. 1997.

Epic Theater, in The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature. Ed. Friedericke Eigler and Susanne Kord. Greenwood Press, 1997

Editor, Women in German Newsletter.Vols 71-79, 1997-2000. Editor, Women in German Homepage at Bowdoin College: 1997-1999.

Coeditor with Jeanette Clausen. Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies and German Culture. Vol. 5-6 University Press of America. Fall, 1989, Fall 1991. "Who's Afraid of Feminist Theory? A Postscript from the Editors," with Jeanette Clausen, Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies and German Culture, Vol. 5, University Press of America, Fall, 1989.

Selected Conference Presentations


“Cancelled Flights: Christian Petzold’s Barbara (2012) and its East German Predecessors.” Kentucky Modern Foreign Language Conference. University of Kentucky, Lexington, 2013.

“German National Identity Lite? : German Films at the 59th Berlin Film Festival.” German Studies Association. Washington DC, 2009. 

"Whose Ostalgie? Post-unification Discourse and the Representation of the GDR Past in Sonnenallee (1999) and Good Bye Lenin!(2003)." Kentucky Modern Foreign Language Conference. University of Kentucky, Lexington, 2004. 

"Different Otherness: Racial, Sexual, and Ethnic Difference in Dörrie’s Keiner liebt mich and Sanoussi-Bliss’s Zurück auf los (1999).” West Virginia University Colloquium on Race in Modern Literature. Morgantown, West Virginia, 2002.

Sonnenallee and East German Identity: Taking Comedy Seriously in Unified Germany.” Conference: Forschungsperspektiven zehn Jahre nach der DDR / East Germany Revisited: Research Perspectives Ten Years After. Berlin, Germany, 2000.

“Taking Comedy Seriously”: Introduction to showing of Sonnenallee.. New Hampshire      Symposium. Conway, N.H., 2000.

“China to Me and Heine to Me: Reading Middlebrow as a Girl and Rereading as a Feminist.” Women in German Annual Conference. San Jose, California, 1997.

"WIG, Collaborative Learning and the Feminist Project," with Jeanette Clausen. Women in German Annual Conference. St. Augustine, Florida, 1996.

"Cultural Politics in Transition:  Die Schwierigkeit 'wir' zu sagen," New Hampshire Symposium, Conway, N.H., 1991.

“Journal Editing Issues for Feminists: Perils and Pitfalls of Publishing," with Jeanette Clausen, Modern Language Association, Washington, D.C., 1989.

 "The Absence of Nature in Paper Stars: Otto Emersleben's Papiersterne, an East German Novel of the Eighties."  West Virginia University Colloquium on Literature and Film, 1989.

"Feminist Criticism: Approaches and Alternatives."  Women in German, Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon,1985. 

"Three Aspects of the Unheroic in Italo Svevo's The Confessions of Zeno."  NEH Summer Seminar, Princeton University, 1984.

"Deception as Survival Under Fascism: Becker's Jakob der Lügner and Kohlhaase's 'Die Erfindung einer Sprache," West Virginia University Colloquium on Deception in Modern Literature, 1982.

"Sexual Metaphor and Social Criticism:  Hinkemann Reconsidered."  Georgia Colloquium on Modern Literature, University of Georgia, 1981.

"Comedy and Ironic Perspective in Dürrenmatt's Romulus der Grosse." Conference on Comedy in Western Literature and Art, The University of Alabama, 1979.                                                       

"The Uses of Tradition East and West: Plenzdorf's Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. and Kroetz' Maria Magdelena."  West Virginia University Colloquium on Contemporary Theater, September, 1977.            

"No More Peace!: Ernst Toller in the U.S.1936-37." Northeastern Modern Language Association, University of Vermont, Spring, 1976.