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. 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.

Curriculum Vitae


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

Selected Publications

Translations: Short stories by Otto Emersleben, “Night Duty" ("Stundenchronik," in Der Geschichtenkalender 1985, ed. Gertrud Bradatsch and Joachim Schmidt.  Rodolstadt: Greifenverlag, 1984) and "Dialogue Concerning a Nonjourney" ("Dialog um eine Nichtreise," in Windvogelviereck: Schriftsteller über Wissenschaften und Wissenschaftler, ed. John Erpenbeck.  Berlin: Buchverlag Der Morgen, 1987.)  “Attempt at Demolition” (“Abrißversuch” in Greifswalder Almach, ed. Hans-Jürgen Schumacher, Meskenhagen, 2003). In: Otto Emersleben. Memory Toss and Other English Texts, Brumseich Press, Brunswick, ME 2010

“Changing Times,” Former Editors’ Forum: Reflection on Twenty-Five Years of the Women in German Yearbook. In Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture, University of Nebraska Press, Vol. 25 2009.  

"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.

“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.

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.

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

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.

“Epic Theater.” In The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature. Eds. Friedericke Eigler and Susanne Kord. Greenwood Press, 1997

“The Absence of Nature in Paper Stars: Otto Emersleben's Papiersterne, an East German Novel of the Eighties." In West Virginia Philological Papers, Fall, 1991.

"Journal Editing: Issues for Feminists" with Jeanette Clausen,. In Editors' Notes, Vol. 9.2, 1990.

"Gender and German Cinema: Films by German Women," with Kathleen O'Connor. In frauen/film: New Approaches to Teaching Film.  Ed. Linda Kraus Worley, published by Women in German, 1990.

Women Writers of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland: An Annotated Bio-Bibliographical Guide. Ed. Elke Frederiksen.  Annotator for Novak, Offenbach, and von Lefort. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Translation:  Co-translator with Käte Weiss.  "The Situation and Organization of Lesbian Women in the German Democratic Republic," by Ilse Kokula. In ILGA PINK BOOK: a global view of lesbian and gay liberation and oppression. Utrecht Series on Gay and Lesbian Studies, Nr. 12. Utrecht:  Interfacultaire Werkgroep Homostudies,Rijksuniversiteit  Utrecht, 1988.

“Tropes and Oral Formulae: The Metaphorical Multiplexity of hant in the Nibelungenlied." In Germanic Dialects: Linguistic and Philological Investigations. Eds. B. Brogyanyi and T. Krümmelbein. Amsterdam: John Benjamin B .B. 1986.

"Survival Under Fascism: Deception in Apitz's Nackt unter Wölfen, Becker's Jakob der Lügner, and  Kohlhaase's Erfindung einer Sprache." In West Virginia Philological Papers, Special Issue devoted to Deceit and Deception in Modern Literature, Vol. 30, 1984.

Women Writers in Translation: An Annotated Bibliography from 1945-1982.  Eds. I Courtivron and M. Resnick.  New York: Garland, 1984.  Editor and Co-annotator for German-speaking women writers.

"History of German Literature: Focus on Women," in German and Women's Studies: New Directions in Literary and Interdisciplinary Course Approaches.  Eds. S. Cassierer and S. Weiss.  South Hadley, MA: Mount Holyoke College, 1983.

"German-Language Play Production as Cultural Mediation." In Die Unterrichtspraxis.1982.

“Pessimism, Perspectivism, and Tragedy:  Hinkemann Reconsidered." In German Quarterly, 1981.

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.