American Studies Ph.D. Students


10262060_10152041811961651_8178279023037641694_n-1 Joseph Decosimo (2014), explores folklore, material culture, ethnography, the sounds people make, and the things they say. He has worked as a public folklorist, played music professionally, and taught 9th graders English. He taught Appalachian Studies and fiddle and banjo in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program. He holds an M.A. in Folklore from UNC and studied the ways that contemporary traditional musicians in East Tennessee make and record music that connects to family and place while appealing to a global audience of Old Time music enthusiasts. As a performing musician, he has toured and taught Old Time fiddle and banjo music at festivals and camps throughout the US, the UK, and Canada. You may contact Joseph at
dollman Melissa Dollman (2016) was born in South Dakota, and reared off-and-on in California. She earned her B.A. in American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and her M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in Moving Image Archives Studies. For over a decade prior to pursuing her Ph.D. at UNC in the American Studies, she was a cataloguer, librarian, audiovisual archivist, consultant, intern, volunteer, adjunct faculty, exhibit developer, and researcher for a variety of commercial and public institutions (Pacific Film Archive, Women In Film Foundation, UCLA, Academy Film Archive, Discovery Communications, Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, Crawford Media Services, State Archives of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University). She has presented at numerous conferences and symposia as well as has written short pieces in the journal,The Moving Image and a chapter on privacy and home movies in the forthcoming Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England, 1915-1960 (Indiana University Press, 2017).  Her current areas of interest include audiovisual primary documents, employing video annotation tools to document archival research labor, and a midcentury semi-fictional women’s travel director for Shell Oil. See for more information. You may contact Melissa at
tumblr_inline_negl6bgzox1qcpj0x Danielle Dulken (2016) is an abortion-positive activist hailing from the mountains of Western North Carolina. She joins the department with a B.A. in Political Science from Western Carolina University and an M.A. in History and Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from American University. Her current research considers women’s reproductive health and wellness as well as abortion access in Southern Appalachia. In particular, she is drawn to the region’s materia medica and the racially and ethnically diverse inhabitants who have shaped this knowledge. Danielle’s training in public history has offered museum experience in Washington, D.C.’s premiere institutions allowing her to think beyond models of traditional scholarship. She is also the creator of the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force Oral History Project (WACDTF OHP), a collaborative oral history project now archived at Schlesinger Library. Her ongoing work in oral history has inspired her to seek relationships between the study of sound theory, sound art, and oral traditions. You may contact Danielle at
Michaela Dwyer

Michaela Dwyer (2015), a North Carolina native, received a B.A. in English and a Certificate in Documentary Studies from Duke University. Broadly, she is interested in how communities form, perform, and document themselves in the process of imagining alternative futures. Her research aims to investigate—via oral history, spatial theory and practice, and digital methodologies—the outgrowths of Black Mountain College in terms of creative and artistic community spaces and their relation to civic life, particularly in the contemporary American South. Before coming to UNC, Michaela was the Bear Postgraduate Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke, where she developed public humanities and arts programming and mentored undergraduates at the nexus of civic engagement and documentary writing. Michaela has worked as an instructor, publications coordinator, and documentarian at the Governor’s School of North Carolina. She is also a nonfiction writer, editor, and dancemaker. You may contact Michaela at


Benjamin Filippo (2016) A yankee via South Florida, Ben has embraced the south through food and agricultural work, seeing both as a asset-based means to revitalize small towns and cities. Before moving to the Old North State with his wife, Ben studied History and Arabic at Tufts University, Anthropology of Food at SoAS (London), and worked for a startup catering healthy lunches to schools in NYC. Since moving to NC, Ben and his wife have accidentally renovated historic homes in Durham and launched local food businesses. Ben currently serves as Executive Director of Preservation Durham. His research interests revolve around articulating the community “value-add” and place-making contributions of local entrepreneurs, past and present, both in the South, and across the United States, through a dynamic combination of storytelling and community impact analysis. You may contact Benjamin at

3b6dfdf3-40b8-4c6d-bfa0-75bc03abf613 Charlotte Fryar (2014), a North Carolina native, finds her research interests in public higher education, oral history practice, digital methodologies, and twentieth century North Carolina history. Her dissertation uses oral histories and digital methods to document and interpret the long history of student activism against institutional racism on UNC’s campus as a digital exhibit. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in American Studies, both from UNC-Chapel Hill. After two years as a project manager at UNC’s Digital Innovation Lab, Charlotte now works for the Southern Oral History Program, where she is the first University History Field Scholar, a position supported by the Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History. You may contact Charlotte at
elijahphoto Elijah Gaddis (2013), a near-native North Carolinian, holds a B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from North Carolina State University, and an M.A. in Folklore from UNC. A former chef and museum researcher, Elijah’s primary research interests are in the built landscapes, cultural, and material life of the South. His ethnographic, academic, and professional work has taken place in both the Piedmont and Eastern parts of North Carolina, leaving him well-positioned to pontificate on bbq and other regional foodways. Elijah is a co-founder of the Community Histories Workshop. You may contact Elijah at
 Rachel Gelfand Rachel Gelfand (2013), received a B.A. in American Studies from Smith College. With a background in oral history and radio, she is interested in studying feminist and queer histories. Before returning to American Studies, she produced radio pieces, deejayed radio shows, and worked on projects of public memory and oral history. In memory studies, she is pursuing a project concerning a set of Holocaust drawings and intergenerational familial memory. She is originally from the greater Boston area. You may contact Rachel at
Elijah-Heyward-ed Elijah Heyward III‘s (2013), research interests are the Gullah culture and the Penn School in Beaufort, S.C. A native of Beaufort, Heyward formerly lived in Washington, D.C., where he directed the Youth Scholar Academy, a nationwide college access program that he created as a Yale President’s Public Service Fellow. Heyward received his bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in leadership studies from Hampton University and his master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School. You may contact Elijah at
12814668_10154439662655288_4501807632760519754_n KC Hysmith (2016) is originally from Texas. She holds a BA in Plan II Honors and French from the University of Texas and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. Her PhD research focuses on historical foodways and its relation to our modern consumption patterns and attitudes towards food, gender, society, and the media.  Katherine has an academic and professional background in food writing, food photography, recipe testing, and research, focusing on topics such as urban farm-to-table, sustainability, and transnational foodways. She has worked with several national and international publications as well as digital, print, and social media organizations. She won “Best Student Writing” in 2015 from the Association of Food Journalists and continues to share her work on her blog, The Young Austinian ( While these experiences focused on a different side of the food industry, Katherine hopes to apply her experiences to create an accessible digital resource relating to community-wide food education. You may contact KC at
mel-lasseter-ed M.E. Lasseter (2013) earned a B.A. in English Literature-Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College, and a M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. Between those degrees, she lived in Denver and spent her free time wandering Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico—a practice that informs her interest in regional studies. These days, Mel works with vernacular music and the U.S. South, with forays into Southern migrations, the Global South, and Southern identities, among other things. You may contact Mel at
photo Meredith McCoy (2014) is a Chapel Hill native whose research examines public education, global indigeneity, and how communities form and perform their identities. She received her bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and Music with a minor in Native American Studies from UNC and her master’s in education from Lipscomb University. Meredith has four years of K-12 classroom experience, having taught Spanish, literacy, and Social Studies in inner-city charter schools in Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia before returning to UNC. You may contact Meredith at
parshall_smaller Josh Parshall (2013) is interested in American Jewish identity, with an emphasis on the American South. His current research focuses on the activities of the Southern District of the Workmen’s Circle during the first half of the twentieth century.  Previously, Josh worked as an oral historian in Jewish communities throughout the region. He holds a B.A. in American studies from the University of Kansas and a M.A. in folklore from UNC. You may contact Josh at
UNC Bio pic Trista Reis Porter (2014) is interested in a variety of topics falling under the scope of American Art and Material Culture. She received her M.A. in the History of Art from Indiana University in 2014, where her thesis focused on the exhibition history of American folk art over the last century. This interest and approach continues to inform the way she thinks about canons in American visual and material culture, how and by whom those canons have been established, and the ways they are constructed around genres such as pottery and sculpture, and descriptors such as folk, fine, outsider, visionary, and immigrant. An Iowa native, Trista received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Iowa in 2012. You may contact Trista at
DSCN9655 brightened Mattea V. Sanders (2014), originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, received a B.A. in History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an M.A. in American History with a concentration in Public History from The American University in Washington, D.C.  With a background in Public History, she has worked and conducted projects for the National Park Service, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Currently, Mattea sits on the Membership Committee for the National Council on Public History and is on the Executive Council for the Society for the History of the Federal Government. Her research interests are in Southeastern American Indian History, Environmental History, Labor History, and Appalachian History. You may contact Mattea at
Mathew Swiatlowski (2013), originally from western Massachusetts, holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a M.A. in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Boston. His research interests include recorded music, sound studies, and working class cultural history. He is currently at work on a dissertation project on the circulation of prewar ethnic American vernacular recordings in the postwar reissue music economy. You may contact Mathew at
kimberphoto 2 Kimber Thomas (2014) is a native of Jackson, Mississippi. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Alcorn State University and her master’s degree in Afro-American Studies from UCLA. She previously worked as an oral historian for Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center, where she documented the Farish Street historic district, and for the Southern Foodways Alliance, where she documented black-owned restaurants in Jackson, MS. This past summer, Kimber completed a research project in Mound Bayou, MS, through the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance. Currently, she serves as a field scholar for the Southern Oral History Program at UNC. Her research interests include southern black material culture and oral history. You may contact Kimber at
maxine Maxine Vande Vaarst (2016) comes to Chapel Hill from the glorious suburbs of northern New Jersey. She received her B.A. in History and English from Purdue University, and her M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. Her research is concentrated on landscape, region and identity, and she is particularly interested in issues relating to border space. Maxine has written extensively about the Dakotas and the American West, and has presented her papers at conferences from Paris to Toronto. She is also the founding editor of Buffalo Almanack, a quarterly journal for fiction and the visual arts. You may contact Maxine at


Folklore Master’s Students


Victor Bouveron Victor Bouvéron (2015) is a blues enthusiast arriving from Lille, France. He received a B.A in History (2007) and a Master’s in Communications (2009) at the University of Lille 3, France. After graduating, he worked for over five years at the city hall of Villeneuve d’Ascq (France) as the internal communication manager. Victor hosted the weekly blues program “Bluesland” from 2005 to 2015 on Radio Campus Lille and taught classical guitar. He published many articles for various publications, such as L’Express du Pacifique (a newspaper formerly published in British-Columbia, Canada), La Tribune (Villeneuve d’Ascq municipal paper), and Blues Magazine. He’s interested in the history of the blues in France and its current scene.
Claire Cusick (2014) is a writer, baker, and storyteller. She has been a newspaper writer and editor, and now works at UNC in Development Communications in the Office of University Development. She is interested primarily in storytelling, and since great stories happen when people are gathered around a table, she has become interested in food, culture and history
rachel garringer Rachel Garringer (2015) was raised on a sheep farm in southeastern West Virginia. She received a B.A. from Hampshire College in 2007. Since then she has worked as a youth advocate and educator in transitional living shelters, GED classrooms, and rural public schools. In 2013 she founded Country Queers, an ongoing multimedia oral history project documenting the diverse experiences of rural and small town LGBTQI folks in the United States. Her interests are in public folklore, oral history, digital humanities, and rural queer experiences. She is excited to use her time at UNC to transition Country Queers into a more collaborative, accountable, community based project.
picture1 Karon Griffin (2016) a Chapel Hill native, received her B.A. in English and American Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill once she had decided what she wanted to be when she grew up. She is interested in all things Southern, particularly literature, music, and food, and she loves the TarHeels. Her dream is to be a lifelong learner, to teach, to publish, to listen to anything with a horn, eat good food,  to read everything she possibly can, and to encourage others to follow their dreams. You may contact Karon at
12362905_10201047205459353_2736479752081694517_o Jackson Hall (2016) was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, andgraduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American Studies. Photographing poetry slams and open-mics, and interviewing North Carolina rappers on the South’s relationship to Hip Hop culture, he explores the intersections of verbal arts, space, community, and identity politics. As an undergrad, he completed a Senior Honors Thesis in the poetry track of the Creative Writing program, earning Highest Honors. Titled Burning the Negatives, his manuscript mined familial conflict and love, myth and memory, and mediations on loved ones long deceased. For him, his passion for folklore mirrors his perspective on poetry as a public good, a meeting place between the personal and the communal, and tool by which narratives are affirmed, shared, and celebrated.
image-png Hannah Herzog (2016) is from Dallas, Texas. She earned a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Her undergraduate Honors Thesis examined Jewish American identity in twentieth and twenty-first century America. Broadly, Hannah is interested in examining the role of race and ethnicity in the political arena, with an emphasis on the American South. Moreover, Hannah is interested in Jewish identity throughout America and Eastern Europe. You may contact Hannah at
Anna Keneda Anna Keneda (2015), originally from Oklahoma, received a B.A. in Political Science from Emory University. After her undergraduate she worked with the Aga Khan Development network teaching and developing English Literature and Music curriculum in Mombasa, Kenya. Anna‘s research interests include the role of music in the study of the global south, modern movements in Southern vernacular music, and the impact of arts organizations in community building strategies.
Version 2 Abigail Nover (2016) holds her B.F.A. in Sound Design from the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. There she studied audio recording and engineering, music composition, and design for live performances. In 2014, Abigail began her fieldwork project, Natural Rhythm, through a research fellowship while pursuing her undergraduate degree. She traveled along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago, recording music and creating an online multi-media archive of current American folk music. Her work on Natural Rhythm led Abigail to Music Maker Relief Foundation in Hillsborough, NC, where she worked as an intern for a year. There she has assisted in supporting the organization’s mission “to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it.” As she pursues her M.A. in Folklore, Abigail’s research interests revolve around the ways in which people of marginalized groups create, produce, and promote their own musical traditions. She is interested in different methods people have of taking agency over their own cultures, traditions, and stories in the face of adversity, oppression, and appropriation and what that means for individuals and communities.

Emily Ridder-Beardsley Emily Ridder-Beardsley (2015) grew up splitting time between Washington, DC and rural Rappahannock, Virginia. In 2008, she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a Liberal Arts degree focused on Art History, concentrating on the Tribal Arts of Africa, Oceania, and The Americas. She worked for several years following graduation in New York City for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and PBS New York. Emily has most recently been working as a curator at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia and as a curatorial assistant for Jane Livingston, a freelance curator based in Flint Hill, Virginia. Her work with Ms. Livingston will produce an exhibition focusing on the works of four early African American photographers, including Addison Scurlock, James Van Der Zee, P.H. Polk and L.O. Taylor. She is continuing work on this project as she pursues an M.A. in Folklore and hopes to apply what she learns from the program to similar projects in the future. 
caitfacelin Caitlin Rimmer (2016) hails from Rhosllanerchrugog, Wales- though arrives most recently from Lancaster, England. She gained her BA hons in English Literature from Lancaster University in 2014, exploring religious martyrdom in American railway narratives. Following this, she spent a year assisting writer Max Haymes in his research on the Queen of the Moaners, Clara Smith, which culminated in a research trip travelling around Georgia and the Carolinas. She enjoys exploring gender presentations in early blues, with a particular love for queer and drag performers such as the inimitable Frankie ‘half-pint’ Jaxon. She is excited (though often baffled) by Southern cooking, so do make recommendations.
zoe van buren Zoe van Buren (2015) grew up in New York City and received her B.A. with honors in Anthropology from Vassar College in 2013. She is interested in public folklore, race and religious experience, material culture, and occupational folklife in the face of gentrification. As an undergraduate, she was active in the Vassar Prison Initiative, did research on African American old-time string bands and local step teams, and worked with Arts Mid Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY. Since graduating, she has worked with the New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival and Fishing Heritage Center in New Bedford, MA, and the North Carolina Arts Council, where she was the Folklife Intern before beginning at UNC. Folklore helps her to see resilience and beauty in communities big and small. Her other love is wool, and she is a hard-core knitter and hand-spinner.
_dsc4848 Iryna Voloshyna (2016) is a visiting scholar from Ukraine by Fulbright Faculty Development Program. She received her B. A. with honors in Philology (2010) and a specialist diploma in Translation (2011) at Khmelnytskyi National University (Ukraine) and currently is a Ph.D. candidate in Education there. Iryna is investigating the methodology of vocational training and principles of curriculum making for folklore students, and UNC at Chapel Hill happened to be the best venue to do this research. Also, she is highly involved in promoting and performing Ukrainian folklore: a singer in a folk ensemble “Ladovytsi”; formerly the head and co-founder of the NGO “Podillya traditions revival” (Podillya is her native ethnographic region in Ukraine); member of an international folklore festival organization committee in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine; participant of a number of regional, national and international festivals and other cultural events at home and abroad (Spain, France, Lithuania, Georgia). You may contact Iryna at
jaycievos_2014_square Jaycie Vos (2015) is the Coordinator of Collections for the Southern Oral History Program at UNC, where she works with faculty, students, archivists, activists, and all areas of southern community to preserve and share the South’s rich history. She earned her Master’s in Library Science at UNC in 2013 and her B.A. in English at Truman State University in 2011. In addition to her work on archival description and metadata standards in oral history collections, she is eager to take a closer look at southern communities and music traditions. As a native Iowan, Vos is especially interested in issues of inclusion, exclusion, identity, and authenticity.