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Gabby Berlinger Bio Pic

Director of Graduate Studies

Associate Professor of American Studies and Folklore

Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Scholar in Jewish History and Culture

Contact Information

Greenlaw Hall 515, CB #3520
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3520

Carolina Center for Jewish Studies


Ph.D. Folklore, Indiana University at Bloomington, 2013.
M.A. Folklore, Indiana University at Bloomington, 2008.
B.A. Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 2003.

Research Interests and Honors

As a folklorist and ethnologist, I study creative expression in everyday life, focusing on the nature and significance of vernacular architecture and ritual practice. I examine how the construction, interpretation, and use of common structures and landscapes express their creators’ histories, social practices, cultural customs, and beliefs. In addition, I explore how ritual practice can sacralize, activate, and transform these structures and spaces. Committed to integrating academic research with public engagement, I have worked in applied arts and cultural research organizations in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, New York, and Israel.

Before arriving to Chapel Hill, I was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the “Cultures of Conservation” initiative at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. There, my research and teaching centered on an ethnographic project at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in which I documented the preservation process of the Museum’s 19th-century tenement apartment building—a study that relates issues of historic preservation, immigrant social history, heritage management, and museum practice in the reconciliation of physical and cultural conservation needs. This study led to my current project, examining the preservation strategies of several “alternative” house museums and the significance of material collection and recreation at each site.

My book, Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture (Indiana University Press, 2017), emerged from 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, Israel, a dense urban environment being challenged by socio-economic changes. In that neighborhood, I studied the temporary ritual dwellings that residents built for the annual Jewish festival of Sukkot. Documenting these structures’ material construction and decoration, and their ritual use and interpretation, I learned about locally- and culturally-distinct notions of community, home, homelessness, and belonging. I examined the role of ritual in forming and fragmentation a multicultural society not only in Israel but in Bloomington, Indiana, and Brooklyn, New York.

In my teaching, I emphasize ethnographic fieldwork, multimedia public and academic projects, and collaboration with cultural institutions and local communities.

Courses Taught

FOLK/ANTH/ENGL 202: Everyday Cultures: Folklore in America
FOLK/JWST 380: Traditions in Transition: Jewish Folklore and Ethnography
FOLK/JWST 481: Jewish Belonging/s: the Material Culture of Jewish Experience
FOLK 476: Urban Folklore: Graffiti, Gods, and Gardens
FOLK/ANTH 424: Ritual, Festival, Public Culture
IDST 127: What is Art? Where is Art?