Gabby Berlinger Bio Pic

Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore

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

Contact Information

Greenlaw Hall 515, CB #3520
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3520
(919) 962-4064

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, with particular focus 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.

Prior to 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. 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.

My current project, a book manuscript based on my dissertation, emerges from 16 months of 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 conducted an ethnographic study of the temporary ritual dwellings built for the annual Jewish festival of Sukkot. Documenting the material construction and decoration of these structures, 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 the formation and fragmentation of a multicultural society.

In my teaching, I encourage ethnographic fieldwork, multimedia projects, and collaboration with cultural institutions and community organizations.

Courses Taught

FOLK 505: Traditions in Transition: Jewish Folklore and Ethnography
FOLK 481: The Changing Lives of Jewish Objects
FOLK 476: Urban Folklore: Graffiti, Gods, and Gardens
FOLK 424: Ritual, Festival, Public Culture