American Studies Ph.D. Students

 Name & Description
John Bechtold is a retired combat veteran and recent graduate of Duke University. He has begun to cultivate a growing passion in documentary storytelling and has just completed a multi-media documentary project that tells the stories of how our wounded veterans are reclaiming their lives after their experience in war. John is particularly interested in the lived experience of people affected by political violence. When he isn’t taking pictures on a street somewhere in the world, John can be found at home cooking tasty food or trying to stand on his head in yoga class (it’s not working). You may contact John at
Michael Bramwell (2018) is a professional visual artist and Educator born in the South Bronx and raised in Harlem. He holds an M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which functions as a capstone for over twenty years of conceptually-based, socially-engaged art practice; an M.A. in Special Education from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Sociology from Oakwood University, in Huntsville, Alabama. Michael is pursuing his Ph.D. in American Studies with a concentration in Southern Studies and is interested in material culture of the African Diaspora and how it intersects with Theology and anti-slavery resistance. His dissertation: “Pottery By Any Means Necessary: Resistance in the Art of David Drake,” offers an historical ethnography of Mr. Drake, an antebellum industrial slave from Edgefield District, South Carolina. By decoding the “hidden transcripts” embedded in his extant artifacts and poetry, fresh connections are established with the Abolition Movement in the United States. As a scholar with UNC’s Initiative for Minority Excellence, Michael is conducting new research on the spiritual implications of cultural practice in black vernacular art, for a collection of essays accompanying the Souls Grown Deep/William Arnett acquisitions exhibition, at Ackland Art Museum, fall, 2020. You may contact Michael at:
Claire Bunschoten works primarily with culinary history, popular culture, national identity, and consumption patterns. She holds a B.A. in History & American Studies from Bard College, where her senior project, “As American as Apple Pie: The History of American Apple Pie and Its Development into a National Symbol” won the Edmund S. Morgan Prize for best senior project in American Studies. Claire is an alumnae of the LongHouse Food Scholars Program and worked in the non-profit sector before coming to UNC. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois. You may contact Claire at
Katelyn Campbell (2018) is a ninth generation West Virginian, Truman Scholar, and alumna of the American Studies program at Wellesley College. She has worked across West Virginia as a community organizer, reproductive justice advocate, writer, and, most recently, an AmeriCorps member researching legal barriers to mitigating the state's myriad abandoned properties. Her academic research centers around the experiences and ideologies of rural lesbian separatists and the ethics of separatist economies in the United States.
Ina Dixon photographed on 10/25/16.
Photo by Pat Jarrett
Having grown up in Virginia and seen its neglected and more rural Southside, Ina Dixon is interested in how narrative helps revitalize Southern communities. Since 2014, Ina has explored this question in her work as the program coordinator for History United, a place-based history project of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Working in the Danville area, Ina collaborates with VFH staff and local community members in Danville to establish a strong network of local cultural organizations committed to building a inclusive and meaningful historical narrative of the area. Through community dialogues and programs, she encourages a collective process of determining how a deeper understanding of local history can build a new sense of purpose and identity. Ina holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland and an M.A. in History from the University of Chicago. You may contact Ina at
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
Danielle Dulken (2016) is a reproductive justice activist from the mountains of western North Carolina. Her research considers how practices of reproductive wellness resist colonizing systems in southern Appalachia. Using critical race theory, Danielle aims to challenge narratives that foreclose on the region’s diversity and modernity. While earning an M.A. in History from American University, Danielle trained as an oral historian. She is now an oral history field scholar at the Southern Oral History Program. In addition to collaborative oral history projects, Danielle is excited about creative research projects with outcomes in sound art and experimental film. She currently lives in Chapel Hill with her partner and two cats and serves on the Board of Directors at the Carolina Abortion Fund. You reach her here at
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
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
Claire A. Kempa (2018) is a public historian and digital humanist who uses digital tools to interrogate and challenge the inequalities that so often construct American places and cultural spaces. She holds undergraduate degrees in literature and history from institutions in Wyoming, California, and Colorado and a M.A. in Public History from North Carolina State University. In her current position as archivist for the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at NCSU, Claire collaborates with both institutions and heritage communities to collect and preserve historical and contemporary experiences of immigrants from the Levant and make these digitally accessible to a transnational audience. Though her public history work engages with 20th century American history, Claire has a longstanding interest in the way that scientific and cultural upheavals in postbellum America impacted relationships between local identities and the landscapes that shaped them, a topic that she approaches from the angle of medicinal travel. In her doctoral studies, Claire hopes to pursue this research while building experience and skills in the theory and praxis of digital humanities.
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
Heather Menefee Menefee is a second-year doctoral student studying American Indian history, U.S. colonial policy, racial governance and comparative colonialisms. She graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University with an interdisciplinary BA in Native American Studies. As an undergraduate, she co-founded NU's Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance and worked to decolonize and remediate the University's relationship to Tribal Nations and the American Indian Center of Chicago. A former John Lewis Fellow, she continues to study how racial paradigms built in concert with colonial violence become sedimented and normalized in broader publics. After many years as a choral singer, BDS organizer, and generally troublesome citizen, she is interested in developing community ethics that disrupt settler violence and white supremacy. You are welcome to contact Heather at
Susie Penman (2018), who mostly grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, earned a B.A. in Journalism and a M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. Originally from Scotland but a Mississippi native since the age of seven, she has always been fascinated by notions of regional identity, and wrote her master's thesis on Cracker Barrel's use of regionalism in its marketing. After graduate school, she moved to New Orleans, where she spent a few years working as a bookseller and a pastry cook. While living in New Orleans, she became interested in juvenile crime and incarceration in the city, and is currently working on a documentary film that focuses on those issues. She plans to continue studying topics related to incarceration upon her arrival at UNC.
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
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
Sarah A. Torgeson (2018) is originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place repeatedly threatened and altered by hurricanes and other coastal hazards. Her deep connection to the Gulf Coast has inspired her research interests, which include coastal resilience, place and displacement, cultural and historical landscapes, collective memory, and the concept of home. She holds a B.A. in History from Yale University, where her senior essay, "Reconstructing Beauvoir: Place and Civil War Memory on the Post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast," won the George Washington Egleston Prize for the best undergraduate essay in American history. Prior to coming to UNC, Sarah worked as a Historic Resources Specialist at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, MS.
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

 Name and Description
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. You may contact Claire at
Hannah Evans (2018) is originally from Narragansett, Rhode Island, but her heart has always belonged to the South. She hold a B.A. in American History from UNC-CH with a focus in Southern Foodways. In May of 2018 she completed a graduate certificate program through George Mason University in Digital Public Humanities. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA with her partner, Zach, and their two Australian shepherd puppies, Kenan and Sutton.
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
Nigel Heywood originally comes from Manilla, Australia, where his family have farmed for four generations. He studied Visual Arts at The Australian National University in Canberra. From 2001 – 2012 he worked in leadership training and community development programs with Initiatives of Change (IofC) throughout the Asia Pacific, spending three years in India. This led into peace building work in the Solomon Islands and later training 200 Peace Mobilisers in partnership with the South Sudanese Government in 2013. From 2013 - 2017 Nigel has worked with Red Cross Emergency Services Victoria designing and delivering training programs to 1000+ volunteers as well as volunteering with IofC to do reconciliation work with the South Sudanese community in Melbourne. You may contact Nigel at
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. You may contact Anna at
Megan Odom (2018) is a true blue Tar Heel. She currently works as the special project coordinator for UNC Public Policy. Her role within the department includes increasing opportunities for experiential education and social innovation in various classes while helping maintain working relationships with key community partners. She is also the coordinator for the UNC Honors Carolina Public Policy and Global Affairs Seminar in Washington, DC where she helps students secure internships, provides opportunities for professional development, facilitates meaningful excursions and guest speakers, as well as provide basic logistical support for the program. An Asheville native, and UNC class of 2016 alumna in Public Policy and English, Megan is excited to return to Carolina for her MA degree in Folklore. She will study the place she calls home, the mountains of North Carolina, and plans to curate a collection of oral histories from individuals in and around Asheville in order to connect human experience to public policy.
Reagan Petty is a Nashville, Tennessee native who plans to receive a B.A. in Art History with a minor in Philosophy from Wofford College in May. She is interested in studying issues of race, identity, political tensions and their representation in contemporary art. She has also become interested in the tradition of vernacular culture in the American South. During a curatorial internship at The Johnson Collection, she has co-curated an exhibition titled Southern Roots, which features Southern self-taught artists such as William Edmondson, Bill Traylor, and Thornton Dial focusing on their relationship to modernism, their religious inspirations, and their use of materials. Reagan has also worked as a gallery assistant at the Spartanburg Art Museum and has served as the student member on Wofford’s Fine Arts Collection Committee. In the future, Reagan plans to continue studying these topics and to apply her academic interests to a museum-field career. You may contact Reagan at
Lindsey Terrell (2018) hails proudly from the foothills of the mountains of western North Carolina. She has called Marion home since she was a baby but left the small town to pursue a double major in Global Studies and African, African American, & Diaspora Studies with a minor in Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill. Thanks to the Frances L. Phillips Travel Scholarship, she was able to go on a post-graduation trip to Europe to explore her passion for public history. Returning to the region after this journey, she read a lot of books while working at a grocery store, a pharmacy, and finally a small public library. Lindsey plans to study African American culture and identity in the southern Appalachian region and hopes that this work will contribute to a revitalizing of the region that keeps a mindfulness of Appalachian reality at the forefront.
Iryna Voloshyna (2016)was a Fulbright visiting scholar from Ukraine at UNC- Chapel Hill in 2016-2017 and liked it so much that wanted to stay here longer. 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. Also, her interests include immigration narrative, tengible and intengible cultural heritage and promotion of the national identity of folk artists.

She is highly involved in performing and advocating for 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
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. You may contact Jaycie at
Sara Maeve Whisnant (2018) is a Western North Carolina native who has lived in Greensboro for the past several years. After attending UNC-Greensboro, a former Women's College, Sara Maeve became interested in the study of ritual and tradition in women's spaces. She is particularly interested in oral histories and photographs which incorporate the cultural history of Appalachia and how the region's melting pot of cultures influence the people who live there. Sara Maeve holds a Master's in Library and Information Studies from UNCG as well a Bachelors of Arts in English. She currently works at UNC-Chapel Hill's Wilson Library as the Reading Room Supervisor.
Indaia Whitcombe grew up on the coast of Massachusetts and received her B.A. in Anthropology from Bennington College in Vermont. She has worked on community projects in Kenya, lived on the Hopi reservation in Arizona and conducted fieldwork with Berber agropasturalists in Morocco. Other projects have brought her to Varanasi, India where she documented life on the Ganges and to Malawi where she worked with new mothers to tell stories about maternal health. Indaia has brought her photographic eye and passion for storytelling to all of these experiences. She received her certificate in documentary art from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke with a concentration in photography, audio, and writing. As a Lewis Hine Fellow, she spent a year documenting the neighborhood of South Boston, Massachusetts. Indaia is a recent graduate from UNC’s School of Journalism where she earned a M.A. in visual communication. Her current work explores the idea of home for refugees and refugee families. Indaia is interested in visual and participatory ethnography, material culture and tradition and ritual in relation to home-making. She hopes to pursue public folklore to further explore issues of identity, community and place. You may contact Indaia at
Mary D. Williams is a gospel performer and an historian and scholar of African American Southern culture who roots her work in her experience growing up in Smithfield, North Carolina, and learning at her grandmother’s knee. She recently earned a B.A. in American Studies from UNC, but has been researching, performing, and teaching about spirituals, blues, and gospel music for more than twenty years, using music to illustrate the Black experience from the time of enslavement through the Civil Rights era. She collaborates with Professor Timothy B. Tyson to teach “The South in Black and White,” a class about public and civic life in the past, conducted as an expression of public and civic life in the present, and ultimately exploring the future. She holds an appointment as Adjunct Professor of undergraduate studies at the Center of Documentary Studies, Duke University. You may contact Mary at
Tanner White (2018) is a lifelong Virginia native who received his B.A. in English from Virginia Commonwealth University. Having been born into a family with deep Virginia roots and a strong sense of expression through music, art, and craft, he was exposed to a great deal of folk culture such as bluegrass, old-time music, and various types of regional folk art during his formative years. Through his fascination with the region’s history and material culture, as well as his later exposure and subsequent love affair with blues music from the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country, Tanner grew to have an immense appreciation for the folklore of the American South. His first real experience with folklore as a disciplinary field was when he interned at the Blue Ridge Institute during his undergraduate studies. Tanner would later return to the B.R.I. to work as surveyor and field researcher- conducting interviews and recording music of African-American churches in the Blue Ridge region. He also used this time to hone his craft of documenting the cultural landscape of Virginia (and other parts of the South) through photography and film. During his time at UNC, Tanner intends to continue documenting the stories, music, and creations of everyday people through different mediums of sound, photography, film, and text to ensure the preservation of their narratives. In addition, he’d like to develop a musical catalogue of lesser known recorded material of soul, gospel, country and even garage rock that existed in the South in years past. Ultimately, Tanner wants to help create a better understanding of the Southern experience from a diverse, multi-individual perspective in order to promote a more sincere representation of the region.