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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 an anti-racist organizer from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Her research considers how practices of reproductive wellness resist settler colonial and white supremacist systems in southern Appalachia. In her study, she foregrounds the reproductive justice work of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in the Mountain South. In addition to collaborative community projects, Danielle is excited by activist and academic work in sound art and experimental film. She holds a B.A in Political Science from Western Carolina University and an M.A. in History from American University where she practiced public history at national museums. Locally, Danielle has taught oral history at the Southern Oral History Program and the Marian Cheek Jackson Center. Her writing has appeared in Scalawag Magazine, The Activist History Review, and more. Danielle served on the board of the Carolina Abortion Fund and currently lives in Chapel Hill with her partner and three cats. You reach her here 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
Margaret Norman’s (2019) work focuses on Jewish history in the American South, foodways and material culture and rural/urban dynamics. She holds a B.A from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she designed and defended her own concentration in Food Systems, Public Policy, and Nutrition. Margaret grew up between Upstate New York and Vermont where, before she knew what Food Studies was, she experienced the power of local food systems and the connection between food, agriculture, and identity. After graduating from NYU Margaret moved to Birmingham, Alabama where she lived for three years before beginning at UNC, working as a farmer, teacher, and baker and collaborating on public history, oral history and documentary projects with the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Jefferson County Memorial Project, and Birmingham’s Red Mountain Park. You can contact Margaret 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.
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 suburbs of northern New Jersey. Her research focuses on the intersections of landscape, folklore, and anti-capitalist politics, with a particular interest in 21st century expressions of anarchist thought. Maxine believes in an urgent need to bring social justice activism to the center of university life, and she is currently applying those principles in a course she developed at UNC on nationalism and American identity. She received an MA in American Studies from the University of Wyoming in 2016. You may contact Maxine at


Folklore Master’s Students

 Name and Description
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
Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler(2019) was born and raised in southeastern North Carolina, and holds B.A.s in History and Women’s and Gender Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill. She received the Mary Turner Lane Prize for her senior thesis, focused on a little-known Supreme Court case relating to abortion access. Prior to joining the Folklore department, she lived in southern Arizona, engaging in direct action in the borderlands for migrant relief. As an aspiring folklorist, she is interested in the oral histories of those working in reproductive justice, the history of abortion care in North Carolina, and community resistance. In her spare time, she is an avid baker and staff writer for Lilith magazine and the Jewish Women’s Archive. You may contact Justine at
Stefani Priskos(2019) is originally from Huntsville, AL and holds a B.A. in linguistics from Barnard College, with a focus on French and Modern Greek. Since graduating, she has worked in government, translation, and adult education. She found a home in folklore through her work volunteering with a community-based oral history project in New York City, and through involvement in Sacred Harp singing. Stefani is interested in the way personal and community narratives shape how we think about the language(s) we speak, and how folklore can help us understand and make a positive impact in the world around us.
Daniel Reyes is a filmmaker and writer with interests in documentary film, Latinx diaspora of the South, and the diverse traditional music genres of Texas and Mexico, including Conjunto, Cumbia and Corridos. He recently co-produced Cantina, a short documentary about La Perla, one of the last Tejano bars in East Austin, Texas and the effect of gentrification on long-time residents.

Daniel grew up as a Mexican American minority in Oyster Creek, a small Texas town surrounded by chemical refineries. He spent time shooting pool at the local bar with his brothers, listening to his parents sing along to Freddy Fender and Little Joe in their living room, and playing football with the neighborhood kids in the park behind their backyard.

Serving in the Air Force, practicing yoga and meditation, working in a homeless shelter, and traveling to Mexico and China are a few life experiences that have inspired his creative, professional, and academic interests. He received his BA in Asian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
Bri Sikorski (2019) is a witch, astrologer, writer for their blog, Tadpole Magic, and co-host of the podcast, Open Magic. They received their B.A. in Biology and English from UNC-Chapel Hill where they were infatuated with the stories and communities within natural environments, hence their time spent conducting research in the field of behavioral ecology, and the stories we traditionally interact with through literature. Since graduation, they have worked in nonprofit and environmental communications and independent publishing. They are interested in the therapeutic effects of storytelling and have witnessed that magic, tarot, astrology, and other metaphysical practices offer avenues into structured storytelling that allow us to reimagine, reexamine, and become better acquainted with ourselves. They are interested in studying the history and influence of witchcraft in the American South as well as the resurgence of witchcraft and metaphysical practices in popular culture. They are curious as to what meaning this holds for our culture, ourselves as individuals, and how these practices have remained and increased in popularity in traditionally marginalized communities. Bri deeply values the wisdom that each person holds and feels privileged to continue to learn from the experiences of others. You may contact Bri 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.