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American Studies Ph.D. Students

 Name & Description
Frankie Bauer is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and was born in Vallejo, California, although he was raised primarily in Sacramento. Frankie has earned his B.A. degree in History from Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. As an undergraduate at MGSU, Frankie won the J. Calvitt Clarke III award for the best undergraduate paper presented at The University of Central Florida’s interdisciplinary conference. Frankie earned an M.A. in History with a Cherokee Studies emphasis from Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Frankie’s thesis entitled “Civilized settlement & nomadic dominion: Inter-tribal treaties and grand councils between the Cherokee and Osage Indians, 1817-1828” highlights indigenous diplomacy in United States territorial regions. Frankie is interested in Native diplomacy, identity, and linguistics, mainly centering on the Southeastern nations. Frankie is currently learning Cherokee and Choctaw, hoping to draw upon his heritage to create a discourse that allows new definitions of Native identity. Reclaiming and decolonizing indigenous languages are another of Frankie’s passions, and he plans to research how the intersections of linguistics, place, and identity helped define Native American diplomacy. You may contact Frankie at
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
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. You may contact Katelyn at
Tony Royle was raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, but also considers McKenzie, Tennessee home. He holds a B.A. in History (United States History) and a B.A. in Romance Languages (Italian) from UNC Chapel Hill. He also holds a M.A. in American Studies from Ruprecht Karls Universität Heidelberg. Tony is interested in looking at the global perspective within American Studies. He is most interested in studying film, popular culture, race, and migration. He hopes to work with his interests to examine the African American experience in the foreign film industry. In his down time, he loves playing volleyball, painting, and videography. You can reach him at .
Emily McDonnell is a 2nd year PhD student in American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. She is originally from Arizona and is a proud citizen of the Navajo Nation. She is Tó’áhání (Near the Water), born for Bilagáana (Greek-Irish). Her cheii is Tł’ízí Łání (Many Goats), and her nalí is Bilagáana (Greek-Irish). She earned a B.S. with a minor in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona, and a M.P.A. from Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the intersection of geography, collective memory, material culture, and policy in the tourism industry. She is interested in using Indigenous-led tourism to decolonize heritage sites, reclaim cultural narratives about public land and national parks, and as a sustainable form of economic development for Indigenous communities. Her experiences studying abroad in Guatemala and Belize continue to influence her scholarly pursuits. Outside of academia she enjoys running, exploring her new surroundings in North Carolina, and is a coffee aficionado. You may contact her at
Joe O'Connell 2nd year American studies phd student

My name is Joseph O’Connell, and my research gives critical consideration to notions of fieldwork across artistic and scientific practice. I am particularly interested in the figure of the “sound hunter”--its historical genesis within what Jonathan Sterne calls the ensoniment, and the circulation of its ideals in contemporary digital culture. Two anchor points of my current writing are Hoosier regionalist Gene Stratton-Porter’s Music of the Wild (1910) and the prestige podcast field recordings. With these and other representations of acoustic encounter in mind, I am working toward an understanding of fieldwork’s performativity in relation to certain key distinctions of modernity: city and country; human and animal; writing and orality.

My research takes many of its signposts from my ongoing work as a creative artist and public scholar. My list of informal achievements (i.e. so-called “hippie resume”) includes dozens of DIY folk-rock records and performances under the band name Elephant Micah. Alongside my music activities, I’ve earned an MA in folklore studies from the University of Oregon and carried out field research and interpretive exhibits/media for folk arts programs across the U.S. A couple recent highlights of extra-curricular work have been performing at the Festival Internacional de Arte Sacro in Madrid, Spain and consulting on an object theater exhibit about Wisconsin regional musics at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire.

I’m the parent of a 2-year-old kiddo who has a lively research agenda of her own.
Spencer George is a writer and teaching artist hailing from the Carolinas. She holds a B.A. in English and Human Rights with a concentration in Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she spent time traveling the world to research the role of personal storytelling in social justice movements. Her work focuses on the intersection of artistry and community in rural America and the American South, and has been published in The Bitter Southerner, Longreads, and The Adroit Journal, among others, and once received a shout-out in The New York Times. She is the creator and writer of newsletter and podcast GOOD FOLK, and spent the last few years teaching creative writing in rural North Carolina schools. She currently works in development and marketing at literary nonprofit Girls Write Now. Spencer was the 2019 recipient of the Peter S. Prescott Prize for Prose Writing and is at work on a neo-Southern Gothic novel set in a post-climate change South about a mysterious man who appears only in dreams and the individuals who worship him. She can be reached at
Simiyha Garrison is a North Carolina native and current Ph.D. student in the American Studies program with a focus on Foodways. She has a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Africana Studies and History from Winston-Salem State University and a master's degree in Heritage Studies and Public History from the University of Minnesota. Her career trajectory has been a mixture of teaching, museum work, and community organizing. She has a passion for Black Freedom Movements and practicing resistance through love.
Shannon Wheeler is a first year PhD student interested in comparing public expressions of grief and mourning for animalized humans and humanized animals. She obtained her Masters at the University of Alabama while exploring how queer bodies are misrepresented in open-casket funerals.
Irene studies white power organizing in the late twentieth century. She is an associate editor for Southern Cultures and a field scholar at the Southern Oral History Program.
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. You may contact Susie at


Folklore Master’s Students

 Name and Description
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.