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
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
Joseph Decosimo (2014), explores folklore, material culture, ethnography, the sounds people make, and the things they say. He has worked as a public folklorist, played music professionally, and taught 9th graders English. He taught Appalachian Studies and fiddle and banjo in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Program. He holds an M.A. in Folklore from UNC and studied the ways that contemporary traditional musicians in East Tennessee make and record music that connects to family and place while appealing to a global audience of Old Time music enthusiasts. As a performing musician, he has toured and taught Old Time fiddle and banjo music at festivals and camps throughout the US, the UK, and Canada. You may contact Joseph at
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
Michaela Dwyer (2015), a North Carolina native, received a B.A. in English and a Certificate in Documentary Studies from Duke University. Broadly, she is interested in how communities form, perform, and document themselves in the process of imagining alternative futures. Her research aims to investigate—via oral history, spatial theory and practice, and digital methodologies—the outgrowths of Black Mountain College in terms of creative and artistic community spaces and their relation to civic life, particularly in the contemporary American South. Before coming to UNC, Michaela was the Bear Postgraduate Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke, where she developed public humanities and arts programming and mentored undergraduates at the nexus of civic engagement and documentary writing. Michaela has worked as an instructor, publications coordinator, and documentarian at the Governor’s School of North Carolina. She is also a nonfiction writer, editor, and dancemaker. You may contact Michaela at
Benjamin Filippo (2016) A yankee via South Florida, Ben has embraced the south through food and agricultural work, seeing both as a asset-based means to revitalize small towns and cities. Before moving to the Old North State with his wife, Ben studied History and Arabic at Tufts University, Anthropology of Food at SoAS (London), and worked for a startup catering healthy lunches to schools in NYC. Since moving to NC, Ben and his wife have accidentally renovated historic homes in Durham and launched local food businesses. Ben currently serves as Executive Director of Preservation Durham. His research interests revolve around articulating the community “value-add” and place-making contributions of local entrepreneurs, past and present, both in the South, and across the United States, through a dynamic combination of storytelling and community impact analysis. You may contact Benjamin 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
Rachel Gelfand (2013), received a B.A. in American Studies from Smith College. With a background in oral history and radio, she is interested in studying feminist and queer histories. Before returning to American Studies, she produced radio pieces, deejayed radio shows, and worked on projects of public memory and oral history. In memory studies, she is pursuing a project concerning a set of Holocaust drawings and intergenerational familial memory. She is originally from the greater Boston area. You may contact Rachel at
Elijah Heyward III‘s (2013), research interests are the Gullah culture and the Penn School in Beaufort, S.C. A native of Beaufort, Heyward formerly lived in Washington, D.C., where he directed the Youth Scholar Academy, a nationwide college access program that he created as a Yale President’s Public Service Fellow. Heyward received his bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in leadership studies from Hampton University and his master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School. You may contact Elijah 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
M.E. Lasseter (2013) earned a B.A. in English Literature-Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College, and a M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. Between those degrees, she lived in Denver and spent her free time wandering Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico—a practice that informs her interest in regional studies. These days, Mel works with vernacular music and the U.S. South, with forays into Southern migrations, the Global South, and Southern identities, among other things. You may contact Mel at
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 has a sense of home spread between the Potomac River, the Great Lakes, and northern Georgia. She graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University with an interdisciplinary major in Native American Studies, where she co-founded a Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance and worked to decolonize and remediate the University’s relationship to the Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho Nations and the American Indian Center of Chicago. During the past four years, she completed a project with the former Chairman of a Minnesota Dakota Community that documented and theorized the chaotic unfolding of federal Indian policy as a self-narrativizing corpus. A former John Lewis Fellow, she continues to study the imaginative configurations and arbitrations of racial governance, and to investigate 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 may contact Heather at
Trista Reis Porter (2014) is interested in a variety of topics falling under the scope of American Art and Material Culture. She received her M.A. in the History of Art from Indiana University in 2014, where her thesis focused on the exhibition history of American folk art over the last century. This interest and approach continues to inform the way she thinks about canons in American visual and material culture, how and by whom those canons have been established, and the ways they are constructed around genres such as pottery and sculpture, and descriptors such as folk, fine, outsider, visionary, and immigrant. An Iowa native, Trista received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Iowa in 2012. You may contact Trista at
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
Mathew Swiatlowski (2013), originally from western Massachusetts, holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a M.A. in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts-Boston. His research interests include recorded music, sound studies, and working class cultural history. He is currently at work on a dissertation project on the circulation of prewar ethnic American vernacular recordings in the postwar reissue music economy. You may contact Mathew 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
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
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
Jackson Hall (2016) was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American Studies. Photographing poetry slams and open-mics, and interviewing North Carolina rappers on the South’s relationship to Hip Hop culture, he explores the intersections of verbal arts, space, community, and identity politics. As an undergrad, he completed a Senior Honors Thesis in the poetry track of the Creative Writing program, earning Highest Honors. Titled Burning the Negatives, his manuscript mined familial conflict and love, myth and memory, and mediations on loved ones long deceased. For him, his passion for folklore mirrors his perspective on poetry as a public good, a meeting place between the personal and the communal, and tool by which narratives are affirmed, shared, and celebrated. You may contact Jackson at
Hannah Herzog (2016) is originally from Dallas, Texas. She holds a BA in Honors English and Political Science from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Her research interests include Jewish history in the South, Holocaust Historiography, and memory studies. Her current research project explores the intersection of the southern Jewish experience and the Holocaust and its aftermath. Specifically, she is interested in how Holocaust survivors negotiated the racial landscape of the American South in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and how survivors experienced white nationalism and confronted their own ethnic identity in this racially divisive time. She has been fortunate in receiving research support via fellowships and grants, which have enabled her to travel to southern states such as Charleston, SC, Atlanta, GA, and Birmingham, AL. In these southern states she conducted archival research and oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors and liberators who relocated to the South. You may contact Hannah 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
Abigail Nover (2016) holds her B.F.A. in Sound Design from the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. There she studied audio recording and engineering, music composition, and design for live performances. In 2014, Abigail began her fieldwork project, Natural Rhythm, through a research fellowship while pursuing her undergraduate degree. She traveled along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago, recording music and creating an online multi-media archive of current American folk music. Her work on Natural Rhythm led Abigail to Music Maker Relief Foundation in Hillsborough, NC, where she worked as an intern for a year. There she has assisted in supporting the organization's mission "to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it." As she pursues her M.A. in Folklore, Abigail's research interests revolve around the ways in which people of marginalized groups create, produce, and promote their own musical traditions. She is interested in different methods people have of taking agency over their own cultures, traditions, and stories in the face of adversity, oppression, and appropriation and what that means for individuals and communities. You may contact Abigail at
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
Caitlin Rimmer (2016) hails from Rhosllanerchrugog, Wales- though arrives most recently from Lancaster, England. She gained her BA hons in English Literature from Lancaster University in 2014, exploring religious martyrdom in American railway narratives. Following this, she spent a year assisting writer Max Haymes in his research on the Queen of the Moaners, Clara Smith, which culminated in a research trip travelling around Georgia and the Carolinas. She enjoys exploring gender presentations in early blues, with a particular love for queer and drag performers such as the inimitable Frankie ‘half-pint’ Jaxon. She is excited (though often baffled) by Southern cooking, so do make recommendations. You may contact Caitlin at
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
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