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A Graduate’s Impact: The Kupferer Fellowship

By: Sarah Coyne

Eric Thomas picture
Eric Thomas on a trip to Chile


Dr. Harriet Kupferer was one of the early PhDs in Anthropology from UNC- Chapel Hill.  She was awarded her degree in 1961 upon completion of her dissertation, “The “principal people,” 1960: a study of cultural and social groups of the Eastern Cherokee.” She actively supported the growth of Anthropology in the Southeast U.S., serving as president of the Southern Anthropological Association in 1974-75, and as the founding chair of the Department of Anthropology at UNC-Greensboro, where she taught for twenty-three years.

Through a generous donation from Dr. Kupferer in 2010, Carolina’s Department of Anthropology established the Kupferer Award, a travel fellowship that supports the field research of first year doctoral students.

With the aid of Dr. Kupferer’s travel fellowship, Eric Thomas traveled to the Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia where he worked with local firewood traders. His work examined the protests unfolding in the region that started from the introduction of Chilean government subsidies. His current interests tie his first-year graduate research experience with new work on fishing and aquaculture sectors in southern Chile.

Samantha King’s project in the Dominica last summer investigated women in agricultural production. Although both women and men find creative ways of remaining outside the state-regulated venues of local food exchange, Samantha has noticed that women in particular support themselves as women, and assert independence from men. Uncovering this gendered distinction, Samantha continues conducting research on the Dominica food economy. Her current investigation asks, “under what conditions does local food production continue to provide a sustainable livelihood for farmers?”

Samantha King doing fieldwork in the Dominica last summer
Samantha King doing fieldwork in the Dominica last summer

This travel and research award allows students to test their interests. Recipients gain an intercultural exchange that combines research with experience and sets them up for future work.