Holly Mathews

(PhD, Duke, 1982)
Office: 217 Flanagan Building
Telephone: 252-328-9452

About Me

I am a cultural anthropologist with a focus on psychological and medical anthropology. I received my PhD from Duke University in 1982 after conducting dissertation research with the Zapotec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico, on women’s roles and gender ideology. I am currently working on a book about the folktale of La Llorona and how men and women in Oaxaca tell the tale differently to communicate ideas about proper gender roles and behavior.

I have also done field research on traditional medical practices and access to health care in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and the southern U.S. I developed the medical anthropology program at ECU, and I have collaborated with physicians at the Brody School of Medicine on several long-term research projects addressing alternative health care use among the rural elderly, the management of prescription medication regimens among the elderly, and cultural and psychological factors that cause women, including elderly women, to delay seeking treatment for breast cancer. I have an ongoing interest in understanding health disparities and my research has examined barriers to mammography and cervical cancer screening in rural populations. I am currently affiliated faculty in the Leo Jenkins Cancer Center and the ECU Center for Health Disparities, and I serve on the board of directors for the Society for Medical Anthropology. Recently, I have researched breast cancer support groups and investigated the extent to which participation is influenced by compatibility with the underlying psychological and cultural assumptions that such groups adopt when dealing with cancer.

I am part of the ECU Honors College and a past recipient of the Robert and Lina Mays Award for Teaching Excellence. I regularly teach the required senior theory course in anthropology and upper level courses in medical anthropology, psychological anthropology, women’s roles cross-culturally, peoples of Mexico and Guatemala, and women’s health and human rights. I also advise M.A. students in cultural and medical anthropology and teach the required core course for the MA degree in Cultural Anthropology. I also coordinate the undergraduate program and advise about 90 anthropology majors!

On a personal note, my husband is a professor of American Literature in the English Department at ECU and I have two sons and two dogs! We live near Grimesland, NC, on the Tar River, in a house dating to 1820, which we restored. I am active in local history and genealogy and serve on the board for the East Carolina Village of Yesteryear. I also volunteer with the Zoe Restoration House for homeless women and children in Greenville. I work constantly on my garden, love going to the beach and taking out or boat, try to travel when possible, and enjoy watching Duke basketball!

Selected Publications


The Psychology of Cultural Experience, with Carmella C. Moore, co-editor. Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press. 2001.

Herbal and Magical Medicine: Traditional Healing Today. Co-edited with James Kirkland, C.W. Sullivan and Karen Baldwin. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 1996.

Journal Articles

2009 Mathews, Holly F. “Cancer Support Groups and Health Advocacy: One Size Doesn’t Fit All” in, Confronting Cancer: Metaphors, Inequality, and Advocacy, edited by Juliet McMullin and Diane Weiner. Pp: 43-86. Santa Fe: School of American Research,

2005 Mathews, HF. “Uncovering Models of Gender from Accounts of Folktales,” in Finding Culture in Talk: A Collection of Methods, N. Quinn, ed. Pgs.105-156. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

2005 Mitchell, J., Mathews, HF, and Mayne, L. “Differences in Breast Self- Examination Techniques between Causacian and African American Elderly Women." Journal of Women’s Health. 14(6):476-484.

2002 Earp, JL, Eng, E, O'Malley, MS., Altpeter, M, Rauscher, G, Mayne, L, Mathews, HF, Lynch, KS, Qaquish, B. "Increasing the Use of Mammography among Older, Rural, African American Women: Results from a Community Trial," American Journal of Public Health 92:646-654

2000 Mathews, HF "Negotiating Cultural Consensus in a Breast Cancer Self-Help Group," Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14(3):394-413.

1998 Lannin, DR, Mathews HF, Mitchell, J, Swanson, MS, Swanson, FH, Edwards, MS “Influence of Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors on Racial Differences in Late-Stage Presentation for Breast Cancer” Journal of the American Medical Association 279(22):1801-1807.

Book Chapters

1992 Mathews, HF. “Doctors and Rootdoctors: Patients Who Use Both.” In Herbal and Magical Medicine: Traditional Healing Today, Kirkland, JP, Mathews, HF, Sullivan, CF, and Baldwin, KB, eds. Durham and London: Duke University Press, Pp. 68-98.

1992 Mathews, HF. “Killing the Medical Self-Help Tradition among African-Americans: The Case of Lay Midwifery in North Carolina, 1912-1983.” In African-Americans in the South, H. Baer and Y. Jones (eds.). Athens: Univ. of GA Press, Pp. 46-69

Department News

 Dr, Bailey's article, "A New Online Strategy in Teaching Racial and Ethnic Health and Health Disparities to Public Health Professionals" was accepted by the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. It will appear in the 2016 issue of the Journal.

Excavations in the Western Negev Highlands: Results of the Negev Emergency Survey 1978-89  by Dr. Benjamin Saidel and co-author M. Haimon was published December 2014 by British Archaeological Reports. See here for more.


Haley Drabek translated the Tyrrell Water Management Study finalized in 2014 into 9 separate brochures, one for each proposed water management district. She spent six weeks visiting property owners in each district to explain the benefits of participating in the localized water management district and asking for signatures of intent to join.

Anna Claire researched existing oral history booklets at the Tyrrell Visitor Center and then interviewed elderly Tyrrell County residents who grew up in the county. She taped these interviews for safe keeping at the Visitor Center and is currently writing narrative reports of the collected information, one for each conversation partner. These reports will be bound and held at the Tyrrell County Visitor Center for interested readers. Anna Claire has also been involved with a group of children in the county with a diverse ethnic background. Under Anna Claire's direction the children are currently writing a newsletter that will report on the children's experiences of growing up in Tyrrell County, exploring their favorite places, activities, and hopes for their future.  

 Click here to see Anthropology's latest Newsletter

East Carolina ranks number one for the second consecutive year as the provider of graduate degrees for the Register of Professional Archaeologists registrants! Read more here

 Dr. Holly Mathews and Dr. Laura Mazow were recognized for their outstanding teaching methods by students during the Spring 2015 semester from the College STAR.

Student response for Dr. Mathews:

"She gives feedback and forces her students to expand their mind and explore alternate theories or explanations. She wants her students to discuss topics in class instead of just listening to her talk the entire time."

Student response for Dr. Mazow:

"We have a small class which allows many opportunities for a lot of class discussion...She always provides feedback and answers to our journal entries and is always available when we need help." 

Congratulations to them both!

This summer two undergraduate anthropology students at East Carolina University, Tyler Beasley and Anna Lawrence, worked as interns for the Hyde County Office of Planning and Economic Development through the State Employees' Credit Union Foundation public service internship program. Both interns worked on research projects aimed at improving economic development by better understanding the needs of the local business community.


Marina Clough, also an undergraduate anthropology student at East Carolina University, completed an internship at Wanchese Industrial Park and provided an overview of webpages and print media that write or advertise about sailing related events, helped plan the Regatta of Sail NC and conducted 40 interviews with participants.

Dr. Charles Ewen interviewed for the New York Times. Is it the Roanoke Island Colony? Read more to find out!