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Elizabeth EngelhardtElizabeth Engelhardt is looking closely at the history and culture of boarding houses in the U.S. South.

“There is a surprising number of stories of people re-inventing themselves, passing their gender, passing their race,” she reports.

Engelhardt’s research during her current Faculty Fellowship Program begins not by defining the boarding house, but using research to tell their stories.

“The difference between a boarding house and a hotel, between a boarding house and a brothel… restaurant, kitchen, a cafe, diner, all of those things is incredibly messy,” she says.” Every time, especially in the U.S. South, you sit down to say well this is going to count as a boarding house and this is not, I think you are faced over and over again by complications. In my mind, that’s where the really interesting research questions are.”

Engelhardt has no classes during her semester leave. However, she has enjoyed a fourth year seminar on Southern Studies she taught, especially when the class agreed on the challenge of reading a book a week. In addition, she says: “I love that moment when a student offers the experience and expertise that they have and walks away the conversation having learned — not just from me — but the other people in the classroom.”

The Shelton Reed Distinguished Professor of American Studies, who grew up in Hendersonville, North Carolina says she feels a strong tie to her Western North Carolina roots. When asked about a book that changed her life, Engelhardt recalls her godmother Imogene Eaker, who among her many ways as a lifelong learner, wanted to learn how to build a house in her 60s, so she joined a housing crew for a summer.

“Imogene was very deliberate in the books she gave me as gifts, and she always gave me books as gifts,” Engelhardt recalls. “She is the person who gave me the first book from an Appalachian author, one of the books by Wilma Dykeman. She gave me my first Margaret Atwood book. When I was eight, nine and ten, she gave me books that had girls as heroes, going off on adventures. But in particular, that book about Appalachia made me think about the mountains, made me think about the community my family lived in.”

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