Holly Mathews

(PhD, Duke, 1982)
Office: 217 Flanagan Building
Telephone: 252-328-9452
E-mail: mathewsh@ecu.edu

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 Caucasian 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