Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

Illinois State University Anthropology Associate Professor Dr. Kathryn Sampeck has received a third prestigious Fulbright award. The six-month project, “Chocolate and Vanilla: Dialogues of Race,” begins in September 2021 and will take place at the Eccles Centre for American Studies in London’s British Library. Sampeck’s prior Fulbright awards, a 1993 Fulbright-Hays Program, and 2000 CIES Senior Scholar Fulbright research project, both took place in El Salvador.

The focus of the upcoming project is the context of cacao and chocolate history in the Caribbean islands.

“A lot of the meanings we associate with chocolate and vanilla have very strong racial connotations—they are some of the same words we use to describe different racial categories,” Sampeck said. “Yet, as a Latin-Americanist and archaeologist, I know that in pre-Columbian history, chocolate and vanilla were twins, basically. They grew in the same agroforest and were part of the same dishes. Vanilla was always talked about in relationship to chocolate, and yet at a certain point, they became opposites. People did not start out talking about chocolate and vanilla in contrasting terms—that came about at the same time there was a real entrenchment of enslaved African labor.”

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck with cacao beans.

Working at the British Library will allow Sampeck to delve into the “amazing array of materials housed at the Eccles Center, including traveler’s accounts, maps, copies of very, very early U.S. American cookbooks, and the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, who was really important in the early establishment of ideas and practices in science.” 

During the program, Sampeck will also look at the current interplay between food, culture, and race.

“In London you have a really diverse, cosmopolitan community,” she said. “You have rising chefs of color – what is their experience, especially through the pandemic? I’m affiliated with the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, and we’ve been doing surveys about the effects of the pandemic on both the cacao producers as well as chocolate consumers and culinary professionals. What’s really clear, as is true in many other contexts, is that people of color are especially hard hit. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the producing end or the culinary professional end. Some of our European data are a little thinner, so I’m hoping that while I’m there I can do further research along those lines. It all ties in to the same elements of how do racial experiences and prejudices make some things worse?”

Department of Sociology and Anthropology Chair and Professor Dr. Joan Brehm said that Sampeck is one of the department’s most valued teachers and scholars.

“She has secured 21 grants and fellowships since arriving at Illinois State University in 2008 and has co-edited three books and single-issue journal issues and has published 38 articles and book chapters, 28 of which were peer-reviewed, and a half-dozen book reviews,” Brehm said. “Combined, the grants and scholarly projects not only reflect Dr. Sampeck’s skills and expertise in writing successful grants and publications, but they also reflect her growing recognition as a globally seminal scholar in her field, and one who is forging new and innovative collaborations that are pushing the boundaries in the production of new knowledge.

“It is no surprise that her outstanding work is being recognized and honored with the Fulbright Fellowship. We are grateful to have Dr. Sampeck as one of our colleagues and wish her all the best on this new and exciting body of scholarship.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Diane Zosky added her praise.

“We are proud of Katie Sampeck and her selection for a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship,” Zosky said. “Dr. Sampeck is a leading scholar in her field, and this opportunity will allow her to advance her research which ultimately advances our teaching and learning environment with our students. We are excited for Dr. Sampeck and all that she contributes as a scholar and teacher.”

As for other scholars or students who might be interested in applying for a Fulbright, Sampeck said: “Absolutely do it! I think Fulbright is one of the best programs out there. It’s a great experience to learn about a place and make a contribution. We have a really good network of Fulbrights at ISU, and I’m part of a committee that helps students, faculty, people from U High who have applied for Fulbrights. We are there and ready to give advice, read through applications, and make comments. There’s a whole process to help people put their best foot forward, and then we have a great success rate.” 

Fulbright logo

The Fulbright Program, now celebrating its 75th anniversary, is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and the United States also provide direct and indirect support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected based on academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

The grants, administered by the Institute of International Education, are competitive and extremely difficult to obtain. For more information on the Fulbright program at Illinois State visit Fulbright | International Studies and Programs – Illinois State or contact ISU Fulbright Scholar Liaison Dr. Erin Mikulec, or Fulbright Program Advisors Dr. Lea Cline and Mr. Jason Roblando.