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Professor of Anthropology Ralph Bolton Awarded Most Prestigious Honor in His Field

Professor of Anthropology Ralph Bolton is the 2010 recipient of the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology in honor of his long history of achievements in the field.

This annual award, given by the American Anthropological Association, is considered the most prestigious award given in the profession. Previous recipients have included Margaret Mead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, George Foster and Walter Goldschmidt. The award, according to the Association, is given to members whose careers “demonstrate extraordinary achievements that have well served the anthropological profession.”

Bolton’s wide area of research interest has led to a long list of achievements in many different areas, from Peru and the Andes to AIDS education and prevention in the United States and Europe. Nominations cited his groundbreaking work in non-conventional research methods; his contributions to the dissemination of interdisciplinary knowledge beyond the boundaries of traditional anthropology; the practical applications of his findings to nutritional anthropology, ecological anthropology, economic development, sex education and AIDS education; and his devotion to community and civic involvement both within and outside of the field of anthropology.

The award will be given to Bolton at the AAA’s 109th annual meeting in New Orleans in November. Bolton has won three previous awards from the Association: the Stirling Award in Culture and Personality Studies in 1972 and 1974 and the Distinguished Service Award, AIDS and Anthropology Research Group, Society for Medical Anthropology in 2006.

Bolton, a 1961 Pomona graduate who has taught at the College since 1971, received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. His early research integrated biological, psychological and cultural approaches to topics such as aggression and folk illnesses. His research on Andean kinship, marriage, family and social structure, as well as bio-social studies on the Qolla, is considered classic in Latin American anthropology.

Notably, Bolton was one of the first to engage in HIV/AIDS-related research from an anthropological approach and to urge other anthropologists to get involved in researching the epidemic. “At the time, in the mid-1980s, there was a total neglect of the problem despite the fact that in Africa it was becoming apparent this was a serious epidemic. Getting people involved was difficult,” says Bolton.

Bolton has also had a longstanding research interest as an applied anthropologist in seeking ways to improve the lives of poor farmers in communities in the Andes, particularly in the small highland village of Chijnaya, Peru, where he first worked at age 22 while serving in the Peace Corps.

At that time, Bolton organized and directed field operations for an agrarian reform project in Peru, helping families move from flooded lands to a new community. Within 15 months, the new Chijnaya community had 60 houses, a school, a village plaza, a co-op store and a social center. By working as an agrarian coop, children and women were freed from farm work and could, respectively, attend school and embark on projects like spinning alpaca fleece and exporting it to the United States.

Bolton was reunited with the community in 2004 and a year later created The Chijnaya Foundation, which works in partnership with Chijnaya and other rural communities in Southern Peru to design and build self-sustaining projects in health, education and economic development. He brings a group of Claremont Colleges students to the area every summer for volunteer work and continues his own field research in Peru for two to four months of each year. The Foundation has thus far raised more than $300,000 for projects; Bolton and the students’ labor is all pro bono.

Hands-on service is an important aspect of Bolton’s career, from his work in Chijnaya to advocacy for HIV prevention to civic work in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he and his partner own a bed and breakfast. He refers to this as “reciprocity and anthropological ethics” and is considered a pioneering pillar of this movement in anthropology. He spoke on the “duty to collaborate, engage and reciprocate…after field work” at an AAA presidential symposium in 2008 and, more recently, he spoke on the importance of the student volunteers he brings to Chijnaya at the symposium “Undergraduates as Volunteers: Helping and Learning in Peru” at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research.

“To me, a responsible anthropologist is engaged in people’s lives, whether its improving lives in poor Andean communities or improving the health and safety of our undergrad students,” says Bolton, referring to his very popular Human Sexuality class at Pomona College, which pioneered undergraduate discussions on AIDS and HIV when he began teaching it in the late 1980s. Bolton also teaches courses on Andean Cultures, and Gay and Lesbian Ethnography.

Bolton has received many prestigious honors for his work, including the aforementioned AAA honors; three Fulbrights (the maximum for any individual); the AIDS and Anthropology Research Group’s Distinguished Service Award; the Human Relations Area Files’ Clellan S. Ford Award for Cross-Cultural Research; and grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Social Science Research Council, among others.

He has written more than 100 articles and written or edited 13 books, most recently serving as the senior co-editor and author of a chapter of 50 Años de Antropología Aplicada en el Perú: Vicos y Otras Experiencias (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos in Lima) and as author of Cuyes, Camiones y Cuentos en Los Andes: Estudios Antropológicos de la Cultura Expresiva (Editorial Horizonte, 2009), La Vida Familiar en Comunidades Andinas: Estudios Anthropólogicos en la sierra sur del Perú (Editorial Horizonte, 2010) and No Somos Iguales: Agresion, autoridad y conflicto en el altiplano peruano (Editorial Horizonte, 2010).

He is also co-editor on the upcoming books Vicos and Beyond: Applying Anthropology in the Andes (Altamira) and recently contributed a chapter on “Gay Men, Sex, and HIV/AIDS in Belgium” for the book AIDS, Culture and Gay Men (University Press of Florida, 2010).