Ralph Bolton

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
With Pomona Since: 1971
  • Expertise


    As an anthropologist specializing on Latin America, Ralph Bolton’s early research focused on the ethnography of Quechua-speaking communities in highland Peru, with topics as diverse as social conflict, coca consumption, guinea pigs and witchcraft. He also has a secondary ethnographic focus on Scandinavia, notably Norwegian culture. Beginning in the early 1980s, he was involved for two decades on anthropological issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a medical anthropologist, he published extensively on human sexual behavior and AIDS prevention, especially with respect to gay communities. Much of this work was carried out in Belgium and resulted in approximately 20 publications, some co-authored with students.

    As an offshoot of his interest in gay male sexuality, gay cultures and global gay rights issues, he has investigated the life of Witter Bynner, a gay poet who was a major figure in Santa Fe, New Mexico, society and intellectual circles in the early 20th century. He is currently doing research on the lives of gay men in Morocco.

    Bolton also has a longstanding interest in seeking ways to improve the lives of poor farmers in the Andes, particularly the village of Chijnaya, Peru, where he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. He revisited Chijnaya in 2004 and a year later created The Chijnaya Foundation, which works with rural communities on the Peruvian Altiplano to design and build self-sustaining projects in health, education and economic development. With the Foundation’s volunteer board, he has raised more than one million dollars to support projects in over 30 communities and engaged more than 100 students in volunteer activities there. He is now president emeritus of The Chijnaya Foundation. For his work in Peru, he received the Sargent Shriver Award for Humanitarian Excellence from the National Peace Corps Association and the Franz Boas Award for Excellence in Anthropology from the American Anthropological Association, the highest awards given by these organizations.

    Research Interests

    Bolton’s wide area of research interest in human sexuality and medical anthropology 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. In addition to his work in medical anthropology and gay studies, he has contributed significant work in psychological anthropology and applied anthropology.

    Areas of Expertise


    • Medical Anthropology
    • Human Sexuality
    • Gay Culture 
    • Homosexuality
    • Cultural Anthropology
    • Biology and Behavior


    • HIV Prevention


    • Chijnaya, Peru
  • Work


    No Somos Iguales (Peru, Editorial Horizonte, 2010)

    CUYES, CAMIONES Y CUENTOS EN LOS ANDES: ESTUDIOS ANTROPOLOGICOS DE LA CULTURA EXPRESIVA (Guinea Pigs, Trucks and Folktales in the Andes: Anthropological Studies in Expressive Culture) (Lima, Peru: Editorial Horizonte, 2009)

    Co-edited with M. Singer, Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Cultural Approaches (Gordon & Breach, 1992)

    Co-edited with J. Vincke, R. Mak, M. Met Mannen: Welzijn, Realities & Seksualiteit (C.G.S.O., 1991)

    Editor, The AIDS Pandemic: A Global Emergency (Gordon & Breach, 1989)

    Editor, The Content of Culture: Constants and Variants (HRAF Press, 1989)

    With J. Vincke and R. Bleys, "Gay Men, Sex, and HIV/AIDS in Belgium" (pp. 250-268) in AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men (D. Feldman, ed., University Press of Florida, 2010)

  • Education


    1972, Ph.D., Anthropology
    Cornell University

    1968, Master of Arts, Anthropology
    Cornell University

    1962, Bachelor of Arts, cum laude
    Pomona College

    Recent Courses Taught

    • Andean Cultures
    • Human Sexuality
    • Summer Reading and Research
  • Awards & Honors

    Awards & Honors

    American Anthropological Association, Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service, 2010

    Society for Medical Anthropology, Board of Directors, 2007 to present

    Chijnaya Foundation, founder of Peru-based non-profit that develops humanitarian development projects, 2005

    Stirling Award for Culture & Personality Studies (twice)

    C.S. Ford Award for Cross-Cultural Research

    Phi Beta Kappa