Sunday, December 26, 2010
Santa Fe Anthropologist Caps Career With Top National Award
By Kate Mcgraw
For the Journal
An idealistic child of the '50s, Ralph Bolton left a graduate program in political science at MIT and entered the Peace Corps in 1961. He spent three years in the Andean villages of Peru and the experience changed his life — the Peace Corps, Bolton would comment nearly 50 years later, "gave me the field experience that convinced me to change fields and become an anthropologist."
Recently, the Santa Fe resident was awarded anthropology's highest honor, the Frank Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology, in recognition of his years of teaching, writing and advocating for the people he first studied.
Peace Corps volunteer Bolton was given the daunting task of helping to move the people of Chijnaya (pronounced "cheek-naiyah") from the shores of Lake Titicaca, where they had experienced a year of devastating flooding, to land higher on the altiplano. Chijnaya's current mayor, Bruno Callata, recalled those years as difficult — all the villagers and Bolton, he said, "slept like sardines in a row" in temporary makeshift shelters.
American Anthropological Association President Virginia Dominguez said Bolton "has made exceptional contributions to anthropology with respect to the breadth of scientific knowledge that goes beyond traditional anthropology."
"He is recognized for his detailed ethnographic research with a strong emphasis on cross-cultural comparisons," she said. "He blends traditional qualitative participant observation techniques with sophisticated quantitative methodologies that elucidate his findings."
Bolton, who still teaches part time at Pomona College in California, has lived in Santa Fe for 15 years. He and his partner, Robert Frost, bought the old Witter Bynner estate on East Buena Vista Street and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast called the Inn of the Turquoise Bear, which Frost manages. In 1999, the pair received the Heritage Preservation Award from the city of Santa Fe and, in the next year, from the state of New Mexico for their restoration of the estate.
Bolton often hosts private mini-conferences at the inn on topics of his interests, ranging from the humanities to the biological and social sciences, at no cost to participating scholars. At Pomona, he has taught courses on human sexuality, Andean cultures, and gay and lesbian ethnography.
"Professor Bolton brings a wealth of applied anthropology experience to the classroom from his work on Andean culture and his work urging anthropologists to get involved researching the HIV-AIDS epidemic in its early years," Pomona Dean Cecilia Conrad said.
Five years ago, Bolton founded The Chijnaya Foundation, which works in partnership with rural communities in southern Peru to implement self-sustaining projects in health, education and economic development.
For example, with the help of micro-loans, smoke-free stoves have been installed in more than 250 homes. The stoves are built on-site from adobe and metal parts, with chimneys. Previously, the women and children spent hours in small kitchens over open fires whose smoke created respiratory and visual health problems, Bolton said. "The smoke was so bad, our volunteers couldn't stay in the kitchens, and villagers were spending hours each day in that environment."
Another micro-loan program was used by more than 200 families to build improved livestock shelters, mainly for dairy cattle, improving milk production and increasing family incomes by as much as 40 percent.
The foundation also provides scholarships for village youth to attend regional colleges and universities. "We have sent more than 40 young people to school so far, 28 just this year, and many of them are multiyear scholarships," Bolton said.
Bolton is well known among his fellow anthropologists for promoting interdisciplinary cooperation, Dominguez said. Author of more than 100 scholarly articles and writer or editor of 13 books, Bolton was one of the first to engage in HIV/AIDS-related research from an anthropological approach and to encourage his peers to get involved in researching the epidemic.
Bolton said his method goes back to his original intellectual curiosity. "If you want to understand human behavior, you need to incorporate all these different disciplines," he said. "That's the conceptual basis of our foundation — integrated community development. Sustainability of the work is our goal."
At 71, Bolton has been urging his fellow anthropologists to "create an Anthropologists Without Borders organization to facilitate the process of giving back."
In November, he received the Boas award at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.
"I was completely surprised," he said. "Last year, the villages where I work in Peru got together and threw a gigantic party for my 70th birthday in true Andean fashion — complete with hundreds of people in attendance, two competing bands, four folkloric dance troupes, endless speeches, poetry recitations, a communal meal and gift-giving. I thought nothing could ever top that.
"This event came close," Bolton said of the Boas award ceremony. "I was deeply moved."
The Chijnaya Foundation
7344 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87505