Catherine Bolten

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Peace Studies

317 Hesburgh Center for International Studies
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556

(574) 631-5099
cbolten@nd.edu

Catherine Bolten

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Peace Studies


Areas of expertise: Development anthropology; youth; structural violence; poverty, education; food security; Ebola; ethnoprimatology


Catherine Bolten earned her PhD from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in 2008. She has been working in Sierra Leone since 2003, focusing on issues of memory, poverty, morality, and post-war development. She also currently serves as director of doctoral studies for the University of Notre Dame’s  Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where she is a core faculty member.

Bolten’s first book I Did It to Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone (2012) is part of the California Series in Public Anthropology (University of California Press). The book examines the moral frameworks by which people narrated and justified the choices they made to survive the war. Her second book, Serious Youth in Sierra Leone, was published by Oxford University Press in October 2019. The book examines the material practices of youth who, instead of wanting to overthrow a patronage system widely credited with fueling the war, instead yearn to belong to it. This bid to be taken “seriously” is misinterpreted by adults who feel threatened by young people’s facility with technology and the trappings of globalization, causing intergenerational friction. The book is based on field research conducted between 2006 and 2014.

Since 2014, Bolten has been engaged in field research investigating the nexus of wildlife resource competition, food insecurity, population growth, and deforestation in rural Sierra Leone. She has been developing novel methods from ethnobotany and ethnoarchaeology to understand village abandonment and chimpanzee foraging preferences, as well as the fraught colonial history of blaming slash-and-burn agriculture for the invasion of elephant grass and loss of fertile farmland.

Bolten was a member of the international Ebola Anthropology Emergency Task Force, and edited a special issue on Ebola for Anthropological Quarterly. She has consulted for the United Nations World Food Programme and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and has conducted extensive fieldwork on ethnobotany, eco-tourism, and development in Botswana. Her articles appear in American Anthropologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Ethnologie Française, African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, the Journal of Modern African Studies, the Journal of Political Ecology, the Journal of Anthropological Research, and The Journal of Human Rights.