Faculty Spotlight

Cat Bolten awarded prestigious NEH fellowship to study toll of climate change in Sierra Leone

Catherine “Cat” Bolten, professor of anthropology and peace studies and outgoing director of the Ph.D. program at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, was awarded a highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship in January 2023. Bolten was one of 70 scholars across the country to have been selected for an NEH fellowship, out of 1,030 applicants.

Cat Bolten, professor of anthropology and peace studies

The award will support Bolten’s book project, a work in progress that examines links between food insecurity, human population growth and wildlife depletion, the degradation and contentious politics of land use, and climate change in the country in Sierra Leone. The 12-month fellowship will support her work from January 2024 to December 2024.

When she learned she had won the award, Bolten’s first reaction was disbelief, then giddiness.

“Finally, it settled in that they [NEH] believe in the project as much as I do,” Bolten said. “And that was a great feeling.”

The book, Bolten’s third, is tentatively titled “Unknowing the World: Humans, Chimpanzees, and Climate Change in Sierra Leone.” She has been studying Sierra Leone for two decades, publishing more than a dozen articles and two books, "I Did It to Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone" and "Serious Youth in Sierra Leone: An Ethnography of Generation and Globalization." 

Bolten’s research for this new book began with the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project, which, in the midst of unprecedented deforestation, strives to conserve wild chimpanzees who raid farmers’ crops in order to survive. The project aims to stop farmers from hunting chimpanzees by reimbursing them for lost crops, and minimizing conflicts between people and chimpanzees.

Her award continues the University of Notre Dame’s record success with the NEH, the federal agency that seeks to promote excellence in the humanities and convey lessons of history to Americans. Since 2000, Notre Dame Arts & Letters faculty have earned more NEH fellowships than any other private university in the country.

Caroline Hughes, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh CSC Chair in Peace Studies, serves as the incoming director of Kroc Institute’s doctoral studies program as of July 2023.