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Amanda Hilton

About Amanda Hilton

I completed my undergraduate education at Colby College, double majoring in anthropology and religious studies. I am an environmental anthropologist and I have focused on food systems, drawing on political ecology, critical heritage studies, and the anthropology of the senses. I have been fortunate to work on participatory applied anthropological projects throughout my graduate career, in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. My dissertation, Selling or Saving Cultural Heritage? Sicilian Protected Geographical Indication Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, examines the motivations for and impacts of a recent geographical indication for extra-virgin olive oil from the Italian island of Sicily. The dissertation examines the tensions between economic development and cultural commodification amongst Sicilian olive oil producers in a context of increasing economic and cultural globalization, historical poverty, and environmental change. Geographical areas of interest: Sicily, Italy, and the Mediterranean; the US Southwest and West.  

I have worked for environmental conservation organizations, artisanal bakeries, and ski resorts, among others; these work experiences inform my academic interests.

Selected Publications

Hilton, Amanda. 2018. “Collaboration in Anthropology: The (Field) Work of Grounded Practice.” Cambio: Rivista Sulle Trasformazioni Sociali 8 (15): 113–126.


Courses Taught

Ecological Anthropology (Summer 2017)

TA for Dr David Soren's CLAS329: Art History of the Cinema (Spring 2013, Spring 2017) 

TA for Dr Thomas Park's ANTH150B1: Many Ways of Being Human: Anthropological Perspectives (Fall 2013)

TA for Dr Maisa Taha's ANTH150A1: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream (Spring 2014)

I taught English in Italian high schools as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grantee, 2007-2008.

Areas of Study

My MA, "Food Sovereignty at Ndee Bikiyaa (The People's Farm)," defended in May 2015, aimed to contribute to both scholarly and policy discussions surrounding traditional food on Native American Trust lands. My research contributed to understanding of Western Apache foodways in the context of a partnership with Ndee Bikiyaa, the People’s Farm, a project of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Resources Division. The mission of the People’s Farm is to provide high-quality, fresh produce to tribal members at low cost, restoring personal and cultural health among the White Mountain Apache through agriculture. Ndee Bikiyaa operates in a context of rising concerns about public health issues, like type II diabetes, economic issues like unemployment, and the loss of traditional knowledge, including agricultural knowledge. The four aspects of Western Apache foodways this research focused on were: access, preference, knowledge of practices, and meaning. Check out Ndee Bikiyaa's facebook page here:

Entitled, "Selling or Saving Cultural Heritage? Sicilian Protected Geographical Indication Extra-Virgin Olive Oil," this dissertation explores the tensions between protecting and commodifying cultural heritage vis a vis geographical indication systems by delving into the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for extra-virgin olive oil from Sicily, Italy. In the European Union (EU), PGIs guarantee, and therefore help to create, the “authenticity” of food, the place in which the food is produced (terroir), and the people involved. However, a tension lies in the fact that these efforts promote “authentic” cultural heritage by commodifying and selling it globally. This study explores the effects of the process of legally defining and then selling cultural heritage, as embodied by extra virgin olive oil “Sicilia,” on the people and places it is meant to protect or preserve. Focusing on the olive oil producers celebrated in marketing materials and “protected” by the PGI, this research asks (1) what are the human-environment relationships that produce Sicilian olive oil (which the PGI seeks to protect), and (2) how is the PGI designation actually affecting these relationships and practices, that is, whether and how the commodification of this food product is protecting producers and production practices. Ethnographic research methods employed include olive harvest and pressing participant observation, ethnobotanical walking interviews, and semi-structured interviews.


Food Security and Social Justice Network (FSSJN): 

I am on the leadership team for this graduate student-led group with the following mission: to facilitate information-sharing, solidarity, and collaboration among food systems and social justice researchers and practitioners at the University of Arizona and from the Tucson and broader borderlands community.


Pima County Food Alliance:

Since February 2014, I have been on the Leadership Council for the PCFA, a local grassroots food policy initiative that has worked on such issues as urban agriculture zoning code changes and policies supporting the consumption in school cafeterias of school gardens' produce. 


RA for Dr. Diane Austin in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) 2012-Present

Watershed Management Group/Community Food Bank Urban Landscape Project, Fall 2012: In partnership with the Watershed Management Group and the Community Food Bank this research focused on how Tucsonans use and would like to use the outdoor spaces at their homes and in their neighborhoods, focusing particularly on "environmentally sustainable" practices such as water harvesting, mulching, and gardening. We also sought to better understand Tucsonans' ideas and beliefs about southwestern landscapes and what types of landscapes should be supported in our community. A mixed methods approach was used, which involved the development of a survey, an interactive mapping activity, and a picture sorting activity. 

Community Food Bank Survey Project, Spring 2013 and Spring 2014: In partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, a BARA team designed and administered an annual client satisfaction survey in Spanish and English at all branches of the Community Food Bank (Amado, Green Valley, Marana, Nogales, and Tucson). This survey is meant as a template that the CFB may continue to use in the future to build a meaningful database in order to better understand the factors impacting food security in Southern Arizona. 

The following year, Spring 2014, the survey was altered to address emerging CFB data needs and again administered by a BARA team. The results from both years are available in report formats--please contact me if you are interested in seeing them. The reports were submitted back to the CFB and the BARA team did multiple presentations for CFB Board, staff, and volunteers on the results. 

This effort continued in the spring of 2015, with other BARA researchers at the helm. 

Southern Paiute Consortium Grand Canyon Citizen Science Monitoring River Trip, Summer 2013, 2014, 2015: BARA has been involved with assisting the Southern Paiute Consortium, or SPC, conduct its annual monitoring of culturally and ecologically significant sites along the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon since 1993. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is entirely traditional Paiute territory and the monitoring trips are run in conjunction with the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC) and are a part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. In 2013 I conducted water quality monitoring experiments with the youth on the trip to track changes in dissolved oxygen, pH, and nitrate levels as we moved further away from the dam. In 2014 my role focused more specifically on assisting with photo-matching at archaeological, cultural, and ecological sites.

In all years, BARA researchers collaborated with SPC members to write the annual report of the monitoring trip's findings, which are submitted to the National Park Service. 

Composting Toilet Assessment in Colinas del Sol, Nogales, Sonora, Fall 2015-Present: BARA was a partner on EPA Border grants in the past which helped to fund the construction and monitoring of composting toilets that use no water in informal neighborhoods in Nogales. Such neighborhoods lack connection to city infrastructure like sewer and water. As a result, many such households use pit latrines, which flood in our Southwestern monsoon season, and the sewage is carried back north into the United States by the Santa Cruz river. Other households install their own septic, the pumping of which is irregular and expensive, especially since potable water is delivered by trucks and is costly. The composting toilets are low-tech, requiring only sawdust and a tight seal. In 2015, BARA researchers returned to monitor the toilets again and discuss with toilet owners the benefits and drawbacks of the design. I am the Team Leader on this project, with a wonderful team of 4 interns and 1 other RA. 

SEAHEC Summer Health Careers Camp, Summer 2013: South-Eastern Arizona Health Education Center (SEAHEC) organized a camp for which I worked as a consultant/counselor on the Tohono O'odham Nation. The camp taught participants research skills and culminated in participants presenting research projects to their elders and interested community members after only 4 days. The camp took place in Hickiwan and Sells, Arizona. Some of the research skills covered included citation skills, how to conduct internet research, designing and writing survey and interview questions, and field note-taking. The group of students with which I worked focused on how traditional foods can help Tohono O'odham tribal members prevent diabetes and the entire group was able to visit TOCA's (Tohono O'odham Community Action) farm. 

RA for Dr. Susan Shaw, Associate Professor in the School of Anthropology, February 2014-present: My work with Dr. Shaw is on her Medication Adherence and Health Literacy Project, a follow up to Shaw's Culture and Health Literacy study. I am the quantitative data analyst for the project, and my work includes the building of survey instruments in online software such as qualtrics and producing monthly descriptive data reports. This research is centered in Massachusetts, which may be a belweather for effects in the rest of the country due to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

Health literacy is a patient’s ability to understand and act on a doctor's instructions. It plays a pivotal role in management of chronic diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol. The Affordable Care Act will invest billions of dollars in community health centers over the next decade, and will enroll tens of millions of individuals in insurance coverage. Cost control measures such as formulary changes and increasing copays, which may profoundly shape patients’ relationships with their medications, will become increasingly common. This study combines qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand how medication adherence is influenced by both increasing patient costs and by cultural health beliefs among patients from five ethnic groups (Vietnamese and Russian immigrants, African-American, Hispanic, and white). 

RA for Dr. TJ Ferguson, Professor in the School of Anthropology, Fall 2014: I am responsible for a literature review of the ethnographic literature on salt pilgrimages made by Tohono O'odham and Gila River Indian Community peoples from their homelands in south-southeastern Arizona to the salt flats on the northern shores of the Gulf of California in Mexico. Dr. Ferguson's team will be doing survey work to identify salt pilgrimage trails that go through Organ Pipe National Monument in winter 2014-2015. 


Research Interests

Environmental anthropology, the anthropology of food, human-environment interaction, political ecology, Geographical Indication and other third-party certification systems, cultural heritage and preservation, place identity, multispecies studies, sacred places, social and environmental justice

Amanda Hilton's picture

Contact Information


2007: BA in Anthropology, BA in Religious Studies from Colby College

2015: MA in sociocultural anthropology from University of Arizona 

2020: PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Arizona

Dissertation Title

Selling or Saving Cultural Heritage? Sicilian Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil