Skip to main content

Eli Kuto (he/him)

PhD Student in the Department of Anthropology

Eli Kuto (he/him)

You can become anything if you are determined and diligently pursue your goals.”

Eli Kuto is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Eli studies the ways food storage methods affect food (in)security in northern Ghana. He has received several prestigious awards, including the Mellon Cluster Fellowship in African Studies and the new Fluehr-Lobban Anthropology Research Award, funded by Program of African Studies (PAS) alumni.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research broadly investigates the ways food storage strategies can mitigate conditions of food insecurity in northern Ghana.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
A couple of things inspired my current research. The first was my desire to become a trained archaeobotanist/paleo-ethnobotanist. This passion was born out of the absence of a trained archaeobotanist in my former department—the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Ghana, where I had both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. My dream is to teach, train, and mentor students, and in the long term, I aim to build the first paleoethnobotany/archaeobotany laboratory at the University of Ghana.

The second was a 2020 report published by the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, the United Nation’s (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which stated that undernourishment was rising in the continent due to a series of factors. I hope that my work will directly tackle these issues through an archaeological perspective that fosters traditional approaches to dealing with food insecurity.

What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
I have learned not to take lightly classroom conversations about ideas that have the potential of being churned into groundbreaking studies. My academic adviser tells me that graduate school is one of the best, if not the best places to develop excellent research ideas. I say this because I once sat in a graduate class during my postgraduate days where I argued for the integration and utility of a kind of emerging technology in anthropological discourse, but this idea was dismissed on grounds of non-feasibility. Today, it is a big thing, and I am glad I thought about it, too.

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I admire the amazing anthropology graduate students/workers for creating an exceptional support niche. Graduate school is tough, and my colleagues find ways to make the journey worthwhile. I learn so much from my brilliant peers during class discussions.

Why Northwestern?
I chose Northwestern for several reasons. First, I was drawn to the four-field approach by the Department of Anthropology, which allows a student to be grounded theoretically and methodologically in archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. The Department of Anthropology also promotes the development of skills and expertise in African archaeology through some of its astute faculty and through the Program of African Studies.

Second, I was motivated by the research expertise of my current adviser, Professor Amanda Logan, whose research and expertise in food security, foodways, social archaeology, and archaeobotany dovetail with my interests. I thought that her in-depth knowledge of African archaeology, especially the archaeology of Ghana and West Africa was worth tapping into.

Finally, I will say that I did my research and found out that Northwestern is a great university, with ultramodern facilities, amazing faculty, and resources to support students throughout their studies.

How do you unwind after a long day?
I either go for a walk or ride my bike at the beach when it's not ultracold. I would go to the gym when it is cold. I sometimes play soccer.

What books are on your bedside table?
Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy by Michael Moriarty, The African Genius by Basil Davidson, my Bible, and a notepad.

What inspires you?
A couple of things inspire me, but the most profound ones include the everyday opportunity to learn and acquire new knowledge. I am also driven by the desire to make a significant contribution to the field of archaeology and how my work will inform and improve development efforts on food security. The pursuit of personal growth challenges me intellectually and personally, especially being a first-generation doctoral student. Finally, I am motivated by the inspiring mentors and professors who demonstrate great passion for their work.

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
You can become anything if you are determined and diligently pursue your goals. The path to greatness or excellence is not linear but multi-dimensional. This is especially because the wheel of excellence grinds slowly. There comes a time when people will try to dissuade you, and I have experienced this a couple of times. However, write your own success story, and don't let what other people say define you.

Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
I remember a time when I missed out on a grant that I badly needed due to something I glossed over in the grant proposal. I did not subject this grant application to a peer review because I was running late. I have subsequently learned to manage my time well and to always let someone else look over my applications before I submit them.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am proud to be a first-generation doctoral student in a prestigious university like Northwestern, and on a 

Publish Date: May 7, 2024

If you know a graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, graduate faculty member, staff member, or a member of our TGS alumni population who would make a great candidate for our TGS Spotlight Series, please complete this brief TGS Spotlight Series Nomination Form.