Theodore Macdonald received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois-Urbana. From 1979-1994 he was Projects Director for the international human rights NGO Cultural Survival at Harvard’s Peabody Museum and then Associate Director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs until 2005. His research and teaching focus on human rights, ethnicity and conflict, Latin America, indigenous peoples and the State, common property, land/natural resource disputes, and individual/collective property and citizenship rights. He recently co-edited, with David Maybury-Lewis, Manifest Destinies and Indigenous Peoples (DRCLAS/Harvard U. Press, 2009) and is currently preparing a reader titled The Anthropology of Human Security: Thinking and Practicing Human Rights (Blackwell)
From 1983-1987 Macdonald was an official observer during negotiations surrounding the armed conflict between Nicaragua’s Miskito Indian organizations and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. He has worked directly on several, high-profile, indigenous/oil disputes in the Upper Amazon and, from 1996-2002, he directed the tripartite (indigenous organizations-environmental NGOs-oil corporations) Harvard Dialogues on Oil in Fragile Environments. In 1997 he undertook the ethnographic research and subsequently served as witness for the community in the precedent-setting 2001 indigenous land and natural resource rights case, Awas Tingni vs. Nicaragua, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
While teaching at Harvard he has received the following distinctions: the Hoopes Prize for Academic Excellence in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010; Certificate of Distinction in Teaching in Fall 2007 and Fall 2008; Knowles Scholar (for Small-Group Instruction) 2009-2010; in 2010 he was nominated for the Marquand Award for Exceptional Advising and Counseling, and was awarded the Barrington Moore Prize for Excellence in Advising, Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, Harvard College.