MSc (Hons) Ethnobotany
Fundamentally interdisciplinary: connecting anthropology, botany, natural resource management and environmental history
Anthropology prides itself on its inclusive and interdisciplinary focus. It takes a holistic approach to human society, combining biological and social perspectives.
All of our Anthropology Master’s programmes are recognised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as having research training status, so successful completion of these courses is sufficient preparation for research in the various fields of social anthropology. Many of our students go on to do PhD research. Others use their Master’s qualification in employment ranging from research in government departments to teaching to consultancy work overseas.
Ethnobotany is the study of the interrelationship between people and plants, particularly the way in which plants impact on human culture and practices, how humans have used and modified plants, and how they represent them in their systems of knowledge. It is fundamentally interdisciplinary: connecting anthropology, botany, natural resource management and environmental history, to mention only the most central of the contributing subjects.
The programme is taught collaboratively with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (a World Heritage Site) and DICE.
About the School of Anthropology and Conservation
Kent has pioneered the social anthropological study of Europe, Latin America, Melanesia, and Central and Southeast Asia, the use of computers in anthropological research, and environmental anthropology in its widest sense (including ethnobiology and ethnobotany). We maintain an active research culture, with staff working in many different parts of the world.
Our regional expertise covers Europe, the Middle East, Central, Southeast and Southern Asia, Central and South America, Amazonia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Polynesia. Specialisation in biological anthropology includes forensics and paleopathology, osteology, evolutionary psychology and the evolutionary ecology and behaviour of great apes.
Most recent Research Assessment Exercise: 50% of our research rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” with excellent ratings for prestige.
Anthropology at Kent was ranked 6th in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2015, and has consistently received high ratings in the National Student Survey.
The MSc is an intensive 12-month programme. You take six coursework modules over the first six months and then undertake a project and write a dissertation in the second six months.
Please note that modules are subject to change. Please contact the School for more detailed information on availability.
SE802 - Research Methods in Social Anthropology
The module will consist of twelve two hour classes consisting of short introductions to weekly topics by the course convenors followed by practical exercises to allow students to experience and learn by doing several key methods and tools used in anthropological fieldwork. Assignments based on the use of several methods, a research proposal abstract for their future dissertation project, and an essay will be used to assess the student's achievement of learning outcomes. Seminar topics may include: Introduction to research in the natural and social sciences, participant observation, choosing informants, interviewing, processing interview data, analysis and presentation of qualitative data, questionnaire design and analysis, developing an integrated research design, running workshops and focus groups, ethics and consent.
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE831 - Environmental Anthropology
This module introduces some of the main theoretical approaches and some practical applications of the study of environmental anthropology (in particular, the cultural ecology of Steward, the concepts of carrying capacity and limiting factors as used in eco-systematic models, historical and political ecology, and new approaches deriving from post-modern anthropology). It considers some of the main cultural and social aspects of the human-environment interface, such as the relationship between social organisation and ecology; alternative forms of land use and management; the impact of processes of globalization on human interactions with the environment in a number of non-western societies; and the cultural dimension of human adaptation to the environment. The middle section of the module looks at five categories of subsistence strategy and the environments they occur in, foraging and hunting (in arid, arctic and tropical forest ecosystems), fishing (coastal marine environments), pastoralism (in grassland and arid ecosystems), low intensity and high intensity agriculture (in arid, grassland and tropical environments). For each of these production systems we will also examine a complementary contemporary issue in conservation and/or development. These issues may involve great debates in theory, problems of methodology or issues in applying research results to solve practical problems.
Throughout the module we address methods and problems of applying research in environmental anthropology to related development, conservation and human rights issues, and in particular this year we look at adaptation to climate change among Indigenous peoples.
Week 1 Theory and Explanation in Environmental Anthropology: Wildlife Trade
Week 2 Human-Nature Relationships: Cultural Ecology
Week 3 Ecological Anthropology: Complex Adaptive Systems
Week 4 Historical Ecology: The evolution of Biocultural diversity?
Week 5 Political Ecology and Environmental Degradation
Week 6 Discursive Approaches: Environmentalisms
Week 7 Foraging societies, hunters, and the bushmeat trade
Week 8 Fishers, Sea Tenure, and Common Property Rights
Week 9 Pastoralists, Grasslands and Protected Areas
Week 10 Low Intensity Agricultural Systems: Swidden Systems
Week 11 High Intensity Agricultural Systems, the Green Revolution and GM crops
Week 12 Climate Change: Studying local knowledge and responses
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE832 - Ethnobiological Knowledge Systems
Ethnobiology, anthropology and indigenous knowledge
The structure of ethnobiological categories
Ethnobiological classifications: the relations between categories
Variation, change and the evolution of ethnobiological categories
The cultural transmission of knowledge
Knowledge and use of domesticates
Classifying secondary biodiversity and ethnoecological knowledge
Constructions of nature, natural history intelligence, and natural species as symbols,
Plants in the evolution of human health and healing
Medicinal plants and theories of sickness and healing
Measuring the significance of biological resources: the valuation debate
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE836 - Introduction to Botanical Ethnobotany
Plant Resource Pools
a) Use of plant keys for identification. b) Plant collecting for voucher specimens.
Processing and mounting plant specimens.
Underutilised food plants - Sourcing appropriate botanical information.
a) Two important plant families. b) Writing a plant profile.
a) Food plants. b) Medicinal plants.
Student Plant reports.
Student Plant reports.
Material culture basket making.
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE837 - Plant Resources and their Conservation
Botanical information resources
The role of the herbarium
Plant systematics and family sorts
Taxonomy of selected families
Collecting plant specimens under tropical conditions
Ethnobotanical research at Kew
History of economic botany and the role of the botanic garden
Chinese herbal medicine
Plant phytochemistry in relation to ethnobotany
The module will ordinarily consist of 12 two-hour classes consisting of a 30-45 minute introduction by the teacher, followed by a discussion or practical. These are spread over four two-day blocks taught at Kew.
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE840 - Contemporary Issues in Ethnobotany
This module grows out of the enormous possibilities and challenges presented to ethnobotanists and environmental anthropologists during the twenty-first century: both to the huge potential created by cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural exchange, and to the enormous challenges that emerge as academia becomes increasingly accountable to a wider range of interests, problems and stakeholders amidst today's planetary crisis. It focuses on the multi-dimensional, complex and dynamic aspects of ethnobotanical, ethnoecological and human-environmental relations, with a special emphasis on the complex social roles and responsibilities of the subfields of ethnobotany and environmental anthropology. Drawing on recent articles and case-study materials from a diverse range of disciplines and perspectives, the module seeks to critically assess some of the key contemporary, at times controversial, issues relating to the material, symbolic, ecological, economic, cultural, historical, institutional and political dimensions of human-plant and human-environment relations.
Topics covered include:
-The multidimensionality of human-plant interactions
-Approaches to ethnobiological variability and complexity
-Ethnobotany, socio-environmental change and globalisation
-Ethnoecology and symbolic ecology
-Ethnobotany, ethnoecology and historical ecology
-The chemical ecology of human-plant interactions
-Plants, profit, property and power
-Complexity, resilience and adaptive management
-Agrobiodiversity, food and subsistence
-Ethnobotany and forest product development
-Conservation and environmental governance
Credits: 20 credits (10 ECTS credits).
SE839 - Dissertation: Ethnobotany
Throughout the terms preceding the initiation of the dissertation module students will be encouraged by their supervisor and the instructors of other modules they take to develop ideas for their dissertation research project. They will also be taught appropriate research methods. The final double weighted essay of their pre-dissertation will draw together materials they have learned through the preceding terms and will synthesise these with students' research interests in order to set up a prospectus for the thesis proposal itself. Students who are then passed into the dissertation module by the examiners meeting will, on this basis, complete a written plan for their research project with advice from their tutor. This will be assessed by the tutor and by one other member of the post-graduate anthropology teaching staff, and when this is approved the student and his or her tutor will intensively discuss methods of data collection, theoretical models for the analysis of this material, and the use and integration of research methods into both its preparation and its final presentation. The student will then independently work on the thesis over the summer until mid-September when it will be submitted. Throughout this time the student will be able to gain supervision through electronic mail.
Credits: 60 credits (30 ECTS credits).
Assessment is by written reports, oral presentations and the dissertation.
This programme aims to:
- provide you with a broad range of knowledge in the major aspects of the subject, showing how these involve connections between a range of different academic disciplines
- provide you with advanced level knowledge of the theoretical, methodological and policy issues relevant to understanding the subdiscipline
- provide you with advanced level knowledge of the theoretical and methodological issues relevant to understanding the subject
- introduce you to a variety of different approaches to ethnobotanical research, presented in a multidisciplinary context and at an advanced level
- facilitate your educational experience through the provision of appropriate pedagogical opportunities for learning
- provide you with appropriate training if you are preparing MPhil/PhD theses, or going on to employment involving the use of ethnobotanical research
- make you aware of the range of existing material available and equip you to evaluate its utility for your research
- cover the principles of research design and strategy, including formulating research questions or hypotheses and translating them into practicable research designs
- introduce you to the philosophical, theoretical and ethical issues surrounding research and to debates about the relationship between theory and research, about problems of evidence and inference, and about the limits to objectivity
- develop skills in searching for and retrieving information, using library and internet resources in a multidisciplinary and cross-national context
- introduce you to the idea of working with other academic and non-academic agencies, when appropriate, and give you the skills to carry out collaborative research
- develop your skills in writing, in the preparation of a research proposal, in the presentation of research results and in verbal communication
- help you to prepare your research results for wider dissemination, in the form of seminar papers, conference presentations, reports and publications, in a form suitable for a range of different audiences, including academics, policymakers, professionals, service users and the general public
- give you an appreciation of the potentialities and problems of ethnobotanical research in local, regional, national and international settings
- ensure that the research of the Department’s staff informs the design of modules, and their content and delivery in ways which can achieve the national benchmarks of the subject in a manner which is efficient and reliable, and enjoyable to students.
Knowledge and understanding
You will gain knowledge and understanding of:
- ethnobotany as the comparative and interdisciplinary study of the relationship between people and plants
- specific themes in ethnobotany eg plant conservation, medical ethnobotany, ethnobotanical knowledge systems
- cultural and biological diversity and an appreciation of its scope
- several ethnographic regions of the world including north Africa, South America. South Asia and Southeast Asia (in particular Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines)
- the history of the development of ethnobotany as a subject
- the variety of theoretical approaches contained within the subject
- the processes of biological and social change
- the application of ethnobotany to understanding issues of sustainable social and economic development and environmental conservation throughout the world
- the relevance of ethnobotany to understanding everyday processes of plant-human interaction anywhere in the world.
You develop intellectual skills in:
- general learning and study skills
- critical and analytical skills
- expression of ideas both orally and in written form
- communication skills
- groupwork skills
- computing skills
- reviewing and summarising information
- data retrieval ability.
You gain subject-specific skills in:
- understanding how people are shaped by their social, cultural and physical environments while nonetheless possessing a capacity for individual agency which can allow them to transcend some environmental constraints
- recognising the pertinence of an ethnobotanical perspective to understanding major national and international events.
- interpreting plants by locating them within appropriate cultural and historical contexts
- high-level competence in using ethnobotanical theories and perspectives in the presentation of information and argument
- high-level ability to identify and analyse the significance of the social and cultural contexts of plant use
- devising questions for research and study which are anthropologically informed
- perceiving the way in which cultural assumptions may affect the perception and use of plants
- an openness to try and make rational sense of cultural and social phenomena related to plants that may appear at first sight incomprehensible.
You will gain the following transferable skills:
- making a structured argument
- the ability to make appropriate reference to scholarly data
- time-management skills
- the use of information technology including computers and library research
- handling audio-visual equipment
- independent research
- presentation skills
- the ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility
- have the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development.
The School has a lively postgraduate community drawn together not only by shared resources such as postgraduate rooms, computer facilities (with a dedicated IT officer) and laboratories, but also by student-led events, societies, staff/postgraduate seminars, weekly research student seminars and a number of special lectures.
The School houses well-equipped research laboratories for genetics, ecology, visual anthropology, biological anthropology, anthropological computing, botany, osteology and ethnobiology. The state-of-the-art visual anthropology laboratory is stocked with digital editing programmes and other facilities for digital video and photographic work, and has a photographic darkroom for analogue developing and printing. The biological anthropology laboratory is equipped for osteoarchaeological and forensic work. It curates the Powell-Cotton collection of human remains, together with Anglo-Saxon skeletons from Bishopstone, East Sussex. The ethnobiology laboratory provides equipment and specimens for teaching ethnobiological research skills, and serves as a transit station for receiving, examining and redirecting field material. It also houses the Powell-Cotton collection of plant-based material culture from Southeast Asia, and a small reference and teaching collection of herbarium and spirit specimens (1,000 items) arising from recent research projects.
Kent has outstanding anthropology IT facilities. Over the last decade, the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing has been associated with many innovatory projects, particularly in the field of cognitive anthropology. It provides an electronic information service to other anthropology departments, for example by hosting both the Anthropological Index Online and Experience-Rich Anthropology project. We encourage all students to use the Centre’s facilities (no previous experience or training is necessary).
Anthropology at Kent has close links with the nearby Powell-Cotton Museum, which has one of the largest ethnographic collections in the British Isles and is particularly strong in sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asian material. It also houses an extensive comparative collection of primate and other mammalian material. Human skeletal material is housed at the Kent Osteological Research and Analysis Centre within the School.
Anthropology, together with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) form the School of Anthropology and Conservation.
Dynamic publishing culture
Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: American Ethnologist; Current Anthropology; Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Proceedings of the Royal Society B; and Journal of Human Evolution.
Higher degrees in anthropology create opportunities in many employment sectors including academia, the civil service and non-governmental organisations through work in areas such as human rights, journalism, documentary film making, environmental conservation and international finance. An anthropology degree also develops interpersonal and intercultural skills, which make our graduates highly desirable in any profession that involves working with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Many of our students go on to do PhD research. Others use their Master’s qualification in employment ranging from research in government departments to teaching to consultancy work overseas.
A good honours degree (2.1 or above) in anthropology, botany, biology, environmental studies, environmental science, geography or similar.
General entry requirements
Please also see our general entry requirements.
English language entry requirements
For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages.
Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.
The related themes of ethnicity, nationalism, identity, conflict, and the economics crisis form a major focus of our current work in the Middle East, the Balkans, South Asia, Amazonia and Central America, Europe (including the United Kingdom), Oceania and South-East Asia.
Our research extends to inter-communal violence, mental health, diasporas, pilgrimage, intercommunal trade, urban ethnogenesis, indigenous representation and the study of contemporary religions and their global connections.
We research issues in fieldwork and methodology more generally, with a strong and expanding interest in the field of visual anthropology. Our work on identity and locality links with growing strengths in customary law, kinship and parenthood. This is complemented by work on the language of relatedness, child health and on the cognitive bases of kinship terminologies.
A final strand of our research focuses on policy and advocacy issues and examines the connections between morality and law, legitimacy and corruption, public health policy and local healing strategies, legal pluralism and property rights, and the regulation of marine resources.
Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology
Work in these areas is focused on the Centre for Biocultural Diversity. We conduct research on ethnobiological knowledge systems and other systems of environmental knowledge as well as local responses to deforestation, climate change, natural resource management, medical ethnobotany, the impacts of mobility and displacement and the interface between conservation and development. Current projects include trade in materia medica in Ladakh and Bolivia, food systems, ethno-ornithology, the development of buffer zones for protected areas and phytopharmacy among migrant diasporas.
Digital Anthropology: Cultural Informatics, Social Invention and Computational Methods
Since 1985, we have been exploring and applying new approaches to research problems in anthropology – often, as in the case of hypermedia, electronic and internet publishing, digital media, expert systems and large-scale textual and historical databases, up to a decade before other anthropologists. Today, we are exploring cloud media, semantic networks, multi-agent modelling, dual/blended realities, data mining, smart environments and how these are mediated by people into new possibilities and capabilities.
Our major developments have included advances in kinship theory and analysis supported by new computational methods within field-based studies and as applied to detailed historical records; qualitative analysis of textual and ethnographic materials; and computer-assisted approaches to visual ethnography. We are extending our range to quantitative approaches for assessing qualitative materials, analysing social and cultural invention, the active representation of meaning, and the applications and implications of mobile computing, sensing and communications platforms and the transformation of virtual into concrete objects, institutions and structures.
Biological Anthropology is the newest of the University of Kent Anthropology research disciplines. We are interested in a diverse range of research topics within biological and evolutionary anthropology. These include bioarchaeology, human reproductive strategies, hominin evolution, primate behaviour and ecology, modern human variation, cultural evolution and Palaeolithic archaeology. This work takes us to many different regions of the world (Asia, Africa, Europe, the United States), and involves collaboration with international colleagues from a number of organisations. We have a dedicated research laboratory and up-to-date computing facilities to allow research in many areas of biological anthropology.
Currently, work is being undertaken in a number of these areas, and research links have been forged with colleagues at Kent in archaeology and biosciences, as well as with those at the Powell- Cotton Museum, the Budongo Forest Project (Uganda) and University College London.
Kent Osteological Research and Analysis (KORA) offers a variety of osteological services for human remains from archaeological contexts.
Staff research interests
Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.
Dr Miguel Alexiades: Senior Lecturer in Environmental Anthropology/Ethnobotany
Amazonian Peru; Ese Eja; Central Mexico; role and responsibility of science; indigenous land and resource rights; indigenous self-determination; higher education programmes for local communities.Profile
Dr Judith Bovensiepen: Lecturer in Social Anthropology
Anthropology of Southeast Asia; East Timor; place and landscape; kinship and reciprocity; colonial history; conflict; conspiracy talk; postconflict healing and reconstruction.Profile
Glenn Bowman: Reader in Social Anthropology
West Bank Palestine and the former Yugoslavia; shrines, monumentalisation, pilgrimage, intercommunal relations, identity politics, nationalism, walling; Orthodox and heterodox Christianity, Sufism; anthropological and psychoanalytic approaches to identity; fieldwork theory.Profile
Oskar Burger: Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Origin of the human life history; population dynamics; evolutionary approaches to the demographic transition; population-level effects of energy consumption; biology of ageing; human behavioural ecology in general.Profile
Dr Melissa Demian: Lecturer in Social Anthropology
The Suau Coast of south-eastern Papua New Guinea; the anthropology of law and legal pluralism; property theory; the concepts of cultural patrimony and ‘culture loss’; ‘cultural defence’ in American and British courtrooms.Profile
Professor Michael Fischer: Professor of Anthropological Sciences
The representation and structure of indigenous knowledge; cultural informatics; the interrelationships between ideation and the material contexts within which ideation is expressed.Profile
Dr David Henig: Lecturer in Social Anthropology
Central Asia and eastern Mediterranean; anthropology of Islam; socialist/post-socialist economy and society; exchange and materiality; cosmological thought; landscape and environment; narrativity and ethnographic theory; social networks and sociality.Profile
Dr Matthew Hodges: Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology
France, Euskadi, Europe; time, historical consciousness, modernity, rural social transformation, cultural and heritage tourism; science and technology; continental philosophy; public anthropology, creative writing.Profile
Dr Sarah Johns: Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Anthropology
Evolutionary psychology and behavioural ecology; timing of life-history events; human reproduction, especially variation of the age at first birth and the evolved psychology of reproductive decision making.Profile
Dr Tracy Kivell: Reader in Biological Anthropology
Functional morphology of the wrist and hand; extant and fossil apes; origin of human bipedalism and hand use; ontogeny; biomechanics of primate locomotion.Profile
Dr Patrick Mahoney: Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Evolutionary developmental biology of hominoid dentition; bioarchaeology, especially prehistoric human diet; palaeopathology.Profile
Dr Nicholas E. Newton-Fisher: Senior Lecturer in Primate Behavioural Ecology
Evolutionary ecology and behaviour of mammals with an emphasis on primates, in particular chimpanzees, including male-female aggression and sexual coercion, hunting behaviour, social behaviour, feeding ecology and ranging patterns.Profile
Dr Daniela Peluso: Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology
Gender; exchange theory; kinship; development; indigenous urbanisation; medical anthropology; indigenismo; hybridity; personhood and identity; anthropology of business.Profile
Professor Joao Pina-Cabral: Professor of Social Anthropology
The relationship between symbolic thought and social power; family and kinship; ethnicity in colonial and postcolonial contexts.Profile
Dr Mike Poltorak: Lecturer in Social Anthropology
Tonga; Oceania; New Zealand; Brighton and Hove; Rajasthan; India; visual anthropology; mental illness; medical anthropology; transnationalism; ethnopsychiatry; vaccination; applied medical anthropology; cultural politics; indigenous epistemologies and modernities; the medical/visual/development anthropology nexus.Profile
Dr Rajindra K Puri: Senior Lecturer in Environmental Anthropology
Environmental anthropology; ethnobiology; hunting; tropical forests; conservation social science; biodiversity and climate change; South and Southeast Asia.Profile
Dr Dimitrios Theodossopoulos: Reader in Social Anthropology
Political and environmental anthropology; Panama; Greece; ethnic relations and stereotyping; globalisation and indigeneity; sustainability.Profile
Dr Anna Waldstein: Lecturer in Medical Anthropology and Ethnobotany
Medical anthropology; ecological anthropology; Mesoamerica; Rastafari; diaspora and migration; the effects of migration and acculturation on health; the use of traditional medical knowledge as an adaptive strategy among migrants; food and health sovereignty.Profile
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