Ethnobotany - MSc

Ethnobotany is the study of the interrelationship between people and plants, historically and cross-culturally. Explore the role of plants in human culture and practices, how humans have used and modified plants, and how they represent them in their systems of knowledge.

Overview

Our biocultural approach to Ethnobotany will allow you discover the relationship between the biology of plants and the culture of humans that think about them and use them.

Our programme, with links to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Botanical Gardens Conservation International, The Eden Project and The Medway School of Pharmacy is the first of its kind in the world and the only graduate course in Europe.

Reasons to study Ethnobotany at Kent

What you'll learn

Venture into a combination of anthropological studies of human-environment interaction and sociocultural knowledge of plants in different parts of the world with ecology, conservation science, biodiversity management and climate change science. Medicinal plant use and ethnopharmacology, plant conservation and sustainable management practices, taxonomy, and economic botany are other areas you can explore.

Entry requirements

A first or second class honours degree in anthropology, botany, biology, environmental studies, environmental science, geography or similar.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, professional qualifications and relevant experience may also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information. Due to visa restrictions, students who require a student visa to study cannot study part-time unless undertaking a distance or blended-learning programme with no on-campus provision.

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

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.

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Course structure

Duration: One year full-time, two years part-time

The MSc is an intensive 12-month programme. You take eight coursework modules over the first six months and then undertake a project and write a dissertation in the second six months.

Additionally, it is also possible to take modules from the list available for our MA programmes in Anthropology and from our MSc in Conservation Biology as options. The modules available may include foundations of natural science for conservation, social science perspectives on conservation, population and evolutionary biology, nature tourism, principles and practice of ecotourism, integrated species conservation and management, trade, economics, regulation and the environment, conservation and community development, and managing protected areas.

The course will be supplemented with practical work, field visits to local sites of ethnobotanical interest (Blean Woodlands, national fruit collection at Brogdale, Canterbury Cathedral Library, phytomedical suppliers and practitioners), and through guest speakers involved in research in various parts of the world.

Dissertation and fieldwork

Students undertake intensive coursework between September and the end of March each academic year. Towards the end of this period, they develop a concept for a project and write a proposal, as part of their assessed work. The second six months of the programme consists entirely of project and dissertation work under the direction of an appropriate supervisor.

Students may select projects that are library, museum or lab-based, but many wish to undertake fieldwork (usually of six weeks duration) and we try to facilitate this. Some students come to the programme with developed ideas about their projects, others may choose topics that relate to current work at Kew or Kent or linked institutions, such as RBG Kew, BGCI or Medway School of Pharmacy.

Modules

Please note that modules are subject to change. Please contact the School for more detailed information on availability.

Compulsory modules currently include

This module will consist of a series of practical sessions that allow postgraduate students to gain hands on experience in the use and application of data collection techniques and analyses commonly used by social and environmental anthropologists, ethnobiologists and conservation biologists in the emerging interdisciplinary fields of conservation social science and ethnobiology. The module complements the theoretical and issue oriented modules required of postgraduate students. Also, achievement of learning outcomes from this module will feed directly into preparation and implementation of dissertation research projects for all MSc and PhD students.

Find out more about SACO8110

This module deals with botanical principles and practical taxonomic skills that every ethnobotanist should be familiar with. It includes an examination of different ways of organising plants, especially standard taxonomy and phylogeny. It also explores the various ways humans have used and valuated botanical resources. Some of the module will be devoted to the presentation by the students of a series of plant profiles that will result in a reference database of important plants that the students can use throughout their careers as ethnobotanists. Students will also receive training in handling botanical materials, producing voucher specimens and learning to use keys and floras to identify plants.

Find out more about SACO8840

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.

Find out more about SACO8850

This module introduces some of the main theoretical approaches and some practical applications of the study of environmental anthropology (in particular, cultural ecology, systems and symbolic ecology, historical and political ecology, and new approaches such as spiritual ecology and multispecies ethnography).

We consider some of the main cultural and social aspects of the human-environment interface, such as

• the relationship between social organisation, culture 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

• the cultural dimension of human adaptation to a changing 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 we look at adaptation to climate change among Indigenous peoples.

Find out more about SACO8960

This module is intended to enable you to discuss critically the relationship between people and other organic species, in terms of the social and knowledge systems of which they are part, using anthropological approaches and data. It deals with the ways in which different societies and cultures have come to perceive, know, use, classify and symbolically represent plants and animals. It also introduces you to the ways anthropologists have approached the study of local systems of classification and knowledge, and people's management and use of plants and animals.

Find out more about SACO8970

This module covers selected aspects of botany, plant conservation, ethnobotany and botanic gardens, chosen with reference to their relevance to the Ethnobotany MSc. Students should complete the module with enhanced understanding of plant classification and the botany of selected plant families, plant conservation techniques, the role of botany in carrying out ethnobotany, and the range of work and facilities at a botanical garden.

Indicative topics are:

* Botanical information resources

* Basic taxonomy

* The role of the herbarium

* Plant systematics and family sorts

* Taxonomy of selected families

* Collecting plant specimens under tropical conditions

* Ethnobotanical research at Kew

* Yam ethnobotany

* History of economic botany and the role of the botanic garden

* Chinese herbal medicine

* Plant phytochemistry in relation to ethnobotany

* Applied Ethnobotany

Find out more about SACO8980

Optional modules may include

Protected areas are a mainstay of global conservation policy, with more than 17% of the terrestrial realm and 8% of the marine realm under some type of protection. In this module students will be introduced to the key concepts needed to understand protected area management and policy at the national and international level. The following indicative topics will form the basis of lectures, seminars and field trip around which the module will be taught: the history of protected areas and relevant international policies and commitments; current definitions of protected area based on management categories and governance types; management planning and measuring protected area management effectiveness; economic issues relating to protected areas; designing protected area networks to form representative ecological networks.

Find out more about DICE8410

Effective biodiversity conservation relies on a critical understanding of the linkages between the social, economic and ecological systems. In this module you will be introduced to key economic theories and concepts and how they relate to environmental and conservation issues. Using problem-based learning approach, we will explore the economic causes of conservation conflicts and biodiversity loss, and apply a whole systems approach to identify possible solutions. The design of this module along the principles of problem-based active learning means that a high level of student preparation and engagement is expected throughout the course. This module does not require previous training in economics.

Find out more about DICE8880

This module provides the opportunity for students to undertake a detailed review of a specific topic of interest that relates directly to their programme of study. The topic will be decided upon after consultation with the supervisor and module convenor. The module will be team-taught and consist of tutorials, as well as independent work. Tutorials will cover representative advanced topics in the relevant programme of study. For the independent work, the topic of interest will be explored using a comprehensive literature review.

Find out more about SACO8210

The module addresses the causes, effects, treatments and meanings of health, illness and disease for humans and the ecosystems that they live in. The module content will be structured around five broad themes related to holism, health and healing, drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world. We will begin with a consideration of the evolutionary basis of human medicine and dietary behaviour. Next, we will take a closer look at healing systems, their structure and the various theories of illness and therapeutic techniques that they encompass. This will be followed by a critical examination of the biopolitics of health and healing, including the question of how to define and assess the efficacy of various medical treatments. We will then take a closer look at the spiritual aspects of health and healing before concluding with the final theme of holism, health and healing in the globalized world.

Find out more about SACO8800

The module is of relevance for postgraduate students of social anthropology, and related disciplines preoccupied with the role of critical, anthropologically-informed thought in a world in crisis. It addresses a series of themes that explore how anthropologists throughout the history of the discipline have engaged with the pressing political, social and environmental concerns and crises of their day. The module aims to support postgraduate students in making connections between theoretical issues and ethnography, as they recur in the practices and debates of social anthropologists. It also explores the relevance of anthropology for the Contemporary world beyond the university, and educates students in how to adapt anthropological knowledge and skills to analysis of real world issues. A key objective is to support students in developing and consolidating their understanding of contemporary anthropology and their own assessment of the wider utility of the social sciences.

Find out more about SACO8830

Ethnicity' and 'nationalism' are matters of contemporary urgency (as we are daily reminded by the media), but while the meanings of these terms are taken for granted, what actually constitutes ethnicity and nationalism, and how they have been historically constituted, is neither clear nor self-evident. This module begins with a consideration of the major theories of nationalism and ethnicity, and then moves on to a series of case studies taken from various societies around the world., and then moves on to examine a number of other important concepts—indigeneity, 'race', hybridity, authenticity, 'invention of tradition', multiculturalism, globalization—that can help us appreciate the complexity and dynamics of ethnic identities. The general aim of the module is to enable and encourage students to think critically beyond established, homogenous and static ethnic categories.

Find out more about SACO9910

Compulsory modules currently include

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.

Find out more about SACO8390

Teaching

Teaching and assessment

Assessment is by written reports, class tests, oral presentations and the dissertation.

Programme aims

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.

Learning outcomes

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.

Intellectual skills

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.

Subject-specific skills

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.

Transferable skills

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
  • groupwork
  • 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.

Fees

The 2023/24 annual tuition fees for this course are:

  • Home full-time £10700
  • EU full-time £16400
  • International full-time £21900
  • Home part-time £5350
  • EU part-time £8200
  • International part-time £10950

For details of when and how to pay fees and charges, please see our Student Finance Guide.

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact information@kent.ac.uk.

Your fee status

The University will assess your fee status as part of the application process. If you are uncertain about your fee status you may wish to seek advice from UKCISA before applying.

Additional costs

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 

Funding

Search our scholarships finder for possible funding opportunities. You may find it helpful to look at both:

We have a range of subject-specific awards and scholarships for academic, sporting and musical achievement.

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Independent rankings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, 100% of our Anthropology and development studies research was classified as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ for environment.

Research

Research areas

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.

Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology

Work in these areas is focused on the Centre for Biocultural Diversity. We conduct research on ethnobiological knowledge systems, ethnoecology, and other systems of environmental knowledge, as well as local responses to deforestation, biodiversity change, climate change, natural resource management, medical ethnobotany, the impacts of mobility and displacement, and the interface between conservation and development. The Centre has an Ethnobiology Lab and Ethnobotanical Garden, and extensive collaborative links, including with the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew), Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Eden Project.

Social Anthropology

Themes of research include epistemologies, cognition, temporalities, ethnicity, indigeneity, religion, exchange, conflict, social change, historical consciousness, heritage and geopolitics. We are at the forefront of contemporary debates in identity, social and economic crises, hybrid law, personhood, mobility, migration, landscape, labour, organisations, industry, cultural informatics, political ecology, ethnoecology, ethnobiology, ethnobotany and visual, environmental and medical anthropology.

Our research projects span the globe, including the UK and Europe, Central and Southeast Asia, North and Central America, South America, the Middle East and Pacific.

Current and recent work is linked to the informal economy, cosmopolitanism, corruption, workplace environments, the economic crisis, precarity, prosperity, ethics, value, morality, skill expertise, symbolic ecology, intercommunal relations, Islamic movements, indigenous urbanisation, human rights, diplomacy, and tourism.

The social anthropology research area is linked to the Centre for Ethnographic Research (CER) and Lowland South Americanist European Network..

Biological Anthropology

Our research encompasses a broad range of topics within biological and evolutionary anthropology, including bioarchaeology, forensic anthropology, archaeological science, human reproductive strategies, hominin evolution, primate behaviour and ecology, modern human variation, and cultural. We have three dedicated research laboratories, as well as a commercial osteology unit. 

Our research takes us to many regions of the world (Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and United States).  We collaborate with international research organisations, including the Instituto de Biología Subtropical (Argentina), German Primate Center, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Budongo Conservation Field Station (Uganda).  Members of staff provide a wide research network offering research opportunities in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.

Skeletal Biology

Our Skeletal Biology Research Centre is the only UK Centre focusing on analysis of biological hard tissues (bones and teeth). It brings together innovative research, novel methodologies and international collaborations, with expertise and resources from Physical Sciences and Biosciences at Kent, and the Powell-Cotton Museum. Research ranges from analyses of the most important human fossils, histological studies of teeth and bone, isotopic analyses and dietary reconstruction, virtual 3D analyses of the skeleton, and forensic identification that together ultimately aim to better understand humans and our evolutionary history.

Primatology

The Living Primates Research Group fosters research into the behaviour and ecology of primates. It addresses questions concerning adaptation using living primates as model species, to provide a comparative framework for the understanding of human biology and behaviour, and investigate the biological and social dimensions of anthropogenic impacts on non-human primates (NHPs). Research ranges from functional morphology to behavioural ecology and physiology, cultural primatology, and the interplay of primate biology, ecology and conservation, including primate rehabilitation and reintroduction and human-NHP coexistence.

Careers

'My Msc in Ethnobotany was the most stimulating, fascinating and challenging year of my working life.' (Liz Gladin - Ethnobotany MSc)

Since 1998 we have trained more than 200 students through our MSc Programme. Almost a third of these have moved on to undertake research degrees in some area of ethnobotany (e.g. Kent, Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Sussex, Vienna, Florida, Tulane, British Columbia, McGill), or have taken-up positions which utilize their training and knowledge, for example in NGOs such as the Global Diversity Foundation, at the Harvard Museum of Economic Botany, conservation education, at various Botanical Gardens around the world (e.g., Kew, Edinburgh, New York, Auckland, Beirut), at the United Nations Environment Programme, and in the pharmaceutical industry. Some have gone on to work in universities or start their own organizations and businesses.

As a School recognised for its excellence in research we are one of the partners in the South East Doctoral Training Centre, which is recognised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This relationship ensures that successful completion of our courses is sufficient preparation for research in the various fields of social anthropology, ethnobiology and biodiversity management. 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.

Study support

Postgraduate resources

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, virtual paleoanthropology, Animal Postcranial Evolution, 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. 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 Kent Ethnobotanical Herbarium, a 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.

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.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Apply now

Learn more about the application process or begin your application by clicking on a link below.

You will be able to choose your preferred year of entry once you have started your application. You can also save and return to your application at any time.

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