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Ethnobotany is the study of the interrelationship between people and plants, historically and cross-culturally, particularly 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.
This programme combines 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. It also covers medicinal plant use and ethnopharmacology, plant conservation and sustainable management practices, taxonomy, and economic botany. Students will receive practical training in mixed methods and learn to conduct interdisciplinary research in Ethnobotany, in preparation for doctoral research or a career in related fields.
The programme is partnered with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Botanical Gardens Conservation International, The Eden Project and The UCL School of Pharmacy.
This programme draws on the combined strengths of three academic centres. At the University of Kent, the Centre for Biocultural Diversity has pioneered research and teaching in ethnobotany and human ecology; it has been rated excellent for teaching, and its work in anthropological approaches to the environment flagged for excellence in the most recent HEFCE Research Assessment Exercise.
The School of Anthropology and Conservation has a large and diverse staff, with particular expertise in ethnobiological classification, historical ecology, gender, computing applications, indigenous knowledge, ethnographic (including quantitative) research methods, the human ecology of tropical subsistence systems, wildlife conservation, biodiversity management, agricultural change, sustainable development, and economic botany and plant taxonomy. Regionally, we have relevant research experience in Europe, the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, the Himalayas, tropical South America, Mesoamerica and sub-Saharan Africa.
The programme is based at the University of Kent, while students benefit from the wealth of collections, particularly the economic botany collections and specialist expertise on plants, their uses and importance available at Kew. The School is housed in a refurbished spacious building with dedicated DNA, small organism, ethnobiology and biological anthropology laboratories.
The Templeman Library has strong holdings in anthropology, area studies and ethnobotany; and good and expanding core holdings in plant science.
You are more than your grades
For 2022, in response to the challenges caused by Covid-19 we will consider applicants either holding or projected a 2:2. This response is part of our flexible approach to admissions whereby we consider each student and their personal circumstances. If you have any questions, please get in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 un-assessed 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 woodland, 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.
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. The supervisor can be from either Kent or Kew and you are encouraged to work on subjects where staff have particular expertise, while pursuing a research theme in a geographical area in which you have a particular interest.
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 chose topics that relate to current work at Kew or Kent. For example, in recent years we have been able to provide modest financial support for projects related to our Leverhulme-funded British Homegardens Project, a linguistic diversity erosion project in Cameroon and through the Global Diversity Foundation.
Kew are central partners to this programme and contribute to its teaching.
Please note that modules are subject to change. Please contact the School for more detailed information on availability.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Assessment is by written reports, oral presentations and the dissertation.
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In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of Anthropology and Conservation was ranked 10th for research power and in the top 20 in the UK for research impact and research intensity.
An impressive 94% of our research was judged to be of international quality and the School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.
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.
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, 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), and Eden Project.
The regional expertise of our staff has a global reach, with field sites in Europe (including UK), the Middle East, the Balkans, South Asia, Amazonia and Central America, Oceania and Southeast Asia. Themes of conflict, violence, the economic crisis and precarity form a major focus of our current work in these areas, alongside new research on austerity and its social impact, and charity. We have emerging interests in social inequality, work, and organised crime and corruption; and are internationally recognised for our work on ethnicity, nationalism, and identity.
Our research extends to intercommunal violence, diasporas, pilgrimage, intercommunal trade, urban ethnogenesis, indigenous representation and the study of contemporary religions and their global connections (especially Islam). History and heritage is another key theme, with related interests in time and temporality, and the School hosts the leading journal History and Anthropology. Other research addresses the anthropology of natural resources; anthropology of tourism; and post-socialist economy and society in Europe and Central Asia.
We research issues in fieldwork and methodology more generally, with a strong interest in the field of visual anthropology. Our work on identity and locality links with growing strengths in kinship and parenthood. This is complemented by work on the language of relatedness, and the cognitive bases of kinship terminologies
A final focus concerns science, medical anthropology and contemporary society. We work on the anthropology of business, biotechnology, and mental health. Related research focuses on policy and advocacy issues and examines the connections between public health policy and local healing strategies. Staff collaborations and networks extend widely across these regions and thematic interests, and Kent is well known for its pioneering engagement with the anthropology of Europe.
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.
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.
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.
Since 1985, we have pioneered new approaches to digital anthropology. Achievements include advances in kinship theory supported by new computational methods. We are exploring cloud media, semantic networks, multi-agent modelling, dual/blended realities, data mining, and smart environments. Current work also addresses quantitative approaches for assessing qualitative materials; mobile computing; sensing and communications platforms, and transformation of virtual into concrete objects.
Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.
'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 nearly 150 students through our MSc Programme. More than 25% of these have moved on to undertake research degrees in some area of ethnobotany (e.g. Kent, Oxford, 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. 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.
Visit our website to read more about a few of our alumni:
James Wong, UK - Author and presenter for both television and radio
Ugyan Dorji and Ugyan Dorji, Bhutan - creator of a natural products company / head of a large UNDP programme on Adaptation to Climate Change in Bhutan
Paul Gilbert, UK - PhD candidate conducting fieldwork in the UK, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea
Erin Smith, USA - Creator of the Centre for Integrative Botanical Studies in Boulder, Colorado
Dr. Christine van der Stege, Germany - Assistant Professor in the Knowledge Systems and Innovation Group in the Institute for Organic Farming.
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, 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 School 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 these 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.
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.