Fundamentally interdisciplinary: connecting anthropology, botany, natural resource management and environmental history
Ethnobotany is quintessentially interdisciplinary, involving knowledge and use of plants and their ecology in the context of their cultural, social and economic significance.
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.
Why study with us?
- One-year Master's programme - excellent preparation for doctoral research and careers in a variety of botanical and environmental fields.
- First programme of its kind in the world and only graduate course in UK and Europe.
- Study with the largest research group for Ethnobotany in Europe.
- More than 25% of our graduates complete PhD programmes, with significant career prospects (read more about our alumni).
- Integrates field methods with theoretical perspectives; our students are conducting research in almost 40 countries.
- Partnered with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UCL's School of Pharmacy, and The Eden Project.
- Field trips to the ancient woodlands of Blean, The National Fruit Collection, Bedgebury Pinetum, Canterbury Catherdral Archives, The Millennium Seed-bank and the Eden Project.
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.
About the School of Anthropology and Conservation
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. Examples of MSc Dissertation titles.
Kew are central partners to this programme. Find out full details of Kew's involvement and the plant resources module they teach on this programme.
Please note that modules are subject to change. Please contact the School for more detailed information on availability.
SE884 - Botanical Foundations of Ethnobotany (15 credits)
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.
Material culture – basket making.
Credits: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE885 - Anthropological Research Methods I (15 credits)
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: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE896 - Environmental Anthropology (15 credits)
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.
Credits: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE897 - Ethnobiological Knowledge Systems (15 credits)
This module is intended to enable students 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. The module 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 students 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.
Credits: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE898 - Plant Resources and their Conservation (15 credits)
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
Credits: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE811 - Practical Methods in Conservation Social Science (15 credits)
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.
Practical Sessions such as:
Interviewing: unstructured and semi-structured
Focal groups and Community Workshops
Cultural Domain Analysis (An introduction to ANTHROPAC software; Freelisting, paired comparison, triads, pile sorts, weighted ranking, rating)
Livelihood Analysis and Wealth Ranking
Community Mapping, Resource Inventory, Seasonal Calendar
Survey Plot Analysis: Correspondence
Photography and Visual documentation
Field Linguistics and language documentation
Credits: 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits).
SE839 - Dissertation: Ethnobotany (60 credits)
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).
Teaching and Assessment
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, 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.
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.
'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.
A good honours degree (2.1 or above) in anthropology, botany, biology, environmental studies, environmental science, geography or similar.
General entry requirements
All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications.
Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country.
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.
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, 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.
Digital Anthropology: Cultural Informatics and Computational Methods
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.
Staff research interests
Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.
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 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
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 David Henig: Senior 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 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
Dr David Roberts: Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation
Species detectability and extinction; international wildlife trade; perception of biodiversity; the response of orchids to climate change; epiphyte community ecology and modelling epiphyte seed dispersal.Profile
Enquire or order a prospectus
Read our student profile
T: +44 (0)1227 768896
Rebekah McComas, Recruitment and Admissions Co-ordinator
T: +44 (0)1227 827013
We hold regular Open Events at our Canterbury and Medway campuses. You will be able to talk to specialist academics and admissions staff, find out about our competitive fees, discuss funding opportunities and tour the campuses.
You can also discuss the programmes we run at our specialist centres in Brussels, Athens, Rome and Paris at the Canterbury Open Events. If you can't attend but would like to find out more you can come for an informal visit, contact our information team or find out more on our website.
Please check which of our locations offers the courses you are interested in before choosing which event to attend.