Wade Davis

My research interests is focused on biological and cultural diversity and the forces that threaten both. As an anthropologist, I operate exclusively in the public square, and all of research is focused on the next book or film, all with the conviction that storytellers are the ones who can change the world. Ruth Benedict wrote that the purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for diversity. She is one of my heroes, as are Franz Boas and David Maybury-Lewis. Anthropologists as activists, with much to say that the world needs to hear.

Wade Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Between 1999 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and is currently a member of the NGS Explorers Council and Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”

An ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.

Davis is the author of 265 scientific and popular articles and 19 books including One River (1996), The Wayfinders (2009), The Sacred Headwaters (2011), Into the Silence (2011) and River Notes (2012). His photographs have been widely exhibited and have appeared in 30 books and 100 magazines, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men’s Journal, and Outside. He was the co-curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and currently touring Latin America. In 2012 he served as guest curator of No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World, an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the National Geographic. A professional speaker for 30 years, Davis has lectured at over 200 universities and 250 corporations and professional associations. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures. He has spoken from the main stage at TED five times, and his three posted talks have been viewed by 3 million. His books have appeared in 19 languages and sold approximately one million copies.

Davis is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for his contributions to anthropology and conservation, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the highest award of the Explorers Club, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2013 Ness Medal for geography education from the Royal Geographical Society, and the 2015 Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. His recent book, Into the Silence, received the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top award for literary nonfiction in the English language. In 2016 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Select Publications


  • No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in a Modern World, 179 pp. Annenberg Space for Photography, Annenberg Foundation, Los Angeles, 2012.
  • River Notes: A Natural and Human History the Colorado, 162 pp. Island Press, Washington, DC. 2012.
  • The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass 146 pp. Greystone Books in collaboration with the David Suzuki Foundation and the ILCP (International League of Conservation Photographers), Vancouver, 2011.

Journal and Popular Articles 

  • “William Seabrook and the Haitian Zombie”, Afterword, in: William Seabrook, The Magic Island, pp. 337- 345, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY 2016.
  • Foreword, in: Geoff Dyer, The Missing of the Somme, pp. ix-xvii, Vintage/Random House, New York, 2016.
  • “A Dead End for Humanity” The Canadian Writer’s Workplace, 8th Edition, Nelson Education Ltd, Toronto 2016.
  • Foreword, in: Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak, The Hello Atlas, p. 4 Wide Eyed Editions, Aurum Press, London, UK 2016.
  • “Cultures at Risk: Paris Climate Conference Special Report II”, The Explorer’s Journal, Vol.93 No.4 pp. 26-28 New York 2016.
  • “On Loss in the Colorado River Delta”, The Leopold Outlook, pp.22-25 Spring Vol.16, Issue 1, The Aldo Leopold Foundation 2016.
  • “Making Your Mark”, in: Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, Explorers’s Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure, pp. 280-283 Thames & Hudson, London, 2016.


Winter 2017

ANTH100A Introduction to Cultural Anthropology - INTRO CULT ANTH Sections

Basic concepts and methods of anthropology; culture and race; comparative study of social systems, religion, symbolism, art, and other institutions. Examples are drawn from a variety of cultures.

Winter 2017

ANTH540A Advanced Seminar - SACRED GEOGRPHY Sections

2016 Member, Order of Canada

2015 Honorary Vice-President, Royal Canadian Geographical Society

2015 Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

2014 Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (Zurich), Thought Leaders

2014: The Top 100 most influential thinkers. Ranked 16 in the annual global survey by Switzerland’s leading think tank. http://www.gdi.ch/en/Think-Tank/GDI-News/News-Detail/Thought-Leaders-2014-the-most-influential-thinkers