My research focuses on biological and cultural diversity and the forces that threaten both. From Franz Boas to David Maybury-Lewis, founder of Cultural Survival, anthropology has embraced activism. Ruth Benedict wrote that the entire purpose of the discipline was to make the world safe for human differences. My mandate for more than a decade at the National Geographic Society was to use media and storytelling to change the way the world views and values culture. I continue to operate in the public square, with all research efforts directed toward the production of books and films that will contribute to the global dialogue. As a teacher, my goal is to fill the eyes of students with wonder, even while infecting them not with ideology but tolerance. I encourage graduate students, in particular, to complement their core academic mission by developing skills – public speaking, literary writing, photography and filmmaking – that will allow them to monetize their knowledge outside of the academic setting, even while enhancing the profile and relevance of the discipline at a time when the voice of anthropology has never been more urgently needed in the world.
Wade Davis is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker whose work has taken him from the Amazon to Tibet, Africa to Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 2000 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Author of 22 books, including One River, The Wayfinders and Into the Silence, winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top nonfiction prize in the English language, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the NGS. Davis, one of 20 Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2015 Centennial Medal of Harvard University, the 2017 Roy Chapman Andrews Society’s Distinguished Explorer Award, the 2017 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, and the 2018 Mungo Park Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2018 he became an Honorary Citizen of Colombia. Born in British Columbia, Davis has worked as a logger, forestry engineer, white water guide, park ranger and hunting guide. Since 1987 he has owned and operated a lodge in Tahltan territory near the headwaters of the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers, in a valley known to the First Nations as The Sacred Headwaters.
Publications – Books
Magdalena: River of Dreams, 420 pp., Knopf, New York, 2020
Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research, (eds.) Dennis McKenna, Ghillean Prance, Wade Davis and Ben de Leonen, 496 pp. Synergetic Press, Santa Fe, NM 2018
Wade Davis: Photographs, 190 pp. National Geographic Books, Washington, DC, 2018
Cowboys of the Americas (photography by Luis Fabini), 168 pp. Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2016
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, Vancouver, 2011
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest 664 pp. Knopf, New York 2011
Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire 292 pp. 2nd Revised edition, Island Press, Washington, D.C. 2010.
The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. 262 pp. The 2009 CBC Massey Lectures, House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 2009.
Grand Canyon: River at Risk 168 pp. Insight Editions/Palace Press, San Rafael, California. 2008
Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures 180 pp. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2007
Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures 383 pp. (eds.) Catherine Howell, Wade Davis and David Harrison) National Geographic Books, Washington DC 2007
The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes 160 pp. Chronicle Books/ Thames and Hudson, San Francisco and London, 2004.
The Clouded Leopard 231 pp. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, B.C. 1998.
Rainforest: Ancient Realm of the Pacific Northwest (photography by Graham Osborne) 128 pp. Greystone Books, Vancouver, BC. 1998
One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest 537 pp. Simon & Schuster, New York 1996.
Nomads of the Dawn (with Ian Mackenzie and Shane Kennedy) 144 pp. Pomegranate Press, San Francisco 1995
Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rainforest (with Thom Henley) 158 pp. Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Vancouver, 1990
The Ethnobotany of Chinchero, an Andean Community in Southern Peru. (with Christine Franquemont et al.), 126 pp., 35 figs. Fieldiana, Botany New Series #24 1990.
Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie 344 pp. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1988.
The Serpent and the Rainbow 297 pp. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985.
Publications – Selected Articles:
The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombie. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9(1): 85-104. 1983
The ethnomedicine of the Waorani of the Amazonian Ecuador. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 9(2-3):273-298. 1983
Sacred plants of the San Pedro cult. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 29(4): 367-386. 1983.
The ethnobotany of chamairo: Mussatia hyacinthina. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9(2-3):225-236. 1983.
The ethnobotany of the Waorani of eastern Ecuador. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 29(3):159-217. 1983.
Novel hallucinogens from eastern Ecuador. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 29(3): 291-295. 1983.
Bufo marinus: new perspectives on an old enigma. Revista Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas Fisicas y Naturales. 16(63) 151-157. 1988.
Psychophysiological death; A cross-cultural and medical appraisal of Voodoo Death Antropológica. 69:37-54. 1988
The identity of a New World psychoactive toad. Ancient Mesoamerica. 3:51-59 1992.
Bruno Manser and the Penan struggle for the Borneo rain forest. Gettysburg Review. 5(4): 613-625. Autumn 1992
Global Importance of Biodiversity. in: Our Living Legacy: Proceedings of a Symposium on Biological Diversity. (eds.) Fenger, M. A., E.H. Miller, J. A. Johnson and E. J. R. Williams. Royal British Columbia Museum. Victoria pp. 23-46. 1993.
The Death of a People: Logging the Penan Homeland. in: State of the People: A Global Human Rights Report on Societies in Danger. (ed.) Marc Miller for Cultural Survival. pp. 23-32 Beacon Press 1993.
Hallucinogenic Plants and Their Use in Traditional Societies in: Applying Cultural Anthropology, ed. Aaron Podolefsky and Peter J. Brown. Mountain View, Ca., Mayfield pp. 226-229. 1994
Bufo alvarius: a potent hallucinogen of animal origin. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 41: 1-8. 1994
Ethnobotany: an old practice, a new discipline. in: Schultes, R. E. and S. von Reis Altschul (eds.) Ethnobotany-The Evolution of a Discipline, Dioscoroides Press, pp.40-51. 1995.
The idea of the wild and spirit of place. in: Peepre, J. and B. Jickling (eds.) Northern Protected Areas and Wilderness, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Whitehorse, Yukon pp. 25-38. 1995.
The rubber industry’s biological nightmare. Fortune pp. 86-98. August 4,1997
The White Darkness. Shambhala Sun (cover story) March pp. 48-53, 68-69. 1999
San Pedro, Cactus of the Four Winds. Shaman’s Drum 45: 50-60 Summer 1999.
Vanishing Cultures National Geographic Magazine 196:2 pp. 62-89, August, 1999.
The Light at the Edge of the World IDB Cultural Center Encuentros No.41 Inter-American Development Bank, 21 pp. March 2001.
Shamans as botanical researchers in: Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley (eds.) Shamans Through Time, Archer/Putnam, New York. pp. 286-290. 2001.
Hunters of the Northern Ice in: Northern Wild: Best Contemporary Canadian Nature Writing. (ed.) David Boyd. Greystone Books, Vancouver. pp. 21-41. 2001
The Day the Waylakas Dance in: When the Wild Comes Leaping Up: Personal Encounters with Nature (ed.) David Suzuki pp. 175-196. Greystone Books, Vancouver 2002.
We Need a Global Declaration of Interdependence in: González, Roberto J (ed.) Anthropologists in the Public Sphere. University of Texas Press, Austin pp. 165-169. 2004.
Hallucinogenic plants and their use in traditional societies, in: R.Warms, Garber, J, and McGee, J (eds.) Sacred realms: Essays in Religion, Belief, and Society, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 214-216, 2004
Sacred Geography, in: (ed.) Peter Kahn and Patricia Hasbach, Ecopsychology: Science, Totems, and the Technological Species, pp. 285-308 MIT Press, Cambridge, 2012
In the Shadow of Red Cedar, in: The Life and Breath of the World: Cascadian literature, ecology, and spirit, Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, pp. 123-151, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, May, 2013
Water Notes, in: Burtynsky Water, Ed Burtynsky, pp. 20-25, Steidl/Noma Göttingen, Germany, 2013
The Hudson Straight Kayak, in: Every Object Has a Story: 100th Anniversary of the Royal Ontario Museum pp. 44-51, ROM/The Walrus/House of Anansi, Toronto, 2014
Of War and Remembrance, in: Amanda Betts (ed.) In Flanders Fields 100 Years: Writing on War, Loss and Remembrance, pp. 140-169 Penguin, Toronto, 2015
A New Dream of the Earth, in: W. John Kress and Jeffrey K. Stine (eds.)
Living in the Anthropocene: Humanity in the Age of Humans, pp. 44-47, Smithsonian Books, Washington DC, 2017
Why Lexical Loss and Culture Death Endanger Science, (with Ian Mackenzie) in: Kenneth Rehg and Lyle Campbell (eds.) Oxford Book of Endangered Languages, pp. 761-81, Oxford University Press, New York, 2018
Reflection: If We Build It, They Will Come: Industrial Folly and the Fate of Northwest British Columbia, BC Studies, pp. 145-162, No. 197 Spring, 2018
Ecological Amnesia, in: Philippe Tortel, Mark Turin and Margot Young (eds.) Memory, pp. 21-29, Peter Wall Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2018
Interconnectedness: Our Environment and Social (In)equality, The Gyalwang Karmapa and Professor Wade Davis in Dialogue, in: The Gyalwang Karmapa, Freedom through Meditation, Chapter 9, pp. 97-116, KTD Publications, Woodstock, NY, 2018
La Hoja Divina de la Immortalidad, in: Carlos Villalón, Coca: La Guerra Perdida pp. 169-180 Panamericana Formas e Impresos, Bogotá, 2019
Selected Radio and Film Work:
2019 Principal character, El Sendero de la Anaconda (The Path of the Anaconda), Caracol Film & Television, 90-minute documentary feature shot on location in the Northwest Amazon, Colombia. Available on Netflix
2019 Principal character, Wheeler’s Everest, Chiaro Productions/ CBC 80-minute documentary feature shot on location in England, France, India and Tibet.
2018 Creative Consultant, “Avatar 2, 3, 4”, Cameron Companies, 2017-19
2016 Creative Consultant, Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios, 2016
2015 The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, The 2015 Milton K Wong Lecture, CBC Ideas, CBC Radio One
2015 Principal character, Written in Stone, Out Yonder Productions for Knowledge Network, Burnaby, BC
2011 Narrator, White Water, Black Gold, White Gold Productions, Calgary, AB
2011 Principal character, Chasing Shadows: The Simon Gunanoot Story, Out Yonder Productions for Knowledge Network, Burnaby, BC
2010 Principal character, Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden, Lost People Films, Telluride
2009 CBC Massey Lectures, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, broadcast nationally in Canada, CBC Radio One and Two November 2-6, 2009, and on Sirius worldwide. Rebroadcast in March and July of 2010. Podcasts available at: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/massey/2009. 5 CD set available CBC Audio IDEAS. Itunes at: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/masseys/
Episode 1 Season of the Brown Hyena, November 2
Episode 2 The Wayfinders, November 3
Episode 3 Peoples of the Anaconda, November 4
Episode 4 Sacred Geography, November 5
Episode 5 Century of the Wind, November 6 https://youtu.be/KfbGdoTQKuM.
2008-9 Host/Series Creator 4 hours produced with National Geographic Television for NG Channel (US) Ancient Voices/Modern World and NG International Channel, Light at the Edge of the World. Filmed in Colombia, Australia, Mongolia. Episodes include: The Magic Mountain, People of the Windhorse, Keepers of the Dream and Heart of the Amazon. Available on Amazon Prime.
2009 Presenter, Inside the Music: Voices of the Planet, one-hour radio documentary produced by Sandra Thacker for CBC Radio, broadcast November 22, 2009
2009 Apaporis: In Search of One River, 90-minute feature documentary in collaboration with Antonio Dorado. Shot in Colombian Amazon, inspired by the book, One River.
2008 Principal character: Grand Canyon: River at Risk, 3D IMAX, MacGillivray Freeman Films, released worldwide Spring 2008. Available on Amazon Prime.
2008 Host/co-writer/co-producer Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey, 2 hour special for the History Channel, produced in collaboration with Gryphon Productions and filmed on location in New Mexico, Oaxaca, and lowland Ecuador. DVD available Amazon.com.
2006 Host/co-writer/co-owner Light at the Edge of the World, award winning 4-hour series in collaboration with 90th Parallel Productions, Alliance Atlantis, NG Canada, National Geographic International Channel. Filmed in Greenland, Nunuvut, Rapanui, Hawaii, the Marquesas, Nepal and Peru. Aired worldwide on the National Geographic Channel and in the USA on the Smithsonian Channel. Episodes include: The Wayfinders, Science of the Mind, Sacred Geography, and The Arctic Art of Survival. DVD released March 2009 by Smithsonian Networks.
2005 Principal character, The Lost People of Mountain Village Lost People Films, Telluride
2003 Light at the Edge of the World National Geographic Today, 30-minute documentary on the salt caravans of Mali, a journey from Timbuktu 900 miles into the Sahara to the ancient salt mine at Taoudenni.
2003 When World’s Collide Host/presenter, National Geographic Today, 30-minute documentary on Randy Borman and the plight of the Cofan of Ecuador.
2002 The Explorer, 90th Parallel Productions for CBC biographical series, Life and Times. (55 minutes) Available on Amazon Prime
2002 Wade Davis: A Charmed Life, Thedoctank in association with National Geographic Television for the biographical series, True Originals. (55 minutes)
1996 Host/co-writer Forests Forever, hour long documentary offering a critical examination of forest policy in British Columbia, Knowledge Network, Burnaby, B.C.
1993 Narrator/co-writer Cry of the Forgotten Land award winning documentary on the Moi people of West Papua, New Guinea. Produced by the Endangered People’s Project in association with the Lutheran Church of Canada.
1992 Host and co-writer. The Spirit of the Mask award-winning hour-long documentary produced by Gryphon Productions examining the mask tradition of the Northwest Coast. Available on Amazon Prime.
1991 Host and co-writer Earthguide 13-part documentary series on environmental issues, Cinetel Productions for the Discovery Channel.
1990 Writer/producer The Penan: A Disappearing Civilization of Borneo The Endangered Peoples Project, Vancouver (hour long, narrated by Danny Glover)
1987 The Serpent and the Rainbow feature film inspired by book of the same name, produced by David Ladd in association with Taft-Barrish for Universal Studios. Available on Amazon Prime.
This introductory course explores the central revelation of cultural anthropology; the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is just one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.
The other peoples of the world are not failed attempts to be us, failed attempts to be modern. Each culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question. What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked that question humanity responds in 7000 different languages, voices that collectively comprise our repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species in the coming centuries. Every culture has something to say, and each deserves to be heard.
Of the world’s 7000 languages, fully half may disappear within our lifetimes. At risk is a vast archive of knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination that is the human legacy. Genocide is universally condemned. Ethnocide, the destruction of a people’s way of life, is often promoted as proper development policy. Change and technology pose no threat to culture, but power does. These are not delicate societies destined to fade away; they are living dynamic peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces, industrial, military, and ideological, not the least of which is the ubiquitous cult of modernity. If human beings are in fact the agents of cultural loss, we can surely be the facilitators of cultural survival.
The full measure of a culture embraces both the actions of a people and the quality of their aspirations, the nature of the metaphors that propel their lives. And no description of a people can be complete without reference to the character of their homeland, the ecological and geographical matrix in which they have determined to live out their destiny. Just as landscape defines character, culture springs from a spirit of place. A child raised to believe that a mountain is the abode of a protective spirit will be a profoundly different human being from a youth brought up to believe that a mountain is an inert mass of rock ready to be mined.
Herein, perhaps, lies the essence of the relationship between many indigenous peoples and the natural world. Life in the malarial swamps of New Guinea, the chill winds of Tibet, the white heat of the Sahara, leaves little room for sentiment. Nostalgia is not a trait commonly associated with the Inuit. Nomadic hunters and gatherers in Borneo have no conscious sense of stewardship for mountain forests that they lack the technical capacity to destroy. What these cultures have done, however, is to forge through time and ritual a relationship to the earth that is based not only on deep attachment to the land but also on a far subtler intuition — the idea that the land itself is breathed into being by human consciousness. Mountains, rivers, and forests are not perceived as being inanimate, as mere props on a stage upon which the human drama unfolds. For these societies, the land is seen to be alive, a dynamic force to be embraced and transformed by the human imagination.
Graduate Seminar Enrollment maximum 14
2018 Mungo Park Medal and Honorary Fellowship, Royal Scottish Geographical Society
2018 Honorary Colombian Citizenship bestowed by President Juan Manuel Santos
2017 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, Royal Canadian Geographical Society
2017 Roy Chapman Andrews Society’s Distinguished Explorer Award
2017 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness
2016 Member, Order of Canada
2016 Grand Prize of the Salon du Livre de Montagne for Les Soldats de L’Everest, 26th Passy Mountain Book Festival, Passy, France
2015 Honorary Vice-President, Royal Canadian Geographical Society
2015 Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University
2014 Honorary Doctorate of Science, McGill University
2014 Honorary Doctorate of Laws, York University
2014 Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Vancouver Island University
2014 Honorary Doctorate of Science, Trent University
2014 Honorary Master of Philosophy in Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic
2014 Honorary Master of Philosophy in Community Change, Conservation and Peace Building, Future Generations Graduate School
2014 Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (Zurich), Thought Leaders 2014: The Top 100 most influential thinkers. Ranked 16th in the annual global survey by Switzerland’s leading think tank.
2013 Ness Award, Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers)
2012 The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Government of Canada
2012 The David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Award accompanied by US $5,000 prize.
2012 Samuel Johnson Prize (The Baillie Gifford Prize), the top award for literary nonfiction in the English language, for Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest. Award accompanied by US $50,000 prize.
2012 Award of Excellence: Public Engagement, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
2012 Finalist, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction, Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
2012 Finalist, Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction, Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
2011 The Explorers Medal, The Explorers Club, New York
2011 Honorary Doctorate of Letters, National College of Natural Medicine
2010 Libris Award, Canadian Booksellers Association, Best Nonfiction Book of the Year for The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World
2010 Honorary Doctorate of Science, Colorado College
2010 Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of Northern British Columbia
2009 Gold Medal, Royal Canadian Geographical Society
2008 Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Guelph
2004 Banff Mountain Book Festival Award for Adventure Travel for the book: The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes
2004 Honorary Member, The Explorers Club, one of twenty
2004 Lowell Thomas Medal, The Explorers Club, New York
2003 Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Victoria
2002 Literary Award for Nonfiction, Lannan Foundation. Award accompanied by US$125,000 prize
2002 Banff Mountain Book Festival, Special Jury Award: Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures
1999 Klinger Award, Society of Economic Botany, for the book One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest
1998 Banff Mountain Book Festival Award for Adventure Travel for the book: The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire
1997 Finalist, Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest
1990 National Association for Campus Activities (N.A.C.A.): nominated for Speaker of the Year
1982 Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts and Science: Certificate of Distinction in Teaching