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


The Serpent and the Rainbow 297 pp. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985.

One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest 537 pp. Simon & Schuster, New York 1996.

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. 262 pp. The 2009 CBC Massey Lectures, House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 2009.

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest 664 pp. Knopf, New York 2011

The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass 146 pp.
Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2011

Wade Davis: Photographs, 176 pp. Harbour House Publishing/Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2016



The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombi. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9(1): 85-104. 1983

The ethnomedicine of the Waorani of the Amazonian Ecuador. Journal of
9(2-3):273-298. 1983

Psychophysiological death; A crosscultural 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

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.

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, Smithsonian Books, Washington DC, in press

Why Lexical Loss and Culture Death Endanger Science, (with Ian Mackenzie) in: Kenneth Rehg and Lyle Campbell (eds.) Oxford Book of Endangered Languages, Oxford University Press, in press

Winter 2019

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 2019

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