Anthropology (ANTH) 591

Ethnobiology: Traditional Knowledge of Plants, Animals, and Land in Contemporary Global Context (Revision 3)

ANTH 591

Delivery Mode: Individualized-Study

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: ANTH 275 or other introductory anthropology or biology course, or professor approval is required.

Precluded Course: ANTH 591 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for Athabasca University's ANTH 491.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

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**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


Students who have received credit for Athabasca University's undergraduate course Anthropology 491 must obtain permission to register in Anthropology 591 from the Program Director for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Ethnobiology can be conceived of as the study of the cultural knowledge of living things and the environment. In this course, we will begin with a consideration of the nature of ethnobiological knowledge and its similarities to and differences from the understandings of contemporary science. The next section of the course will examine cultural knowledge of and main types of uses of plants. In this course, we will be covering uses of plants by contemporary peoples and peoples of the recent past, so we will not look at the rich archeological record of plant use and domestication of crops by past cultures. From there we will examine knowledge and use of animals, and end the course with a review of ecological knowledge, and contemporary issues. What is the nature of Nature, and how do people relate to the world around them? Ethnobiology draws on the insights of several academic disciplines, principally anthropology, biology and geography. As an interdisciplinary field, connections between different forms of knowledge about living things and the environment are examined from a variety of vantage points in a comparative or global context.

Course Objectives

This course provides you with the opportunity:

  1. to become familiar with the nature of ethnobiological knowledge, and the ways in which it is similar to, and different from, scientific knowledge.
  2. to gain an understanding of the diversity of approaches to plant resources among different human groups, and of fundamental significance of plants for foods, medicines, and in technology among peoples of different cultures.
  3. to gain an understanding of the rich cultural knowledge that human societies have about animals, and to gain a sense of the differences in attitudes about non–human species held by northern hunting peoples, pastoral peoples, and people of European and North American cultures.
  4. to gain understanding of the relationship to the environment that characterize different human societies, and how cosmology and world view shape perceptions of the environment and environmental adaptation.
  5. to engage in critical analysis of contemporary issues of conservation of traditional resources, the effects of globalization, and issues surrounding intellectual property of traditional and local peoples in the global marketplace.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Course Activity Weighting
Journal 20%
Assignment 1 Online Quiz 5%
Assignment 2 Short Paper 15%
Assignment 3 Short Paper 15%
Assignment 4 Research Paper 45%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The package you received should contain each of the items listed below. If anything is missing, contact the Course Materials Production division of Athabasca University. If you live in Edmonton or Calgary, we encourage you to call the Learning Centre in your city and use the automated telephone attendant to connect with Course Materials Production (the extension is 6366). If you live outside Edmonton or Calgary, but within Canada or the United States, you may call the automated attendant using Athabasca University's toll-free number, 1-800-788-9041 (extension 6366). If you live outside Canada or the United States, or if you prefer not to use the automated system, you may call Course Materials Production at (780) 675-6366. You may write in care of Athabasca University, 1 University Drive, Athabasca AB, T9S 3A3; or you may send e-mail to


  • Balick, Michael J., and Paul Alan Cox. 1997. Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. New York: Scientific American Library.
  • Berkes, Fikret. 2017. Sacred Ecology, 4th Edition. New York: Routledge.
  • Hunn, Eugene S., with James Selam and Family. 1990. Nch'i-Wána "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Nelson, Richard K. 1983. Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University Library Materials

Videotapes: You are required to watch the six videos listed below. The videos are not included in your course package, but are available on loan from the AU library. Please submit a request for the videos to the library. You will have up to four weeks to view each video. Once you have viewed a video, please return it promptly for other students' use.

  • The Dogrib Birchbark Canoe. 1997. 28 min. Lone Woolf TV Production Services.
  • Make Prayers to the Raven: The Life in the Bear. 1987. 28 min. University of Alaska.
  • Rabbit Boss. 1996. 26.5 min. University of Nevada Oral History Program.
  • Fires of Spring. 1978. 32 min. University of Alberta Department of Radio and Television with CFRN Television.
  • Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa's Savannas. 1996. 41 min. Cyrus Productions.
  • Blockade: It's About the Land and Who Controls It. 1993. 90 min. National Film Board of Canada.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 3, May 1, 2014.