Prof Rachel Kendal

Project leader
Email: Rachel Kendal
Website: Rachel Kendal
Phone: +44 191 334 1627

Research interests summary
I am an interdisciplinary researcher with overlapping interests in cultural evolution, animal behaviour and primatology. My focus is on cultural transmission, specifically social learning and behavioural innovation in a range of species from fish to monkeys to humans with a view to understanding the evolution of human culture. My approach emphasizes the importance of maintaining ecological validity, the integration of empirical and theoretical work and applications to societal issues and public engagement. I have worked with, or am currently working with, laboratory populations of fish (guppies, mollies and sticklebacks), captive (callitrichids, capuchins, lemurs, chimpanzees, Barbary macaques), and wild (lemurs, capuchins) nonhuman primates, as well as children in UK schools and science centres and communities in Indonesia and Nepal.  My key research projects currently are: i) investigating the hypothesis that ‘behavioural syntax’ is a key and specific element of ape cognitive evolution, and implications for humanity’s extraordinary abilities in areas such as cumulative culture, language and tool use (funded by John Templeton Foundation; with Eva Reindl, Rob Barton, Amanda Seed); ii) investigating contextual factors affecting childhood exposure to urban particulates and applying understanding of social learning biases to production of public health informational products (funded by MRC; with Claire Horwell and Judith Covey), and iii) co-editing the first Handbook of Cultural Evolution for Oxford University Press (with Jamie Tehrani and Jeremy Kendal).

I am excited and honoured to be leading the grant scheme on behalf of the Cultural Evolution Society. This involved writing the funding proposal with valuable input from the CES executive committee as well as members of the Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group and Durham Cultural Evolution Research Centre.  Now I am working with the grant team to ensure we achieve our objectives of funding and supporting high quality research projects and working groups that extend the reach of the cultural evolution field (geographically, disciplinarily, and beyond the ivory towers of academia) and play our own small part in enhancing equity in academia.  I have many years of relevant experience for this role such as: my Presidential roles for the Cultural Evolution Society; founding the Research Working Party for the Primate Society of Great Britain, including a small-grants competition; acting as Director of Postgraduate Admissions, coordinating 4 funding competitions (NERC, ESRC, AHRC; Durham Doctoral Studentship) and sitting on their respective leadership committees; roles in departmental and university level ethics committees; and organisation of many conferences.

Short biography
I completed a BSc in Behavioural Science at Nottingham University in 1998, then went on to receive my PhD in Zoology from Cambridge University in 2003. Following a career break, I began a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship in 2006, based in the Psychology Department at St Andrews University and continued this fellowship in the Anthropology Department in Durham University.  I was appointed an Assistant Professor in 2012 and became Professor/Chair in 2020. I live in Durham with my husband Jeremy Kendal (also a cultural evolutionist) and three children.

Further information
Cultural Evolution Society website
Durham University staff profile