1.11 Basic Cross-Cultural Research

Basic Cross-Cultural Research Assignment

by Brian Mooney, Department of Social Sciences, York College (CUNY), Jamaica, NY.

Assignment Purpose

The purpose of this assignment is for you to become familiar with the contents and structure of the eHRAF World Cultures by learning to navigate around the database and by performing searches on topics of your choice.

Contents and Purpose of the eHRAF Database

The eHRAF World Cultures database is published by Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), a not-for-profit at Yale University. The database is often simply called “eHRAF,” the “e” standing for electronic and “HRAF” for the name of the organization.  As of 2014, the database contains about 288 cultures from around the world, particularly ethnic and minority groups in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and South America, and indigenous and immigrant groups in North America.

The ethnographic information on a culture or ethnic group is compiled in Browse Cultures menu.  A culture included in eHRAF usually includes three parts: 1) a general abstract about the culture which can be found in the Collection Description  2) the table of contents (TOC) with documents including anthropological books, articles, reports and dissertations found in Collection Documents, and 3) a brief Culture Summary. Please note that the cultures included in the database are mostly “non-industrial” cultures. Therefore, although you can do research on, for example, Native American groups such as the Iroquois or Hopi, you cannot use the database to do research on, for example, the Italians (as a nation). One exception is that the database now includes information about immigrant groups in the United States (e.g., Italian Americans or Chinese Americans).

In eHRAF World Cultures the documents are indexed with subjects called the “OCMs” or “OCM subject codes.”  By the way, OCM is the acronym for “Outline of Cultural Materials.” So, for example, if a book chapter contains a paragraph with information on making tattoos, including the use of instruments, and dyes then the paragraph is indexed with three OCM subject codes: OCM 304 for Body Alteration (which includes tattooing, nose piercing, etc.), OCM 413 for Special Tools, and the OCM 386 for Paint and Dye Manufacture (which includes pigments, dyes, etc.). Using the OCM subjects/codes instead of words can be more effective in retrieving good information on topics. There are over 700 OCM subject categories which can be found in the “Browse Subjects” section of the database.  Keep in mind that there is not information on every subject for every culture.  So, for example don’t expect to find much (if any) information on the OCM 378 (for Atomic Energy) in the documents because the ethnographies included are mostly on “non-industrial” ethnic groups. However, do expect to find much information on cultural and social aspects of life, e.g., for OCM 773 (for Mythology).

eHRAF World Cultures allows you to choose a cultural feature (by using one of the OCM subject categories or by doing a text search for particular words of your choosing) and the database identifies cultures in which that cultural feature is discussed. For example, you can choose mythology, ritual, extramarital sex relations, kin relationships, and so on to learn what is said about those subjects for cultures included in the database. This allows you to do comparative cross-cultural research.

Instructions for Using eHRAF World Cultures

Thoroughly study the various sections of  the eHRAF User’s Guide to learn about the OCM subject categories and to learn how to navigate around the database.



I do not expect you to do formal “cross-cultural research.” Instead, I merely expect you to do some research on some subject matter and culture that interests you as a way of familiarizing yourself with the use of this type of resource.

#1. Learn about the cultures and the subject codes by visiting the Browse section of the database.

#2. After you have familiarized yourself cultures and the OCM subject codes , choose whichever OCM subject category you wish to research. Finding an OCM for your topic can sometimes be tricky (e.g., you might not view tattoos as “Body Alteration”).  Therefore, it’s best to use the “A -Z Index” as well as the “Major Subjects “ in the Add Subjects function of the Advanced Search in eHRAF World Cultures.

Bear in mind that some of the OCM subject/code searches will produce very few matches. I recommend the categories numbered 50 and over. The database contains a lot of information on religion, marriage, family life, kinship, law, sex and reproduction, and infancy and childhood (see the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) for a quick view of the OCM subject codes). Those are just suggestions.

#3. Once you perform a search, the intermediate “culture results” page will appear with a list of cultures, regions, subsistence types, and number of paragraphs for the OCM subjects searched.  Click on a culture name to view your search results.

#4. Write a 1-2 page review of your research procedure and briefly answer the following specific questions:

Why and how did you choose the subject file that you chose?
Why and how did you choose the culture that you chose?
How can this kind of information be useful in conducting cross-cultural research?
What, if anything, did you learn about the subject and the culture that you chose?

Grading will be on the basis of completeness: if you do the assignment as stated above, you’ll receive the 10pts. I’m not grading the quality of your essay, although I encourage you to compose your essay with the usual careful attention you devote to writing!


DUE DATE: March 5
The assignment is worth a total of 10 pts

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