Practical Guide to Using eHRAF

If you are new to the eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases, the following practical guide will help you to get started. Please note: the guide focuses on Advanced Search and Browse Cultures. For Browse Subjects, Browse Documents (by author), and Basic Search, refer to the “Help File” in the upper right-hand corner of the eHRAF databases. You can enter the database from any page on this site by using the access buttons in the right-hand column.

eHRAF at a Glance

  • Collection of documents (e.g. books, journal articles, monographs)
  • Organized into cultures or archaeological traditions
  • Detailed subject-indexing covering all aspects of social and cultural life
  • Powerful searching with cultures, subjects, keywords
  • Cultures organized by regions, subregions and subsistence types

One of eHRAF’s most powerful aspects is Advanced Search, where you can build a search using cultures, subjects and keywords. Before moving on to Advanced Search, this guide will point you to some essential features regarding how eHRAF is organized.

Browse Cultures

In the eHRAF World Cultures database, click on the Browse CULTURES tab at the top of the page.

Browse Cultures

Figure 1. Browse Cultures Tab in eHRAF World Cultures

The cultures included in eHRAF are a sample of all the world’s cultures. eHRAF World Cultures currently contains 280, while eHRAF Archaeology contains 88. New cultures are added regularly. In the Browse CULTURES tab, there are three options to choose from: browse by Country, by Region or view an A-Z index. This is a great place to begin learning about the cultures in eHRAF.

While browsing through the A-Z index, you will find that a lot of useful information is only one or two clicks away; for example, you can discover that the Selk’nam, a small indigenous group in South America, have quite a few similar-sounding names. Simply click on the letter “S”, scroll down to the culture name Selk’nam, and select “Culture Summary” to view a comprehensive list of ethnonyms, followed by other cultural facts such as demography and a brief historical overview (see Fig 2).


Figure 2: Viewing ethnonyms for Selk’nam

When browsing By Country, you can explore the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan by selecting the letter “A”, including the Hazara and the Pashtun (see Fig 3). Browsing By Region, you will find cultures for eight major regions (e.g. North America) and subregions (e.g. Northwest Coast and California). The three browsing options offer flexibility so that you can find information about specific cultures you are looking for as well as enable you to discover other cultures with ease.

Information is organized by cultures including western and non-western cultures

Figure 3. Information is organized by cultures including Western and non-Western cultures.

Note that below each culture name, there are options to view the relevant cultural summary as well as a description of the collection held by eHRAF, and the full list of documents contained in the collection with bibliographic information and links to the texts.

In Culture Summary (Fig. 3), you will find a basic overview about your chosen culture, such as its economy, history, environment and sociopolitical organization. For archaeological traditions, you will find other important information, such as absolute and relative time periods, diagnostic material attributes and key. Teachers: these summaries may make useful student assignments!

Next is Collection Description, where the word “collection” refers to all the ethnographic and archaeological works collected for a particular culture/tradition. Previously, we called them “Files”, which is still reflected in the name of the organization – Human Relations Area Files. Collection Description briefly describes the culture and offers related notes about the collection at a glance. Collection Information shows the total number of documents in the eHRAF database for that culture. Knowing where to find Collection Information proves useful for hypothesis testing or when evaluating search results weighed against all documents for a particular culture. In Collection Indexing Notes, you will also find a glossary of terms used in the next section, the Collection Documents (Fig 4).

The Collection Documents section in Browse Cultures of eHRAF World Cultures showing collected ethnographic works for the Aleut, a culture in the Arctic region of North America

Figure 4. Titles of ethnographic works on the Aleut in Collection Documents in the Browse Cultures section of eHRAF

Collection Documents is where you can access culture-specific texts, including books, dissertations, monographs or journal articles. You may also find “classic” ethnographies describing all aspects of cultural and social life. Many cultures included in eHRAF are preindustrial societies that, to this day, practice very traditional lifestyles, such as hunter-gathering or pastoralism, without modern amenities, such as running water, refrigeration, electricity or the internet.

A “typical” page in an eHRAF document, rich with information for the user

Figure 5. A typical page in an eHRAF document

When you follow a link to a text from Collection Documents, you will be taken to a page designed to aid navigation of the full-text document. When learning how to use eHRAF, take some time to click around a document (Fig. 5) to get a feel for the unique page layout, including the table of contents information boxes on the left-hand side. The first thing you may notice is that the text is separated into paragraphs. On the right-hand side of the page, you will find a list of subjects and 3-digit codes that correspond to each paragraph. These subjects and numbers are taken from the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM), a vast thesaurus of indexing terms that covers all aspects of cultural and social life.

HRAF-trained analysts and anthropologists painstakingly index each and every paragraph in the eHRAF databases. This helps to connect related concepts throughout the documents held in the eHRAF databases. Why might this be important? When you switch from browsing eHRAF to the Advanced Search function, these OCM subjects can be used to find concepts (e.g. cooking practices) that might be expressed in the original texts with many different words (boil, broil, roast, etc.), or even in foreign languages, where a simple keyword search would be inadequate. It is therefore a good idea to become familiar with the OCM subjects in Browse Subjects before you use them in Advanced Search.

Learn more about getting started with Advanced Search.

Useful Documents (PDFs)

Practical Guide to Using eHRAF

Topics and Cultures in eHRAF: This printable PDF document serves as handy reference and overview of all the topics on cultural and social life, and all cultures, past and present, currently covered in HRAF’s cross-cultural online databases. Please check for regular updates.

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