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 get started. The guide focuses on Advanced Search and Browse Cultures. For Browse Subjects, Browse Documents (by author), and Basic Search, please refer to the “Help File” in the upper right-hand corner of the eHRAF databases.

Enter the databases using the access buttons in the right-hand column of this site.

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. The cultures included in eHRAF are a sample of all the world’s cultures. eHRAF World Cultures currently contains 280, eHRAF Archaeology contains 88 and new cultures are added regularly. This is a great place to begin learning about the cultures in eHRAF.

In the A-Z index, for example, you may find that the Selk’nam, a small indigenous group in South America, have quite a few similar-sounding names. In By Country, you can explore the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan, including the Hazara and the Pashtun (see Fig 1). In By Region, you will find cultures for eight major regions (e.g. North America) and subregions (e.g. Northwest Coast and California).

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

Figure 1. Information is organized by cultures including Western and non-Western cultures.

In Culture Summary (Fig. 1), you will find some basic information 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 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 (Fig.2). Previously, they were called “files”, which is still reflected in the name of the organization – Human Relations Area Files. Collection Description briefly describes the culture, while Collection Information shows the total number of documents in the eHRAF database for that culture. Knowing where to find Collection Information will prove 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.

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 2. 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 3. A typical page in an eHRAF document

When learning how to use eHRAF, take some time to click around a document (Fig. 3) to get a feel for the navigation and unique page layout, including reference made to date and place. On the right-hand side of the page, you will notice subjects. These 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. As a paragraph’s content changes, so will the OCM subjects appearing on the right-hand side. In Advanced Search, these subjects can be used to find concepts (e.g. cooking practices) expressed with many different words (boil, broil, roast, etc.), even in foreign language texts. You can become more familiar with them in Browse Subjects before you use them in Advanced Search.

Refine a Search with Regions, Subsistence & Sample Types

A unique and powerful feature of eHRAF is that it categorizes your search results by region and allows you to sort your results by culture, subsistence, sample type and so on (see Fig. 8).

This enables you to jump from culture to culture within a region (e.g. Amazon) or between major regions (e.g. Africa or Asia) in seconds. It also allows you to group all your results by type of subsistence (e.g. hunter-gatherers), sample type (e.g. PSF) or culture. In other words, you will not need to figure out which cultures in eHRAF are egalitarian societies because they are already categorized.

This ability makes eHRAF ideal for cross-culture, regional or area studies, or for comparative archaeology.

Subsistence and sample types in eHRAF's results page

Figure 8. Unique in eHRAF! Once a search is performed select cultures by regions, subregions, and sort by subsistence and sample types

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. Last update: April 5, 2014. Please check for regular updates.

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