Practical Guide to Using eHRAF

New! 04/15/2016 – We are currently in the process of streamlining our entire user guide experience for users who need step-by-step help with eHRAF World Cultures and Archaeology. This content will soon be replaced with the latest version of the guide that you will be able find directly in the eHRAF interface. This page will be updated shortly with more information.


If you are new to the eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases, the following practical guide will help you to get started.

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. 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.

Click on A-Z index to find a culture by typing into the box, or use the A-Z buttons to browse by culture name. Where “USE” followed by a culture name appears, this is the preferred ethnonym for that ethnic group as it is indexed in eHRAF. This information can help you to add culture name refinements to your query when searching.

When you have found a culture name of interest, 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

Browsing By Country works much the same way, with the list sorted by country name and relevant cultures listed below the countries where they are from. For instance, 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.

Browse Subjects

Browse Subjects enables you to construct a better search and therefore get more relevant results from the database.

All of the ethnographic and archaeological documents contained within eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology have been indexed and coded at the document, page and paragraph-level by our team of HRAF analysts. Coding at every paragraph of text is what makes the eHRAF databases perfect for comparative anthropological research and cross-cultural queries. Browsing eHRAF will help you to get more familiar with the coding system, which is based on the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM), a vast thesaurus of indexes and categories. OCM codes are typically 3-digits long and there are over 90 major category codes containing over 700 sub-codes.

How to Browse Subjects in eHRAF:

Click on the Browse Subjects tab in the eHRAF interface to explore the database by subject or OCM code. There are three modes for browsing by subject in eHRAF.

  1. A-Z index: Contains word pointers or index terms that may help you find and choose subject categories that best suit your search.
  2. Major Subjects: Gives an overview of the major subjects and subcategories used in eHRAF.
  3. OCM Code: Provides a more traditional display of the subjects in the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) in numeric order.

The Browse Subjects tab in eHRAF, showing the three selection buttons for browsing.

By A-Z Index

The A-Z index in Browse Subjects functions as a thesaurus to optimize your ability to search eHRAF by identifying relevant search terms based on the keywords that you enter. The A-Z index helps to match your chosen search terms with those that were used to code eHRAF, thereby guiding you to the best terms for searching. In addition to matching your keywords with the codes used by HRAF’s indexers, it will also direct you to any documents in eHRAF that contain that subject code.

For instance, if you’re interested in food, simply start typing the word “food” into the Filter Index box, and related subject matches will appear. Below the terms, it will specify which category to use when searching. If you see the word “USE” followed by a subject description, the latter is the subject used by indexers. For instance, for “abstinence from food”, you should use the OCM code 261, Gratification and control of hunger, when conducting your search. Since there are many codes that can apply to a single topic (in this case, diet, nutrition, gathering, and preparation all apply to food), this is where a thesaurus is necessary. The A-Z index indicates which categories you should use while searching to increase your search accuracy and efficiency.

Your keywords will be matched with the most effective search codes for eHRAF.

Your keywords will be matched with the most effective search codes for eHRAF.

Click on the results that interest you or seem closest to your terms to read a more detailed Subject Description. This description will give you some more information about how that subject is used in the database as well as the OCM code that it corresponds to. You can also click on Broader Subject to read more about the overarching subject category; Narrower Subjects to drill down to a more specific topic; or Related Subjects to find other possible connections for your search.

An example of a Subject Description in Browse Subjects (by A-Z index)

An example of a Subject Description in Browse Subjects (by A-Z index)

Beside the link to the Subject Description, the Related Documents link will bring you to a list of all the ethnographic documents in eHRAF that have a match within them for the subject code. You can sort this list by clicking on the column headers for Author, Title or Culture.

Related Documents list in Browse Subjects in eHRAF (A-Z index)

Related Documents list in Browse Subjects in eHRAF (A-Z index)

Clicking on Document titles in this list will bring you to the publication information page. This page contains full bibliographic details and an abstract, as well as all the indexing notes for that document, including more OCM codes that apply to the document as a whole. In the left hand column of the page, there is a clickable Table of Contents for the document. You can use this to navigate to the full-text sections of the document, or, alternatively, use the Next and Last buttons or the drop-down menu in the top right corner to navigate page by page.

At the foot of the Publication Information page, you can use the Citation button to export bibliographic details into citation management software or copy and paste the citation or permalink for future reference.

By Major Subjects

Browsing eHRAF by Major Subjects

Browsing eHRAF by Major Subjects

This option allows you to click through a pre-organized interactive list of subjects. Click on the top-level subject of interest and a list of sub-categories will expand beneath it. This is helpful if you are browsing with a more general topic in mind or if you would like to explore eHRAF’s holdings more broadly for ideas, including how to narrow your terms. While you may use the major subjects in Advanced search, we recommend using the most specific subject categories to minimize the amount of material you may need to read through. For each category, the Subject Description and Related Documents links are available for further information and to bring you directly to the Publication Information page for matching documents.


By OCM Code

The OCM codes are based on the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) and are organized in numerical order. OCM codes are typically three digits long. You can find the complete list of OCM codes used in eHRAF here [link]. You can use the range tabs (e.g. 100-199) at the top to move through the various categories. Again, click on the subject headers to expand the sub-categories menu for the Subject Description and Related Documents.

Browse Subjects by OCM code in eHRAF

Browse Subjects by OCM code in eHRAF

Done Browsing?

You can use the subjects found on any of these tabs in either Basic or Advanced Search.

Browse Documents

The Browse Documents tab in eHRAF lets you browse the database by author. Simply begin typing the author’s surname into the Filter Index box at the top of the page to see the matching documents in eHRAF. Alternatively, you can use the A-Z buttons to scroll through the available authors.

Combined with the new Citations button that is available on each Publication Information page as well as page and paragraph search results in eHRAF, Browse Documents can help you to keep track of ethnographic texts within the eHRAF databases.

Browsing Documents by author's surname in eHRAF. Begin typing, and matches by surname will appear in the list.

Browsing Documents by author’s surname in eHRAF. Begin typing, and matches by surname will appear in the list.


Related Downloads (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.





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