CHOICE Review – eHRAF World Cultures

Originally published in CHOICE Magazine (October 2015).

eHRAF World Cultures, from the Human Relations Area Files, Yale University. Human Relations Area Files. Contact publisher for pricing

(Revisited Jul ’15) The complex Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) project at Yale has furthered an extremely important research goal since 1949: the detailed comparative analysis of individual cultures via in-depth indexing of the full texts of major anthropological research monographs, periodical articles, essays, dissertations, and photographic collections. The number of pages contained in the electronic (eHRAF) database has expanded from 350,000 to 600,000 since the time of the last review (CH, Dec’03, 41-1926). The coverage of 290 cultures has been amplified by the inclusion of Canadian and US immigrant groups and by historical periods—both features added to the traditional HRAF structure before the original HRAF microfiche format ceased publication in 1994, and the earliest computerized version, Cross-Cultural CD (CH, Feb’93, 30-3052), was inaugurated. A number of welcome changes in content and interface design have been implemented in recent years in this resource, as well as in the companion eHRAF Archaeology (CH, Oct’15, 53-1979) database.

Available under the Browse Subjects tab, the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) is a hierarchical thesaurus that defines indexing terms and facilitates subject searching; nine of its subject headings have been renamed since the shift to electronic format, while a new category, Gender Roles and Issues, was added in 1997. Search capabilities have become more flexible too, with the Advanced Search mode combining Culture, Subject, and Keyword searching possibilities. The Browse Culture section provides an in-depth overview of each document set, beginning with a cultural summary and followed by a general collection description and bibliographic details describing the component documents (each of which is contained in its entirety, a major strength of the eHRAF databases).  Subsistence-type and sample-type searches (probability and simple random samples) have also been added.  Research on the type of sampling instrument used by inputting “questionnaire” or “survey” as a keyword search is not feasible, but using the OCM subject structure or codes, one can limit results to authors’ discussion of their methodologies (e.g., Experimental data, Interviewing in research, Organization and analysis of results of research, etc.).

The electronic eHRAF collection has not yet succeeded in extending coverage to include the complete set of older, microfiched documents (covering 350 cultures), which is an ongoing priority, as is inclusion of new ethnographic works and cultures.  While this causes an unfortunate dilemma for researchers who require the most comprehensive database to test theoretical propositions, this reality does not lessen the eHRAF World Culture’s value.  In the meantime, major research libraries housing the original HRAF microfiche (or paper) files will want to continue to maintain these collections.  Librarians evaluating the potential of the eHRAF databases to support anthropological scholarship at their institutions will perhaps find an instructive case model in HRAF’s approach to disciplinary information management, supporting a shared (versus competing) commitment to being keepers of print/microform collections and brokers of universal online access. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through researchers/faculty; professional/practitioners.

–R. B. Ridinger, Northern Illinois University

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