HRAF Summer Institutes for Cross-Cultural Anthropological Research

HRAF Summer Institutes

The National Science Foundation (NSF), in a grant to the Human Relations Area Files (BCS #2020156), supported three years of Summer Institutes for Cross-Cultural Anthropological Research from 2021-2023. The first institute was held virtually because of Covid and the second and third institutes were held on the Yale campus. In total, these Summer Institutes trained 44 faculty, researchers, and advanced graduate students in theory and state-of-the art methods for conducting regional and worldwide comparative research. The aim was for the participants to incorporate these methods into their teaching and to enable them to conduct cross-cultural research using anthropological data. The program included lectures, discussion, hands-on exercises and each participant designed and executed a pilot project during their time at an institute. The primary instructors were Carol R. Ember (Human Relations Area Files at Yale University, USA), Fiona Jordan (University of Bristol, UK) and Séan Roberts (Cardiff University, UK). Additional lectures were delivered by Damian Blasi, Alexandra Brewis Slade, Joshua Conrad Jackson, Jeremy Koster, Erik Ringen, Eleanor Power, and Amber Wutich.

The instruction at the Institute covered all phases of regional and worldwide comparisons from project conception through statistical analysis that are consistent with scientific principles. Topics included:

  • The logic and types of comparisons (including collaborative projects), and the types of research questions asked by cross-cultural researchers;
  • Reviews of available data and databases (including a concordance of cross-cultural samples), as well as data management and design of coding materials;
  • How to derive testable hypotheses and design appropriate measures from specified theoretical principles;
  • Approaches to minimize random and systematic error, sampling strategies and issues of independence;
  • Introduction to a wide range of statistical approaches.

So as to ensure that participants had the necessary background for more advanced statistics covered at the Institute, accepted participants were expected to brush up on basic statistics and learn the rudiments of R (an open-source statistical environment) prior to attendance using materials prepared by the instructors. At the Institute, additional statistical topics were covered on non-linear and non-normal data, unidimensional scaling, multidimensional scaling and dimension reduction, multilevel modeling and causal graphs, Bayesian approaches, phylogenetic inference and comparative phylogenetic methods, and social network analysis.

In the final year of the grant, now extended until the end of August 2024, we will be preparing open-access course materials for wider use and distribution. In addition, we will finalize an online concordance that not only matches time and place foci for commonly-used cross-cultural samples, but also profiles the various time and place foci in each culture collection of eHRAF World Cultures to facilitate diachronic cross-cultural research.