HRAF 2019 in Review & 2020 Preview

2020 Agenda

Welcome to 2020! It’s time for our annual News & Notes recap and preview. This post will summarize our highlights from the previous year, as well as what you can expect to see from HRAF over the next 12 months.

2019 in Review

Did you know that 2019 marked HRAF’s 70th anniversary? It was another eventful year as we celebrated this milestone in our history. As is tradition, let us begin our Year In Review with our staff movements here at 755 Prospect in New Haven:

Abbe McCarter joined us as our Melvin Ember intern for 2019-2020. Meanwhile, Tahlisa Brougham, HRAF Member Coordinator, left her position in the summer of 2019. You may also remember Tahlisa as a former Melvin Ember intern herself. We wish her all the very best at NYU Law!

In the Spring, we were joined by Furkan Teke, our Digital Services Production & Development Specialist, just in time for some exciting new developments coming from our IT department. One of his first projects was adding the ability to browse cultures by map in eHRAF, a long-awaited feature for our members. Furkan’s efficiency and creativity are welcome assets to our small – but dedicated – team of developers.

HRAF AAA Exhibition Table 2019

In July 2019, HRAF welcomed Matthew Longcore as Manager of Outreach and Member Services. Coming to us from UConn where he is also an adjunct faculty member in Anthropology, Matthew has been at the forefront of our member outreach projects and new collaborations – including our Community College Initiative – which you can read more about below. If you were fortunate enough to visit our table in the exhibition hall, you may have had the pleasure of meeting Matthew and trying out our eHRAF databases at the AAA/CASCA 2019 conference this November in Vancouver.

In August, Ian Skoggard, HRAF anthropologist, was elected to the executive board for the Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS). As a member of the SAS executive board, he will continue efforts to promote science within anthropology and anthropology within the broader scientific community. Congratulations, Ian!

HRAF Membership Updates

College and lawn

We warmly welcomed the following academic institutions to the HRAF family in 2019:

  • Adelphi University
  • Ball State University
  • Bates College
  • Boston College
  • Brown University
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Getty Research Institute
  • Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław
  • Liberty University
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Northeastern Illinois University
  • Russian Academy of Sciences – Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology
  • SUNY Tompkins-Cortland CC
  • University of South Bohemia
  • Washtenaw Community College

Interested in membership for your academic institution? Sign up for a free IP trial for our eHRAF Databases to get started.

HRAF Community College Initiative


Autumn of our 70th anniversary year saw the launch of our HRAF Community College Initiative, which recognizes the important role of community colleges in providing students with access to quality, affordable opportunities for higher education. To support the engagement of community colleges, HRAF is expanding resources for teaching and offering new more affordable membership dues which have been designed to better serve community colleges.

Did you know that our small, non-profit organization services over 500 academic member institutions from around the world? At this time, only a comparatively small percentage of these are community colleges. We plan to continue our efforts towards welcoming new Community College members to the HRAF family throughout 2020. One of the ways we hope to achieve this is through a partnership with the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC), the section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) which promotes excellence in teaching among community college anthropologists. Stay tuned for an announcement coming soon on our homepage about our collaboration with SACC!

You can read more about the HRAF Community College Initiative in this post.

HRAF Global Scholarship

HRAF Global Scholarship Map

After the great success of the HRAF Global Scholarship competition that we first launched in 2018, we were delighted to continue the program for another year. For 2019, the Global Scholarship was opened to both individuals and academic institutions in low- or middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank. The scholarship provides one year of access to eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology at no charge to the individual or their academic institution. This cycle, HRAF promised to guarantee both individual and institutional scholarships, which broadened our pool of applicants. Our successful candidates ranged from graduate students to full-time faculty and researchers.

We are pleased to announce our 2020 Global Scholarship Winners:

Institutional Scholarships

  • University of Caldas, Colombia
  • Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR), Kenya

Individual Scholarships

  • Sandi James, Malaysia
  • Masanga Ndungi, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Kolo Lomo Michael Pascal, Cameroon
  • Getnet Tibebu, Ethopia
  • Abel Dula Wedajo, Ethiopia

Congratulations to all!

Donate to HRAF

Support HRAFWe are heartened to report that due to the popularity of the HRAF Global Scholarship, we have received more applications than we can fund from our own dedicated resources. The potential renewal of HRAF scholarships for an additional year or longer is dependent upon adequate funds to continue support of the Global Scholarship program. As a result, we have launched a small fundraising campaign to ensure that every promising global scholarship candidate is guaranteed funding for a minimum of one year.

We are therefore seeking the kind and generous support of donors who would like to share in our promotion of anthropology, archaeology, and cross-cultural research. You can donate any amount to HRAF as an organization. Your generous contribution will support HRAF in continuing to promote the development of our open access resources (Explaining Human Culture, Teaching eHRAF, and our online introductory course) for comparative and cross-cultural research. The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. Our EIN is 06-6057678. Learn more on our general donations page.

Culture Updates

File cabinets

A popular annual request from members is for more information about how we are growing our culture collections in eHRAF. Click here for a summary of what cultures and traditions we added or updated in 2019, as well as what we’ll be including in eHRAF World Cultures or eHRAF Archaeology throughout 2020.

New & Popular Posts

Wine and Cheese plate

If you’ve been keeping an eye on our homepage, Facebook, and Twitter, and anxiously awaiting our monthly newsletters, this year you will have seen a wide variety of original anthropological content from HRAF covering interesting and engaging cross-cultural topics. One of our most popular posts from 2019 was this tasty morsel: The Social Life of Cheese. If that whet your appetite for culinary anthropology, don’t miss our post that covers famous foodies like Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay’s new globetrotting TV series: Food Anthropology on Television: Ethnographic Culinary Adventures.

Another popular article penned this year is An Anthropology of Dads: Exploring fatherhood in eHRAF, which asks: are fathers and fatherhood underrepresented as a subject of inquiry in anthropology? A more theoretical perspective is present our next favorite pick, The Return of the Comparative Method in Anthropology. After seven decades at the forefront of promoting cross-cultural research in anthropology, HRAF is perfectly positioned to wade into the debate over the value of comparative cultural studies. And finally, bringing it all home this year was our post Home Truths: An Anthropology of House and Home, which looks at the concept and sentiment of “the home” and the seemingly universal human attachment to place.

Statistically, our Top 5 most-visited eHRAF Highlights posts of all time for the 2019-2020 calendar year were:

? Pro tip: These fully referenced posts are great for classroom use!

Don’t miss out on these or any future posts from eHRAF Highlights. Sign up for HRAF News, our monthly newsletter. View past issues in our News Archive.

Explaining Human Culture & Teaching eHRAF

Lukas Avendaño image

In 2019, two new topical summary modules were added to Explaining Human Culture, our open access database of over 1,000 cross-cultural studies. You can now find Gender and Sexuality in our list of modules that summarize what we have learned from cross-cultural research. This brings our total collection of summaries to nine so far. Stay tuned for additional summaries on Arts, and Marriage & Family, both coming in Spring 2020!

In addition to the topical summaries, both the Gender and Sexuality modules in EHC contain a companion teaching exercise for instructors that can be found in Teaching eHRAF. Refer to the section “Exercises Using eHRAF World Cultures” in each of the aforementioned modules to find the supplementary teaching materials.

As we continue to grow Explaining Human Culture, we will also be developing additional video guides and tutorials to assist users in making the most of this open-access resource. Two videos planned for 2020 are: “How to use EHC (Getting Started)” and “How to use EHC in conjunction with Teaching eHRAF”.

At the end of 2019, we also added a new syllabus, an Ethnographic and Ethnological Research Project, to Teaching eHRAF. For 2020, we are in the process of the developing a new teaching exercise to supplement our recent post, Food Anthropology on Television: Ethnographic Culinary Adventures. This assignment will engage students in anthropological research using eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology to learn more about the anthropology of food from a cross-cultural perspective.

One of our first projects for 2020 has already debuted! Our new YouTube video tutorial on using eHRAF World Cultures is perfect for introducing eHRAF in your classroom. Learn more in our announcement post:

Get ready for the spring semester with the new eHRAF World Cultures video tutorial

Research from HRAF

Image illustrating climate change

HRAF anthropologist Ian Skoggard summarized past and ongoing HRAF cross-cultural research on climate change for the AAA’s Anthropology News in his article What Ethnology Can Tell Us about the Consequences of Climate Change: “The ethnographic record and ethnology show the importance of the environment, especially resource stress, on social institutions, customs and culture change; and what we might expect in these times of the Anthropocene when more extreme weather makes its impact felt”.

Damián Blasi at the University of Zurich, and a research associate here at HRAF, published a paper with colleagues in Science reporting significant differences in the frequency of “F” and “V” sounds in language and why hunter-gatherer languages rarely have these sounds (Blasi et al. 2019). The researchers present broad support for the theory that “F” and “V” sounds emerged with the transition to agriculture, probably because of dietary changes to softer foods.

Erik Ringen et. al. published “The evolution of daily food sharing: A Bayesian phylogenetic analysis”  in Human Behavior and Evolution:

Consistent with a risk-buffering function, we find that sharing is less likely in societies with alternative means of smoothing production and consumption such as animal husbandry, food storage, and external trade. Further, food sharing was tightly linked to labor sharing, indicating gains to cooperative production and perhaps divisions of labor.

The paper was based on data from other HRAF research.

Sharing a plate of bread and food

Food sharing in Turba Village, North Darfur. Credit: Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNAMID

Other articles this year that utilized eHRAF data in their research include: Evolutionary Models of Leadership by Garfield, Hubbard, and Hagen, published in Human Nature, which tests theoretical models of leadership against the ethnographic record. Curry, Mullins, and Whitehouse found seven potentially universal rules of human morality for their paper Is It Good to Cooperate? in Current Anthropology. Lastly, in their ambitious new article published in Science, Samuel Mehr, et al. used the eHRAF World Cultures database to uncover universality and diversity in human song.

More from HRAF in 2020

Goals 2020 laptop

The keen participant-observers among our readers may have noticed that towards the end of 2019, we quietly launched an early beta version of our upcoming redesign of the eHRAF World Cultures database. It is currently under development, so feel free to give it a spin and let us know your feedback. We’ll be announcing some of the new and anticipated features as 2020 gets underway. Watch this space for updates.

Stay in touch!

It was great to see you all at the AAA/CASCA annual meeting in Vancouver. You can still get in touch if you haven’t yet requested an eHRAF trial for the Spring. As always, our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts will keep you in the loop, but should you want to get first dibs on our latest announcements, take advantage of the option to sign up for the HRAF newsletter.