HRAF 2020 in Review & 2021 Preview

HRAF 2021

It’s 2021, and time for our annual news & notes recap and preview. This post will summarize our activities from the previous year, as well as what you can expect to see from HRAF over the next 12 months.

2020 in Review

As is tradition, let us begin our Year In Review by featuring our staff. In 2020, we warmly welcomed Benjamin Gonzalez and Daniel McCloskey as our Melvin Ember interns for 2020-2021. Read more about Ben and Daniel, their research interests, and their current HRAF projects here.

HRAF Research Assistant (formerly a Melvin Ember Intern), Emily Pitek, and Abbe McCarter, our Melvin Ember Intern for 2019-2020, both moved on to graduate school in 2020. Emily is now in the Forensic Psychology master’s program at George Washington University. She continues to publish work with other HRAF researchers, some of which you can read more about in the “Research from HRAF” summary below.

Abbe is currently in the Human Nutrition program in the International Health department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As she explains,

It has been a fascinating time to be studying public health, and most of my classes have focused on the effects of COVID-19 on food systems (which includes everything from the breakouts in meat production facilities to the new initiative to extend SNAP benefits to work for online retailers), on links between the virus and nutritional status, on worsening food insecurity inequities around the world, etc. There is both a biochemical aspect of the degree along with a cultural / anthropological side, and I am really enjoying the intersection of the two! There is also a strong statistical research component which my time at HRAF prepared me well for.

Abbe is also co-authoring a research paper to be submitted for publication shortly. It is tentatively titled “Uniformity in Dress: A Worldwide Cross-Cultural Comparison”. We wish both Abbe and Emily great success in all their endeavors and look forward to featuring their research here in the future.

SAS book prize featureIn January 2020, we were pleased to announce that the Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS)  named their annual book prize after Dr. Carol R. Ember, President of HRAF. SAS is a section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) which seeks “to fulfill the historic mission of anthropology to describe and explain the range of variation in human biology, society, and culture across time and space.” The members of the Society for Anthropological Sciences voted to name the book prize after Dr. Ember by email ballot in January following the recommendation of the SAS Board at the joint meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) which took place at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in November 2019.

Tef Fulbright PortraitAnother momentous honor went to HRAF Anthropologist Dr. Teferi Abate Adem, who received a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award in the field of anthropology from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. As a Fulbright scholar, Teferi will be teaching anthropology courses at Wollo University in Dessie, Ethiopia. He will also conduct ethnographic research on the social dimensions of how farmers in two ecologically contrasting rural communities are responding to vagaries of climate change-aggravated irregularities in the onset, duration, and intensity of rainfall during local growing wet seasons.



HRAF Summer Institutes

HRAF received two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The first was a two-year grant  to support the iKLEWS project. This project aims to enhance searching in eHRAF World Cultures and will also provide tools for visualizing, analyzing, and managing results. It will result in improved topical and temporal metadata with greater relevance of search results in the eHRAF databases. In addition to the existing subject categories, we will establish links between paragraphs so that a researcher can follow topics more effectively when identifying and testing hypotheses. Read more about the iKLEWS grant project.

We have also been awarded NSF funding to support three years of Summer Institutes for Cross-Cultural Anthropological Research (2021-2023). Cross-cultural findings derived from anthropological data are critical to many social sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, economics, political science), particularly when testing the generalizability of important theories for policy. HRAF Summer Institutes will train faculty, researchers, and graduate students in the theory and methods for conducting regional and worldwide comparative research. The first institute will be held late July through early August, 2021. Applications are due February 15, 2021. Read more about the Summer Institutes and how to apply for the first institute.

Educating in unprecedented times

video conference

2020 started out strong with the first ever HRAF Anthropology Day event hosted in New Haven in February. In celebration of Anthropology Day 2020, HRAF hosted the UConn Stamford Anthropology Society for a full-day event. The day featured presentations from HRAF staff members, famous New Haven pizza for lunch, and an afternoon tour of the Yale Peabody Museum.

Less than a month after Anthropology Day 2020, colleges and universities around the world closed their doors for a long and protracted year of uncertainty. As we edged through much of 2020 without a return to “normal” campus life, we turned our attention to providing as much support as possible to those grappling to meet the challenges of teaching and learning remotely.

We began with a series of posts in April 2020 on accessing eHRAF and other HRAF resources from home, including creative ways to transition to remote learning in anthropology. In addition to continuing to provide HRAF databases and tools that would enable successful online learning in the short term, we considered the longer-term implications of higher education throughout 2020 and beyond. The third post in the series explored how to quickly “pivot to online”, as well as addressed the unforeseeable and unpredictable “remote futures” that await us.

Comprising the world’s largest online anthropological data bank of ethnographic and archaeological materials, eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology are ideal tools for any anthropology or archaeology course. Solving Online Teaching Conundrums with eHRAF answers some common classroom questions that may arise while teaching online, along with tips for how the eHRAF databases and other resources can help to resolve them. These posts and much more can be found in our new resources page developed throughout 2020: Teaching Online.

eHRAF Workbooks

Beginning in the summer of 2020, we also embarked on an ambitious project to create eHRAF Workbooks for introductory anthropology. Designed to complement any textbook or anthropology curriculum, eHRAF Workbook activities are presented as PowerPoint slideshows that instructors can modify, share, and upload to Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, or a similar learning management system.

AAA Workshop feature

By October, we completed our first workbook, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, which consists of 28 activities across 17 subject areas covering all aspects of anthropology. Dr. Francine Barone and Matthew Longcore were delighted to present these workbook materials in a Virtual Workshop hosted by the American Anthropological Association in December 2020, for which we received great positive feedback.

Following the success of our cultural anthropology workbook based on the eHRAF World Cultures database, we are now working on an Introduction to Archaeology workbook which are primarily designed to interact with materials in the eHRAF Archaeology database. Due to an increase in demand for our eHRAF Archaeology database, HRAF will be focusing on expanding our resources for teaching archaeology with eHRAF throughout 2021. Stay tuned for more updates about our workbooks as they are released. If you are not familiar with eHRAF Archaeology, check out the tutorial video that we released in 2020.

If you would like to read more about the hands-on experience of incorporating the eHRAF into a remote learning environment, we have reflections from Matthew Longcore, Manager of Marketing and Outreach, who also teaches anthropology and archaeology as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut. Professor Longcore was pleased to have the opportunity to incorporate the recently launched eHRAF Workbooks into his summer course, ANTH 1006: Introduction to Anthropology. With an enrollment of 12 students, the intensive 5-week online summer course provided an ideal setting for observing the new eHRAF Workbooks in action.

Teaching eHRAF & Explaining Human Culture

Nascent worlds promo banner

In 2020, we featured content from two faculty members at HRAF member institutions. We had the pleasure of interviewing Janice Hartgrove-Freile, Professor of Psychology at Lone Star College-North Harris in Houston, Texas. Janice is an innovative and extraordinarily dedicated community college faculty member who is a strong advocate for teaching with eHRAF. Dr. Ann Feuerbach of SUNY Nassau Community College contributed an excellent example of an introductory eHRAF Tutorial Video that she uses in her anthropology classes. We featured the video in Part 2 of our remote learning series.

In addition to the eHRAF Workbooks, we also expanded Teaching eHRAF, our open-access repository of sample syllabi, with several new teaching activities from HRAF Digital Anthropologist, Dr. Francine Barone. Ethnographic Insights Across Cultures presents a richly curated and comprehensive introduction to cultural anthropology based wholly upon open access resources. Nascent Worlds is a build-your-own-culture activity. Designed with introductory socio-cultural anthropology classes in mind, this fun and inventive project allows students to be as creative as they like in exploring and applying the anthropological concept of culture. It uses culture summaries to teach students about four-field anthropology, ethnography, and cultural change, with a touch of imagination. HRAF Jeoparody is our first interactive teaching game, based on the TV game show Jeopardy! Any and all of these teaching materials can be used in conjunction with the eHRAF Workbooks.

In June, extensive updates were made to the very popular Hunter-Gatherers module in Explaining Human Culture (EHC), our open access database of over 1,000 cross-cultural studies. A new topical summary on Art was also added our list of modules that summarize what we have learned from cross-cultural research. This brings our total collection of summaries to 10 so far. An additional summary on Marriage & Family will be coming soon in 2021. For scholars interested in using EHC for cross-cultural research, we have new tutorial videos available.

HRAF Membership Updates

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HRAF created a new category of membership designed specifically for instructors. Course Membership is available for instructors (not currently affiliated with a member institution) who wish to utilize eHRAF World Cultures for teaching. Membership includes access to a limited subset of the eHRAF World Cultures collection that belong to the Probability Sample Files (PSF).

We warmly welcomed 4 Individual Researchers and our first Course Member along with the following academic institutions to the HRAF family in 2020:

  • Berea College
  • Campus Condorcet
  • College of Micronesia-FSM
  • Columbus State Community College
  • CSIC – Institucion Mila i Fontanals
  • CUNY Graduate Center
  • Fort Lewis College
  • Institute of Archaeology, U of Wrocław
  • Masaryk University Faculty of Arts
  • Monroe County Community College
  • Pima Community College
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
  • Texas State University
  • Trent University
  • Troy University
  • University of Hawaii (Maui)
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Washington University in St. Louis

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

Culture Updates

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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 2020, as well as what we’ll be including in eHRAF World Cultures or eHRAF Archaeology throughout 2021.

Research from HRAF

drought landscape

2020 was a prolific year for research publications from HRAF. For the last five years, researchers affiliated with HRAF’s Advanced Research Center have conducted cross-cultural and cross-archaeological research on the possible effects of natural hazards and other ecological stressors on culture.

In June, a team of researchers published an article in the journal Nature Sustainability titled Resource stress and subsistence diversification across societies. They found partial support for the idea that subsistence diversity provides resilience to societies experiencing resource stress and environmental unpredictability. Many societies in the ethnographic or anthropological record have experienced climate instability, natural hazards, and resource shortages in their histories. Examining indigenous practices may help suggest practical sustainable solutions for food insecurity in response to climate change.This research was part of a larger project on Natural Hazards and Cultural Transformations.

Can we learn from the past how best to adapt to environmental unpredictability today? Examining indigenous practices may help suggest practical sustainable solutions for food insecurity in response to climate change. Three additional published papers from 2020 asked the following questions:

  1. Is subsistence diversification a common strategy in societies facing more hazards and resource stress?
  2. Is cultural tightness more likely with greater ecological stress?
  3. What kinds of societies were more resilient following the catastrophic darkening of the skies in 536-547 CE in the northern hemisphere?

Click here to read more about these papers from HRAF’s Advanced Research Center.

Tightness-looseness theory suggests that cultures vary in how strictly they expect people to dress, eat, or act a certain way. Tighter cultures have very strong expectations, many rules, and severe punishment for those who violate those rules. In loose cultures, individuals are allowed more leeway in their behavior and are not as likely to be severely punished for violating expectations. In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Joshua Conrad Jackson, Michele Gelfand, and Carol Ember addressed whether or not this theory applies to societies in the anthropological record.

In a cross-cultural study published in American Anthropologist, authors Carol R. Ember, Teferi Abate Adem, Tahlisa Brougham, and Emily Pitek, reported results that may help us understand why land, a vital resource for most societies in the ethnographic record, would be owned communally or privately. Conceptualizing and coding land tenure systems as a “bundle of rights,” this worldwide cross‐cultural study suggests that Acheson’s (2015) economic defendability theory in conjunction with some environmental stressors, such as drought, may help us understand cross‐cultural variation in land tenure systems.

IT & Development

Beta landing page

As mentioned in last year’s annual review post, our IT team’s development of the all-new eHRAF World Cultures application is continuing. In 2020, we progressed to user testing the beta version of eHRAF. We continue to encourage your feedback on any aspect of the beta application appearance and functionality. If you have been checking in regularly, some new features that you will have seen this past year include enhanced search filters, alternate options for displaying search results, additional settings for customizing the page appearance, an improved Advanced Search form layout, annotating of results in notebooks, and other performance upgrades. If you haven’t yet taken it for a spin, now is a great time. Simply navigate to the current eHRAF World Cultures landing page via your usual institutional access portal (i.e. log in first through your university library), and find the box labelled Preview Our New Design. If your institution is not yet a member, have your librarian contact us to apply for an IP trial.

Donate to HRAF

Support HRAF

As a small non-profit organization, we greatly appreciate the kind and generous support of donors who would like to share in our promotion of anthropology, archaeology, and cross-cultural research.

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 donations page.

Stay in touch!

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