HRAF 2023 in Review & 2024 Preview

HRAF Year in Review 2023-4

It’s time for our annual Year in Review! This article will summarize HRAF’s activities from the previous year as well as describe what you can expect to see from us over the next 12 months.

HRAF at 75

Did you know that 2024 marks HRAF’s 75th anniversary? The Human Relations Area Files has been a financially autonomous research agency based at Yale University since 1949.

Institute of Human Relations

In the 1930s, behavioral scientists at Yale’s Institute of Human Relations started to develop a collection of cultural materials classified by subject at the paragraph-level, enabling quick access to the contents. The Human Relations Area Files grew out of these efforts. On February 26, 1949, delegates from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Washington, and Yale University met in New Haven, Connecticut to pledge their membership in a nonprofit research organization to be based at Yale. On May 7, 1949, the Human Relations Area Files was formally established.

Since its founding, HRAF has pioneered the interdisciplinary pursuit of anthropological knowledge by expanding access to expertly curated ethnographic data as well as promoting scientific methodologies for cross-cultural comparison. From the original paper files based on the Cross-Cultural Survey, to microfiche, CD-ROM, and online databases serving over 500 institutional members worldwide, HRAF has consistently been ahead of its time in enabling researchers to access a world of ethnographic knowledge in order to support discovery, test hypotheses, build theories, compare and contrast worldwide findings, and pursue the science of anthropology.

HRAF Celebrating 75 YearsToday, HRAF remains a small non-profit organization committed to developing dynamic, expertly indexed databases. In recent years, HRAF has built upon its longstanding legacy of cultural data with a series of open access resources including Teaching eHRAF, Explaining Human Culture, and Introducing Cross-Cultural Research. With the latest version of the eHRAF databases released in 2022 and 2023, we continue to develop features and services designed to meet the growing needs of anthropologists and interdisciplinary researchers around the world. Signs are pointing to a noticeable resurgence in cross-cultural methods as well as broad interest in data science and cultural diversity, with new eHRAF studies flourishing within and beyond anthropology. As curators of cultural knowledge, we look forward to the next step of enhancing our journey with the promises and challenges of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Join us in celebrating 75 years of innovation!

We encourage you to sign up for our newsletter and keep an eye on our social media channels for the latest anniversary announcements.

eHRAF Updates

Database Updates

2023 marked a new era of eHRAF going live for all users. After years of development, beta testing, and user feedback, the latest eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology applications replaced the retired legacy versions on August 1, 2023. Feedback on the new databases over the past year has been overwhelmingly positive from both longtime and new users of eHRAF. The new applications boast a host of new features including enhanced filters, search insights and notebooks, as well as speed improvements and a lighter and more intuitive design. We anticipate the addition of more data services to be incorporated into eHRAF World Cultures in 2024 as part of our iKLEWS Project.

If you would like to explore eHRAF World Cultures and/or eHRAF Archaeology, but your academic institution is not yet a member, have your librarian contact us to apply for an IP trial.

Culture & Tradition Updates

Collection Updates

A popular annual request from our members is for more information about how we are growing our culture and tradition collections in the eHRAF databases. Click here for a summary of what cultures and traditions we added or updated in 2023, as well as what we will be analyzing for eHRAF World Cultures or eHRAF Archaeology throughout 2024.

Teaching eHRAF

Teaching Updates

There are currently 71 teaching activities in Teaching eHRAF, our open access repository of eHRAF-based teaching materials created in-house at HRAF or submitted by teaching faculty from member institutions. 11 of these activities are based on cross-cultural summaries from Explaining Human Culture. In addition to these activities, there are a total of 44 eHRAF Workbooks for Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology. In the summer of 2023, the eHRAF Workbooks were updated and revamped in preparation for the new eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology interfaces. Instructors using the workbooks with our new applications can continue to freely download and share them for educational use.

HRAF member faculty Professor John Millhauser, Director of Graduate Programs for Anthropology at North Carolina State University, submitted a teaching activity from his course on Environmental Archaeology to our open access repository of sample syllabi. In this activity, students work in groups and alone to study some aspect of how humans relate to their environments using ethnographic resources of the eHRAF databases. Ethnographic data is central to many archaeological interpretations of past behaviors, events, and processes. It helps link the material remains found at archaeological sites with human practices that generated them.

Best of 2023

Top Content

The Top 5 most popular teaching activities in 2023 were Relative and Absolute Dating Methods in Archaeology; Reciprocity & Exchange: The Kula Ring; An Introduction to Fieldwork and Ethnography and Language, Culture & Society by Dr. Francine Barone (HRAF) and Ethnography and Ethnology in Anthropology by Dr. Diana Shandy (Macalester College).

The top five articles on our homepage throughout 2023 were:

Some of our posts that had the most “likes” and “shares” on social media were our April 1st post about oHRAF, the inaugural issue of the HRAF Academic Quarterly, the Journal of Cross-Cultural Research, our Melvin Ember Internship announcement, and the launch of the latest version of our eHRAF Archaeology application. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

April Fool's Post 2023

HRAF Research & Publications

Is cross-cultural research experiencing a resurgence? In light of a growing number of cross-cultural research publications across disciplines, HRAF features a selection of the latest research in the HRAF Academic Quarterly, introduced by Dr. Francine Barone in 2023. It is hoped that this new series will assist in showcasing eHRAF-based cross-cultural research as well as promoting and disseminating findings from researchers at our member institutions. Each Quarterly also includes updates on publications and conference papers from HRAF researchers throughout the year.

In 2023, 50 publications and papers were featured, including 5 MA and PhD theses.

You can read them here:

If you would like your research based on eHRAF or HRAF data to be featured in the next edition, contact Francine Barone by 15 March 2024. Sign up here to be notified of new issues when they are published.

Summer Institutes

Banner Image with Text for HRAF Summer Institutes 2023

The HRAF Summer Institute for Cross-Cultural Anthropological Research concluded with its third annual institute held in July and August 2023. The NSF-funded HRAF Summer Institutes train faculty, researchers, and graduate students in the theory and methods for conducting regional and worldwide comparative research. An additional aim is to prepare materials that can be incorporated into methods courses and online platforms to assist others wishing to learn about cross-cultural research. It was an intense and exciting three weeks for the instructors and the 12 participants that included a hefty mix of instruction, exercises, and designing a cross-cultural mini-project. 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, Eleanor Power, Erik Ringen, and Amber Wutich. HRAF Summer Institutes were supported by the National Science Foundation in a grant to the Human Relations Area Files (BCS #2020156).

Conferences & Events

HRAF President Carol Ember attended the annual meeting of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research (SCCR) from February 22-25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. SCCR is a multi-disciplinary organization, whose members share a common devotion to conducting cross-cultural research. SCCR members are come from a range of disciplines including Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Education, Family Studies, Social Work, Human Development, Psychiatry, Communications, Ethnic Studies and Business. Carol’s presentation “Uniformity of Dress” features the results of worldwide cross-cultural research suggesting explanations for why some societies have had little variation in how people dress (that is, in their clothing and adornment) whereas other societies have had considerable variation.

HRAF staff members Matthew Longcore and Leon Doyon attended the 88th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the largest gathering of archaeologists in the Americas, from March 29–April 2 in Portland, Oregon. Visitors to the exhibit hall were able to preview the exciting new version of the eHRAF Archaeology database before it went live for all members in the fall.

This year HRAF attended two library conferences: the 2023 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) from March 15-18 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the SUNYLA 2023 Annual Conference at the SUNY Maritime College in New York.

The 2023 AAA/CASCA Annual Meeting took place in Toronto, Canada from November 16-18. Many thanks to all who attended our booth in the exhibit hall to learn more about the eHRAF databases and our open access resources. Ian Skoggard organized a panel on Scientific Perspectives in Human Transitions sponsored by the Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS). Ian Skoggard, Carol Ember, Michael Fischer, and Samantha King presented papers along with two past HRAF Summer Institute participants.

Network of words seeded from Kinship
On Friday, November 17 there was a demonstration at the HRAF booth to illustrate how developments from the iKLEWS grant will facilitate and enhance research using the eHRAF World Cultures database. The demonstration by Vice President Michael Fischer showcased a web app featuring prototype tools and analysis for HRAF data including visualizations such as concept maps and 3D Principal Component Analysis (PCA) graphs.

In February 2023, HRAF hosted its fourth annual Anthropology Day event and its second annual Archaeology Day event in October 2023. We look forward to hosting a new set of events in 2024 in coordination with HRAF’s 75th anniversary.

Staff Updates

Tef in the field

HRAF Research Anthropologist Dr. Teferi Abate Adem (pictured right) recently returned from a yearlong visit to Ethiopia via the Fulbright Scholars Program doing follow-up fieldwork in two rural communities where he previously conducted his doctoral research. As a Fulbright Scholar, Tef had the honor of teaching and supervising social anthropology graduate students as well as assisting his host institution – Wollo University – in organizing an international conference and workshops on the subject of whether Wollo’s vernacular community mechanisms provide compelling lessons that may contribute to addressing Ethiopia’s ethnically mobilized political polarization and armed violence. Read Tef’s report to learn more about his incredible experience and how the direction of his anthropological research changed in light of the Ethiopian civil war which began in the Tigray region prior to his arrival.

This year, we welcomed Ben Ostermeier as a Digital Services Production & Development Specialist. Ben’s interest in developing user-friendly and equitable digital spaces for information retrieval in the humanities has made him an asset to the HRAF Engineering team. He and the team are currently working on improving eHRAF data integrity and document metadata, including a project to expand author biographies, something that has recently been requested by eHRAF database users. Keep an eye out for this and more metadata updates coming to eHRAF soon.

Sridhar Ravula and Aishwarya Kumar, who joined us in early 2021 to contribute to our NSF-funded iKLEWS Project (2021-2023) completed their work on this grant project in 2023. We look forward to expanding on this grant research with new services for cross-cultural researchers and the eHRAF databases. Their contributions to the project and to the HRAF team – as well as to transforming anthropology through AI and machine learning – have been immeasurable. eHRAF features based on this grant work will be available for beta testing as soon as Autumn 2024.

We also congratulated Maureen Sacchetti, who served as our Office Assistant for 20 years, on her retirement this year. During her time of employment at HRAF, Maureen played a crucial role supporting all departments at HRAF including filing, graphics processing, assisting with document publications and production. Haley Brown joined us as our new Office Assistant in the fall, taking over Maureen’s duties. We also welcomed Louise Toutée, a Research Assistant working on HRAF’s grant project “Response to Shocks and Hazards Associated with Climate.” Finally, please join us in welcoming our Melvin Ember Interns for 2023-2024: Isana Raja and Stefania Becerra Lavado.

HRAF Membership Updates

Library with Membership Updates

We warmly welcomed 9 Independent Researchers along with 16 academic institutions to the HRAF family in 2023.

HRAF Global Scholars

Throughout 2023, we featured the stories of our six HRAF Global Scholars: Vivian Scheinsohn, Aklilu Alemu Ambo, Firas Khudi, Stephen Asatsa, and Antonio Velasco

We have four scholars participating in the program in 2024 representing the following countries: Ethiopia, India, Morocco, and Philippines. Please join us in congratulating the successful applicants whose eHRAF research we will feature throughout the year.

Friends of HRAF

As a small non-profit organization, we greatly appreciate the kind support of our donors. When you join the Friends of HRAF, your generous contribution enables us to advance our mission of understanding cultural diversity through scholarly research and education. It will support funding priorities such as the HRAF Global Scholars program in addition to the ongoing development of our open access resources (Explaining Human Culture, Teaching eHRAF, eHRAF Workbooks, and our online introductory course) for comparative and cross-cultural research.

We would like to recognize the contributions of the following Friends of HRAF:

  • Patricia Thurston, Benefactors Society
  • Nicholas Zefran, Founders Circle

We greatly appreciate your generosity and ongoing support.

Learn how to donate today.

Stay in touch

As always, our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn will keep you in the loop, but should you want to get first dibs on our latest announcements, remember to sign up for the HRAF newsletter and, for research updates, the HRAF Academic Quarterly.

Photo credits: Images via Canva Pro license.