What eHRAF is and is not

What kind of information is in eHRAF World Cultures?

The focus of eHRAF World Culltures is on cultures described by ethnographers using participant observation and interviewing. This information is supplemented by other researchers, such as those who summarize previous research, employ archival records, have other specialties such as sociology or geography.

Research is facilitated by having every paragraph or paragraph-level element in every document subject-indexed by anthropologically-trained indexers using one or more subject categories from HRAF’s Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM for short). Using these categories allows researchers to find subjects not easily or precisely searched by words.

What eHRAF World Cultures is and what it is not

The mission of HRAF is to facilitate cross-cultural research. Our first main product was the HRAF Collection of Ethnography (in paper and then microfiche), which provided tools to find information relatively quickly across diverse cultures. The collection is now transitioning online as eHRAF World Cultures.

The HRAF Collection was intended to explore and study cultural diversity across time and space. The original aim was to have about 400 well-described cultures. eHRAF World Cultures does not yet include all the anthropological cultures that are in the paper collection. Our resources depend largely on membership dues. We are working as quickly as our resources allow us to put all the cultures from the HRAF Collections online.

For each culture included, we aim:

  • for at least one comprehensive focus, particularly of an ethnographic community study in a particular time frame
  • for at least one or more time period, if possible on a restudy of the same community or region. About half the cultures in eHRAF have more than one time focus
  • to cover one or more regions within a society, particularly if two regions have had comprehensive ethnographic study

We usually do not include countries because countries are not usually cultures in the anthropological sense. Many countries today have many cultures within their borders with people speaking different languages and generally living in different home regions. For example, Kenya has over 70 cultures.

We want researchers to make their own decisions, so with one exception (type of subsistence) we do not “code” variables. Our subject-index (OCM) is sometimes referred to as containing “OCM codes,” but these “codes” are not decisions on where a society fits on a scale of variation, but rather a shorthand numerical pointer (usually a three-digit number) for where particular information can be found (such as paragraphs containing information about “rules of descent”).