Library Assignment: Finding Anthropological Resources

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Exercise ID: 1.17
Class size: Any
Level(s): III
Source: Submitted by HRAF member

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? No
Subject selection: Student chooses from pre-selected list
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable:
Region selection: pre-selected
Region, if applicable: North America
Culture selection: Student chooses from pre-selected list
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable: Native American

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? No
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Jerome M. Lev, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton College

The purpose of this assignment is threefold:

1) To familiarize the student with the Carleton Library and the new (as well as old) forms of information retrieval and library research, with special reference to the techniques and sources most relevant to anthropology, including electronic databases such as eHRAF World Cultures and Anthropological Literature.

2) To have the student utilize these sources in the compilation of a short bibliography.

3) To give the student an opportunity to demonstrate his or her writing and thinking skills in the production of a short research essay utilizing these sources.


I would like you to do some research concerning any aspect of American Indian cultures that may interest you. You may take either an ethnographic (focusing on a single culture) or ethnological (cross-cultural) approach to this exercise. At the outset of your paper you should state which mode of inquiry you will be following. Using proper citation methods, you are to generate a bibliography consisting of five sources that you will append at the end of your paper. At least three of these sources you will read carefully and use as references for the paper. The paper should be no more than seven and no less than five pages in length, excluding your bibliography that comes at the end of the essay. Length of paper, however, is less important than quality of writing and analysis.

Rather than footnotes, use in-text citations, e.g. (Doe 1968) if you are referencing the entire work, or (Doe 1968:115-119) if you are quoting or referencing specific pages. The format to use for the references cited in your bibliography is the Style Guide for American Anthropologist. This can be found on the AAA web site or American Anthropologist 97(1): 191-194. For all other questions regarding style, consult this same source.

Ethnographic Method: In this approach, you begin by selecting a group (using the Add Cultures function in Advanced Search of  eHRAF World Cultures) and then do more research concerning a specific aspect of their culture. You may wish to find out more about one of the Native peoples, past or present, of your home state. Or you may wish to do some research on the Indians of Minnesota, particularly the Sioux / Dakota / Santee or the Chippewa / Ojibwa / Anishinaabe. Or you may wish to discover more about a Native American group from which you trace descent or a group that you are just interested in learning more about.

Next select a subject or category of their culture upon which you will do more in-depth research. For example, if you want to do research on the traditional political organization, economic system, religion, or family life, you should narrow your topic so that it might be covered more adequately in five to seven pages. For instance, if you are interested in religion, you might focus either on religious beliefs or religious practices, and possibly the relationship between them. Preferably, an even tighter focus would have you examine subcategories within these subjects, allowing you to discuss mythology (religious beliefs) or rites of passage such as birth, puberty, marriage, and/or death rituals (religious practices). Alternately, history or contemporary issues may be more to your liking. Here you could examine history or prehistory via ethnohistorical or archaeological sources, or contemporary issues such as gambling casinos, health conditions, tribal government, or disputes over treaty implications like rights over land, hunting and fishing, or off reservation gathering of traditional foods and other materials. If you are interested in certain Native American writers or novelists you could also examine their work, particularly with an eye to the extent that it is reflective of their own heritage, as well as reviews or critical essays written by others discussing their work.

Ethnological Method: You can conceive of this approach as almost the inverse of the ethnographic method. Here you start with a certain subject or category as outlined above and compare its manifestations cross-culturally. For example, you might analyze birth practices or women’s roles in two Native American societies, such as among the Hopi or the Iroquois. Or discuss similarities and differences found in the short stories or novels of several Native American writers, past or present.

To familiarize yourself with the eHRAF World Cultures database and its unique indexing and search system, first view the eHRAF User Guides.

Organization of the Essay

Of the five works listed in your bibliography, you need to base your paper on the contents of three of them. I am particularly interested in your ability to access the periodical literature (journals, newspapers, etc.) and not merely information from books. This does not mean that you should ignore books on the subject, especially if there are certain chapters or indices in them that would lead you to the pertinent information, but periodicals typically have more specific coverage of a topic.

Your paper should include the following information: Identify the authors and summarize their presentations of the topic. What assumptions or biases are built into their writings? If you have access to this information, are there significant differences between Indian and non-Indian perspectives on the subject? How was the research conducted? Is the work based on interviews, personal opinion, experience, fieldwork, statistical data, or library research — or does the author not make this explicit? How does the article compare with similar works on the subject? Does it corroborate or contradict them — and on what points? How does the time frame in which it was written reflect on the work? At what conclusion does the author arrive? Does the author satisfactorily justify the conclusion from the research or experience? What conclusion can you draw from examining these three works?

NOTE: If you have a particular interest in a people other than Native Americans and would like to write your research essay on that subject, you are welcome to do so. However, please check with me before starting your research.