Cross-Cultural Research Assignment
by Brian Mooney,
of Social Sciences, York College (CUNY), Jamaica, NY.
The purpose of this assignment is for you to become
familiar with the contents and structure of the eHRAF
World Cultures by learning to navigate
around the database and by performing searches on topics
of your choice.
Contents and Purpose of the eHRAF Database:
The eHRAF World Cultures database is
published by Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), a
not-for-profit at Yale University. The database is often
simply called "eHRAF," the "e"
standing for electronic and "HRAF" for the
name of the organization. As of 2008, the database
contains about 165 cultures from around the world,
particularly ethnic and minority groups in Africa, Asia,
Oceania, and South America, and indigenous and immigrant
groups in North America.
The ethnographic information on a culture or ethnic
group is compiled into what's called the "culture
profile." A culture file include three parts: 1) a
general abstract about the culture file 2) the table of
contents (TOC) with documents including full-text
anthropological books, articles, reports and
dissertations, and 3) a brief cultural summary. Please
note that the cultures included in the database are
mostly "non-industrial" cultures. Therefore,
although you can do research on, for example, Native
American groups such as the Iroquois or Hopi, you cannot
use the database to do research on, for example, the
Italians (as a nation). One exception is that the
database now includes information about immigrant groups
in the United States (e.g., Italian Americans or Chinese
In the eHRAF database the full-text of the documents is
indexed with subjects called the "OCMs"
or "OCM subject codes." By the way, OCM
is the acronym for "Outline of Cultural
Materials." So, for example, if a book chapter
contains a paragraph with information on making tattoos,
including the use of instruments, and dyes then the
paragraph is indexed with three OCM subject codes: OCM 304
for Body Alteration (which includes
tattooing, nose piercing, etc.), OCM 413 for Special
Tools, and the OCM 386 for Paint and Dye
Manufacture (which includes pigments, dyes, etc.).
Using the OCM subjects/codes instead of words can be more
effective in retrieving good information on topics.
There are approximately 800 OCM subject categories which
can be found in the "Browse Subjects" section
of the database. Keep in mind that there is not
information on every subject for every culture.
So, for example don't expect to find much (if any)
information on the OCM 378 (for Atomic Energy)
in the documents because the ethnographies included are
mostly on "non-industrial" ethnic groups.
However, do expect to find much information on cultural
and social aspects of life, e.g., for OCM 773
The database allows you to choose a cultural feature (by
using one of the OCM subject categories or by doing a
text search for particular words of your choosing) and
the database identifies cultures in which that cultural
feature is discussed. For example, you can choose
mythology, ritual, extramarital sex relations, kin
relationships, and so on to learn what is said about
those subjects for cultures included in the database.
This allows you to do comparative cross-cultural
Instructions for Using the Web-based eHRAF Database:
Thoroughly study the various sections of the eHRAF
User's Guide at http://www.yale.edu/hraf/guides.htm and the "Help" section in the database to
learn about the OCM subject categories and to learn how
to navigate around the database.
Here are a few additional tips:
Printing: Once you have located the material that
you want, you can simply print it from the computer you
are using. Then you don't need to go through the trouble
of downloading it and saving it as a file.
Navigation: Browse back and forth as you are
conducting your research by using the "Back"
and "Forward" internet browser buttons
(usually) located in the upper left-hand corner of the
I do not expect you to do formal "cross-cultural
research." Instead, I merely expect you to do some
research on some subject matter and culture that
interests you as a way of familiarizing yourself with
the use of this type of resource.
#1. Learn about the cultures and the subject codes by
visiting the Browse section of the
#2. After you have familiarized yourself cultures and
the OCM subject codes , choose whichever OCM subject
category you wish to research. Finding an OCM for your
topic can sometimes be tricky (e.g., you might not view
tattoos as "Body Alteration").
Therefore, it's best to use the "A -Z Index" as well as the "Major Subjects " in the Browse section
of the database.
Bear in mind that some of the OCM subject/code searches
will produce very few matches. I recommend the
categories numbered 50 and over. The database contains a
lot of information on religion, marriage, family life,
kinship, law, sex and reproduction, and infancy and
childhood (see the Outline of Cultural Materials
(OCM) at www.yale.edu/hraf/collections_body_ocmshort.htm for a quick view of the OCM subject codes). Those
are just suggestions.
#3. Depending on what you
are searching, you may need to perform a word/OCM subject search
combination in Lookup Search. Carefully
study the eHRAF
User's Guide to gain a better understanding of how to use Lookup Search.
#4. Once you perform a search, the "intermediate
results" page will appear with a list of cultures
and number of matches for the OCM subjects searched.
Click on a culture name to view your search results.
#5. Write a 1-2 page review of your research
procedure and briefly answer the following specific
Why and how did you
choose the subject file that you chose?
Why and how did you choose the culture that you chose?
How can this kind of information be useful in
conducting cross-cultural research?
What, if anything, did you learn about the subject and
the culture that you chose?
Grading will be on the
basis of completeness: if you do the assignment as
stated above, you'll receive the 10pts. I'm not grading
the quality of your essay, although I encourage you to
compose your essay with the usual careful attention you
devote to writing!
SUBMIT BOTH THE WRITTEN REVIEW AND THE PRINTOUTS THAT
YOU PRODUCED IN YOUR RESEARCH
DUE DATE: March 5
The assignment is worth a total of 10 pts