Guide to HRAF (Human Relations Area Files) on Microfiche

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The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF)

HRAF on microfiche is a fully indexed collection of books, articles, and documents created to aid scholars in cross cultural research. Like its successor eHRAF, HRAF on microfiche is organized and searchable by using the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) codes in conjunction with the Outline of World Cultures (OWC) codes. Please note that eHRAF does not replace HRAF on microfiche. Some cultures represented in HRAF are not present in eHRAF so you will have to use both to get a complete picture of the culture(s) you are interested in.

The Tools:

In order to use the HRAF on microfiche, you should become familiar with the following references. These are available on the 6th floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library in the Microforms area. The HRAF microfiche are located in the same area.

Outline of World Cultures (OWC): (Bennett Reference: GN 345.3 M87 1983)

The Outline of World Cultures was developed by George Murdock in the 1930s to identify cultural groupings and to aid in the process of cross cultural research. The OWC is not a list of files available in HRAF but an attempt to provide a structure of the known cultures of the world.

In the OWC, each culture is arranged geographically first by region and then by country.

Geographic regions are identified by the following letter:

A = Asia
F = Africa
M = Middle East
O = Oceania
N = North America
S = South America
R = Russia
E = Europe

Under each region / country, cultures are arranged alphabetically with the dominant or best known name identified in capital letters and variations grouped underneath.

Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM): (Bennett Reference GN 34 H8 1982)

The Outline of Cultural Materials is the list of subjects used to index the various texts within HRAF. The OCM is arranged in two ways to help you identify the cultural trait or subject that best suits your research. You can either browse the OCM numerically allowing you to identify broad subject headings and related sub categories or you can skim the alphabetical listing of OCM categories. The alphabetical listing identifies broad categories in capital letters and lists the corresponding OCM number next to each entry.

HRAF Source Bibliography (Bennett Reference GN 34 Z94 1976)

These 3 binders comprise the HRAF bibliography. Arranged by OWC classification, the entries are broken down into region, country and culture. Each regional entry contains a list of cultural entities and their corresponding references or bibliography. These binders will help you identify authors of works contained in HRAF.

Research Process:

Before consulting HRAF, it's a good idea to have formulated some idea of what it is that you're interested in. HRAF is not conducive to trawlling for ideas. Try the Encyclopaedia of World cultures (Bennett Reference GN 307 E53 v.1-10 ) or any number of other general sources for brainstorming.

Once you've settled on an idea, such as the ecology of the Shoshoni, you're ready to use HRAF.

1) Locate the topic or subject of your research in the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM). Remember that the OCM is arranged hierarchically by major categories and minor division. In this case, you might look at the alphabetical listing for ecosystems and see that there are 3 entries:

  • Ecosystems, exploitation (310)
  • Ecosystems, functional interpretation (182)
  • Ecosystems, geography and geology (130)

Look up the description for OCM code 130 ( Ecosystems, geography and geology) and you'll see that this category is used for "descriptions and analyses of the archaeological or present environment, including observations about change over time in the environment."

2) Using the Outline of World Cultures (OWC), locate the culture you're interested in exploring and make note of the corresponding code. For Shoshoni, the code is NT22. Remember that the OWC is primarily a means of categorizing cultures and is not a comprehensive list of files contained in HRAF. It is possible that the culture you're interested in has not yet been covered. To confirm that a culture is represented, see the HRAF Collection List

3) Having identified the relevant OWC code, go to the HRAF microfiche cabinet (3rd floor, W.A.C. Bennett Library) and locate the range of fiche dealing with that culture. Arranged in alphanumeric order by OWC code, each fiche is identified with the name and corresponding OWC code in the header.

4) Locate the fiche containing the range of OCM subjects you're interested in. The OCM identifier will be in the upper left hand corner and the fiche will be arranged in numerical order within each file according to this code.

5) Each fiche may contain references to more than one OCM subject. These will be identified by numeric 'flashers' which can easily be read right off the fiche. Each flasher identifies the beginning of a new category and includes a description of the code. Each category will contain references from various sources relevant to the culture. Note that entire articles or books will not be represented here, only the portions that are relevant to your subject.

In this example, information relating to the ecosystems of the Shoshoni will be found after the 133 flasher.

Reading the Fiche:

Have a look at the sample below and note the different headings

Each fiche entry contains:

  • A source number (used for identification only-- to help prevent confusion between works by the same author)
  • Author's name
  • Hyphenated identifier relating to the author's field of specialization and type of data contained (see explanation below)
  • Date of publication and sometimes the dates fieldwork was conducted
  • Name of culture and OWC code
  • Text
  • Dot next to text identifying your OCM subject, in this case 133, from other subjects also identified next to the text.

In addition to the OCM code, you may want to have a look at the following special fiche categories:

111 : full bibliographic references for each entry in HRAF arranged numerically by source number

113 : bibliographical information that appears in sources included in HRAF such as footnotes, references or endnotes

116 : entire texts from which excepts are taken. This is useful if you want to see the context from which an excerpt was taken.

Further help:

Nature and Use of the HRAF Files: (GN 34 L34)
Human Relations Area Files at Yale

Data and Specialization Key

HRAF on microfiche has indexed each source (book, article, document) according to the specialization or profession of the author and by the quality or type of research conducted.

Author Key

A Archaeologist, Antiquarian O Lawyer, Judicial Personnel
B Folklorist P Psychologist
C Technical Personnel (engineer, etc.) Q Humanist (philosopher, critic, writer, etc.)
D Physician, Physical Anthropologist R Artisan (artist, musician, architect, dancer)
E Ethnologist S Social Scientist --Other
F Foreign Resident T Traveler (tourist, explorer)
G Government Official U Unknown
H Historian V Political Scientist, Propagandist
I Indigene W Organizational Documents and Reports (UN reports and documents, census, etc.)
K Geographer X Economist, Businessman
L Linguist Y Educator
M Missionary, Clergyman Z Sociologist
N Natural or Physical Scientist    

Data Type

Poor sources
Excellent secondary data
Fair sources
Excellent primary data
Good, useful sources but not uniformly excellent