closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

HRAF Ignores the Internet

The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) is probably the largest collections of ethnographies anywhere in the world. Their website describes its purpose as follows:
The growing concern of students, scholars, and the general public to understand ethnic conflict, cultural diversity, and global problems has generated a demand for educational and research programs emphasizing the worldwide, comparative study of human behavior and society. The development of cross-cultural and area studies requires a large mass of readily available, organized cultural information; conventional sources of such information are widely scattered and often inaccessible, and at any rate expensive to assemble and utilize effectively. The HRAF Collections are designed to overcome this traditional barrier to research.

The HRAF Collection of Ethnography is a unique source of information on the cultures of the world, and currently contains over 800,000 pages of indexed information on more than 365 different cultural, ethnic, religious, and national groups around the world. The collection was developed by the Human Relations Area Files, Inc. (HRAF), a non-profit research organization. For almost fifty years, HRAF has served the educational community and contributed to an understanding of world cultures by assembling, indexing, and providing access to primary research materials relevant to the social sciences, and by stimulating and facilitating training and research in these fields. [HRAF n.d.]

This sounds pretty thorough, doesn' it? However, if you go to HRAF and do a search for "internet", you get only three results. First:
Telephones, television, and the internet link kith and kin together, and help nourish common thoughts and sentiments by stretching social space beyond backyards and work sites. But face-to-face encounters, aided by the ordinary routes of cars and airplanes, helped ground their communal connections, and mine. [Harney 1997]

The second is part of a bibliography, saying that a particular article is also available on the Internet. The third is a citation of a government website.

All those ethnographies from all over the world, and only three measly mentions of the Internet (only one of which was actually in the text instead of the bibliography, and even that was only to dismiss the community's Internet use)! I'd love to hear an explanation of why this is.

Better yet, I'd love to see the equivalent of HRAF that indexes Internet communities because I think they do have a point about sources being scattered and difficult to track down. For instance, let's say I want to find out if there have been any ethnographies done on the use of Where would I look? Doing a search for "" and "ethnography" on Google doesn't give me any (or perhaps I just haven't sorted through enough junk to find relevant results).


Harney, Nicholas De Maria
1997 Eh, Paesan!: being Italian in Toronto. Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Human Relations Area Files (HRAF)
n.d. The Development and Applications of the HRAF Collections. Electronic Document:, Accessed November 17, 2004.
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