Human Relations Area Files - Distinctiveness of The HRAF Databases

Distinctiveness of The HRAF Databases

The HRAF databases were developed to foster comparative research on humans in all their variety so that explanations of human behavior would be universally valid, not culture bound. Searching across cultures for particular kinds of information is facilitated by the unique indexing system (a controlled vocabulary) that HRAF has developed and refined over more than 50 years, the Outline of Cultural Materials or OCM. In contrast to most subject-indexing which is done at the document level, HRAF has its indexers subject index at the paragraph level.

For example, suppose users are interested in assessing the degree to which various cultures depend on stored foods. They would discover that there is an index subject category called “Preservation and Storage of Food” (OCM 251). Searching by that subject category would retrieve all of the paragraphs that describe dried, smoked, pickled, refrigerated, frozen, canned, and irraditated foods, and whatever other ways the people of the given culture store or preserve food. The analysts at HRAF, who have read through and indexed every page of every text that goes into the HRAF files, have made it possible to find the relevant information, even when the user does not know in advance which particular words (including untranslated native words) the original authors may have used. It is also possible to search the eHRAF texts by the words that actually appear in them. The most efficient searches may use a combination of OCM subject categories and words. But, if there is no standard vocabulary for the subject matter of interest, the user can always use the OCM subject categories to get to the particular kinds of information sought. Boolean searches allow combinations of OCM subject categories and/or words to be searched.

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