Human Relations Area Files - eHRAF

Last modified by Mike on 2021/12/30 08:21


Founded in 1949 at Yale University, the Human Relations Area Files, Inc. (HRAF) is an internationally recognized organization in the field of cultural anthropology. HRAF's mission is to encourage and facilitate the cross-cultural study of human culture, society, and behavior in the past and present. HRAF produces two online databases (eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology) and other resources for teaching and research.

Preserving and Making Data Accessible Digitally

Data collected in the field form the backbone of published research. But all too often these data are lost as scholars retire, become ill, or die. Research dollars are primarily spent on funding field projects, but little is spent on the infrastructure needed to make that data available to future generations.  There is an assumption that because data are now “born digital” we have improved the situation. Unfortunately, there is little understanding of the complexity involved in recording data properly with appropriate metadata, storing it appropriately, and working out systems for “reading” the data in the future as technological platforms change.

CSAC researchers, most recently Fischer, Henig, Bagg and Barone, have been working on these issues for almost three decades, beginning with Fischer 's publication online of data and analytic software to work with it in 1986. From 2009 CSAC has been working with HRAF to develop an initiative to preserve, increase reusability of data and to make it publicly available. In 2009, HRAF received a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation to hold a four-field workshop to discuss the basics of a strategic plan for digital preservation and access (DPA) to anthropological research materials. The principal investigators, Carol R. Ember, Eric Delson, Jeff Good, and Dean Snow, each respectively represented one of the four traditional subfields of anthropology— cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. An online report discusses some of the important issues in digital preservation and access. 

Following Fischer and Barone's work with HRAF to redevelop their web interface to eHRAF to improve its use for research, they are presently working with the HRAF staff to develop a services platform to greatly expand both research functionality and broader access to the vast collection of digital ethnographies available in the HRAF databases, about 1,000,000 pages of ethnography, each annotated by HRAF analysts to greatly increase the capacity to find relevant ethnographic information across a range of cultures.


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