HRAF News Vol. 2019-5
HRAF turns 70 years old this month!
The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) celebrates its official 70th birthday this month, but its origins go back much longer than that. In the 1930s, an interdisciplinary group of scholars at Yale's Institute of Human Relations decided that it was critical to study humans in all their variety, not just those closest to home. So they began to work on an information-retrieval system that could facilitate research aimed at understanding human diversity and commonality. The HRAF organization spun off as an independent entity in 1949 with the goal of distributing this information system to member institutions around the world. And much has changed over the years!

For starters, our original ethnographic information system, colloquially called the "HRAF files," was produced on paper. A set of the HRAF files took up a very large room, and we were only able to service up to 24 institutions with paper copies.

With newer technologies (microfiche in 1958, CDs in 1993, and the web in 1997), our ability to process and distribute ethnographic information expanded, and so did our membership. Digitizing the database enabled keyword searches and also sped up results for our classic search method, by HRAF subject categories.

Over the years, we have produced additional resources, as well. A database of subject-indexed archaeological information (eHRAF Archaeology) was launched in 1999. More recently, we created an open-access database, Explaining Human Culture , which summarizes cross-cultural findings. We have provided teaching aids (found in Teaching eHRAF ) and designed a brief introduction to cross-cultural research.

And yet, some things have not changed. Our overall goal to facilitate understanding cultural diversity remains the same. And we are still a small non-profit organization governed by a Board of member institution representatives. As always, we offer personal attention to our members.

Stay tuned as we find new ways to engage with those seeking information on human culture. And scroll down to see more news and ideas from this month!
"Often considered evidence of humanity’s first artistry, prehistoric rock art has captivated people all over the world. Associated with many different cultures, the meaning and purpose of most forms of prehistoric rock art remain shrouded in mystery. Even the most experienced archaeologists continue to ask basic questions about rock art. What does it depict? What does it mean? Who produced it? When was it produced? What function did it serve?"

Keep reading as Jeffrey Vadala explores examples of prehistoric rock art while demonstrating how scholars attempt to understand the ancient peoples who produced rock art.
HRAF will now be offering discounts for long-term memberships to eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology. A member that prepays for 9 years of dues on the current plans will receive their 10th year of membership for free. A member that prepays for 18 years of dues will receive their 19th and 20th years for free.

Long-term members will have full access to new culture/tradition collections and updated collections, as well as to core software and application upgrades. (That is to say, we won't leave you behind!)

Contact us for an exact quote for your institution.
Former HRAF intern Erik Ringen (now at Emory University) recently published a study in Evolution and Human Behavior with coauthors Pavel Duda and Adrian Jaeggi. Using ethnographic data on food sharing previously published by HRAF researchers, the new study tries to understand why some non-industrial societies develop daily food sharing practices between households, while others do not. Their findings support the idea that daily food sharing, which is thought to buffer the risk of an unpredictable food supply, becomes unnecessary when there are alternative means of ensuring food on tough days, such as livestock, food storage techniques, and external trade.
We now have a teaching exercise to complement our module on Religion in Explaining Human Culture.

The Religion module can be found here. It summarizes what cross-cultural research can tell us about how and why cultures vary in their religious practices.

The corresponding teaching exercise is here. Either as individuals or groups, students will be guided through an ethnographic exploration of religious diversity and cross-cultural patterns. Two difficulty levels are available, with activities ranging from answering questions on selected passages to data collection and guided analysis.
HRAF at Yale University|