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What Is the Purpose of the Human Relations Area Files?

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What is the purpose of the Human Relations Area Files?

Imagine a dictionary with over 800,000 pages of definitions in it. It would have every definition of every word, and every pronunciation of that word in it. Well the Human Relations Area Files are almost that, but with culture in mind.

The HRAF started by George Murdock in 1949 at Yale University, is a collection on microfiche of over 800,000 pages of primary source materials, including books, journal entries, dissertations, unpublished field reports and many translations on selected cultures or societies from all over the world. These 800,000 pages of material contain and classify 700 cultural characteristics and it includes about 400 societies past and present. This includes warfare, substance practices, settlement patterns, marriage, and rituals. They are then catalogued and cross-indexed with ethnographic data, filed by geographic location and cultural characteristics. The subject access is provided by an alpha-numeric coding system based on geological area and cultural groups, subdivided by traits. Each culture or ethnic group contains a variety of source documents ( books, articles and dissertations ) that have been indexed and organized.

So what does all of this mean? Let me try to explain. It is all of the observation notes of one particular culture. But its even more than you think, its notes upon notes upon notes. It helps us find an explanation for certain cultural beliefs and practices. One fraction of an example is; Who dances for rain? Why do they dance for rain? What do they do if they do not get rain? Etc... All of this is recorded. It can be shared and then linked together, so we could one day find out that maybe the American Navaho Indians and the Australian Aborigines, both have a similar rain dance ritual. These files are like one big reference library, built by all cultures, that many people can gain access too.

Some of the purposes of these files are to allow us to establish correlations between cultural features, but not conclusions about the causes and effects. It helps us understand why the male dominates in some cultures but not in others and why some men neglect their first born daughters. These theories are generated form world wide comparisons in cultural anthropology. One day in the near future, I think we will have double the amount of information that we have now and we will



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