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Guide to the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF)

Guide to the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) 

About HRAF

The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) are a specially organized collection of thousands of full-text sources on almost 400 cultures worldwide. HRAF can be useful for anyone looking for background information or specific data on a particular ethnic group, culture, or country, as well as by those investigating subjects like architecture, kinship, political structure, or settlement patterns on a comparative cross-cultural basis. By using these files, you will be able to find information on a great many topics in any of the cultures included.

The microfiche version of HRAF is available from the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library (HPNL). An online version, eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaelogy, is also available to Illinois affiliates. HRAF was originally produced on paper, then on microfiche, and then on CD-ROM. Beginning in 1995, all new installments are available only via eHRAF World Cultures. Many older installments, however, are available only in print or microfiche, not online. For a list of which cultures are covered in what format, see Microfiche vs. Online eHRAF. (Note: Roe (2002) notes that a small number of sources in the print version were not reproduced in microfiche due to copyright issues. Thus, the print version contains unique material.)

For further guidance in using HRAF and eHRAF, you may want to explore HRAF Help & Support. eHRAF search examples and methodology, practical guide, webinars and basic guide to cross-cultural research are included. Also, be sure to look at SSHEL’s eHRAF Guide.


Cultures Covered | Aids for Cross-Culture Study | Format of HRAF Files | Information on Sources Used in HRAF | HRAF & eHRAF Guides | Citing HRAF



Cultures Covered

Cultures Covered.
In the eHRAF World Cultures database the cultures and ethnic groups included are organized by regions (e.g. North America), sub-regions (e.g. Southwest) and subsistence types (e.g. hunter-gatherers).  Every year 20-30 cultures with approximately 40,000 pages are added to eHRAF World Cultures. About 25% is new ethnographic material and the remaining material is converted from HRAF’s previous microfiche collection for the cultures added to eHRAF.


Aids for Cross-Cultural Study

Index to the Human Relations Area Files

The Index to the Human Relations Area Files (on microfiche) may be used to find whether there is information in the files on a given OCM topic for a particular cultural group. The 1988 cumulative edition of the index is on microfiche and can be obtained from the Main Stacks.

eHRAF Subjects

An equivalent is available in eHRAF World Cultures. Once in eHRAF, click on “Browse SUBJECTS” near the top of the page. Search or browse for the subject of your interest. Then, click on “Related Documents” under the subject. This will display a list of documents with information about that subject. You can sort the list by author, title, or culture by using the filters beside the column headers.

Probability Sample

A Probability Sample File was created in order to facilitate cross-cultural studies. This file lists sixty culture files which are fairly complete in their coverage of OCM topics. This file also suggests cultures that can be substituted for the original sixty.



Format of HRAF Files

There are three formats in the HRAF files at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.


1. Paper (Available by request using the Library Catalog): The older format consists of 5″ x 8″ individual paper file pages produced in two slightly different styles. Each OCM category is separated by paper dividers.

Both the HRAF print and microfiche files (see below) are composed of individual file pages. These file pages are facsimiles of pages from source articles and books. Files are arranged geographically. Within a given culture group, file pages are arranged according to OCM code which are written in the margin of the file pages to indicate relevant information within a file page. The complete works covered in the file are reproduced at the beginning of each file. The top line of each file page contains coded information related to the author, reliability of the data, years during which the field work was conducted, and year of publication. Keys to these codes are listed below:

Author Identification

  • A: Archaeologist, Antiquarian
  • B: Folklorist
  • C: Technical Personnel (engineers, agricultural experts, foreign aid advisors)
  • D: Physician, Physical Anthropologist
  • E: Ethnologist, Social Anthropologist (formerly used also for Sociologist, see Z)
  • F: Foreign Resident
  • G: Government Official (Administrator, soldier, foreign diplomat)
  • H: Historian
  • I: Indigene
  • J: Journalist
  • K: Geographer
  • L: Linguist
  • M: Missionary, Clergyman
  • N: Natural or Physical Scientist
  • O: Lawyer, Judicial
  • P: Psychologist
  • Q: Humanist (philosopher, critic, editor, writer, etc.)
  • R: Artisan (artist, musician, architect, dancer)
  • S: Social Scientist (other than those designated)
  • T: Traveler (tourist, explorer)
  • U: Unknown
  • V: Political Scientist, Propagandist
  • W: Organizational Documents and Reports (constitutions, law codes, government or UN reports and documents, censuses)
  • X: Economist, Businessman
  • Y: Educator (teacher, school administrator)
  • Z: Sociologist

Source Evaluation (provides an indication of the quality of the data):

  • 1: Poor sources
  • 2: Fair sources
  • 3: Good, useful sources, but not uniformly excellent
  • 4: Excellent secondary data (e.g., compilations and/or interpretations of original data and primary documents)
  • 5: Excellent primary data (e.g., travelers’ accounts, ethnological studies, etc., as well as primary documents such as legal codes, other legal documents, autobiographies, etc.)

Paper File Key for Web


2. Microfiche: Microfiche sheets were in use from 1984 through 1994. Microfiche sheets contain “flashers” — eye-readable OCM category numbers which indicate the beginning of each new category. Search the Library Catalog by OWC code to locate microfiche files.

Microfiche Key for Web


3. eHRAF World Cultures: HRAF began to be issued in electronic format in 1995. Retrospective conversion of the print and fiche text has not been done, so a comprehensive search will involve the print or microfiche and eHRAF.



Information on Sources Used in HRAF

Source information in the files

Each file page lists the source number from which the page was drawn. Information on these sources can be found in OCM categories 110-116. 

  • OCM 111 provides full bibliographic citations for each source processed for the file. These are arranged chronologically by source number.
  • OCM 112 provides bibliographic information on sources consulted, but not processed for the file.
  • OCM 113 contains additional references, consisting of bibliographic information that appears in sources not included in HRAF (e.g. footnotes and endnotes).
  • OCM 116 contains copies of the entire texts processed for the file. OCM 116 is especially useful for examining the context of a given file page within a given document or source article. (In some instances, HRAF was not able to secure permission to reproduce the entire document, but individual pages are reproduced within the relevant OCM headings).

HRAF Source Bibliography

In addition to OCM category 111 within each file, the Source Bibliography can be used to locate bibliographic information on sources contained in the HRAF files. Listings are arranged by OWC code, and the date in the upper left corner of each page indicates when each particular list was most recently updated. Updates are issued by HRAF at least once a year.

The HRAF files are not meant to be current events information sources.  HRAF places emphasis on the addition of material on cultures not already included in the files rather than on updating information in the existing files.



HRAF & eHRAF Guides

016.301 H88H (Oak Street and Main Stacks)
HRAF Source Bibliography: Cumulative, 1976.

MFICHE 016.306 H88 (Main Stacks)
Index to the Human Relations Area Files, 1988-. Continues Index to the HRAF Files, Supplement I, Steffens, 1979 and Index to the HRAF Files Naroll and Morrison, 1972 (both of which are 8 print vols.) 
This index may be used to find whether there is information in the files on a given OCM topic for a particular cultural group. The 1988 cumulative edition is on microfiche and can be obtained from a staff member. The equivalent for the eHRAF files is available at eHRAF’s Subject Categories by clicking on the term and then the “Related Documents” tab to locate any documents pertaining to that subject. If a culture group is not listed under a given OCM category code, then there is not any information in the files for that combination of culture and cultural material.

025.493058 R62h200 (Oak Street)
The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) Collection of Ethnography: Format Variations and Their Implications for Users. Sandra K. Roe. 2002.

572.018 L52N (Oak Street)
Nature and Use of the HRAF Files: A Research and Teaching Guide, Lagace, Robert O. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1974.

930.101 P413o (SSHEL Ref)
Outline of Archaeological Traditions, Peter N. Peregrine, ed. 2001.
A companion to the eHRAF Collection of Archaeology, this text is “an attempt to catalog all known archaeological traditions, covering the entire globe and the entire prehistory of humankind.” Each entry provides the name of the tradition; the approximate time period for the tradition; brief information on the tradition’s location and salient characteristics; and the tradition’s alphanumeric code used in the eHRAF Collection of Archaeology.

025.49 M974o2000 (Main Stacks and Oak Street) and Online
Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM), 5th Edition with Modifications, 2000. George P.Murdock, et al., eds.
A comprehensive classification scheme used by HRAF to index ethnographic and archaeological texts by subject. Cross references are provided along with scope notes. An alphabetical index is also provided which uses terms common to all social science disciplines, which may be helpful to those less familiar with anthropological terminology. The 5th edition reflects changes made in subject-indexing the new eHRAF Collection of Archaeology, as well as shifts in ethnographic research interests.



Citing HRAF

Sources simply reproduced by HRAF (primarily English language monographs) can be cited as if the information were found directly in those sources (HRAF need not be mentioned). If HRAF sources are used heavily in research for a publication, however, authors sometimes mention that fact in a note.

Citations for sources translated for HRAF should contain translation information (e.g. “Translated for the Human Relations Area Files by M. E. Fontaine, 1989”).