Skip to Main Content
Go to Penn Libraries homepage   Go to Guides homepage

Ethnography: Finding ethnographies - starters

Reference works on anthropology

Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks to learn quickly about the state of research on your topic. A good encyclopedia article should describe major themes, current research fronts, and controversial areas; it should also provide a brief bibliography of classic, important, or definitive works on your topic.

Reference works on cultural groups

These dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks describe cultural groups and topics affecting those groups

Bibliographies & Lit reviews

These works will identify other works that include ethnographic information about cultural groups. A bibliography will list those works, often with brief annotations, and provide subject access either through indexing or layout. A literature review will discuss other works in a narrative format to describe the development and current state of the literature on the subject.

Franklin Catalog identifies bibliographies through the subject word "bibliographies". Here's a Franklin Catalog search that retrieves bibliographies of ethnographies in the Penn Libraries:

Keyword Expert = subject:(bibliograph*) AND subject:(people* OR ethnol* OR "social life")


Doctoral dissertations are book-length works of original research. (Some dissertations, typically in economics and demography, are collections of article-length research reports.) Dissertations are particularly useful for several reasons:

  • They may cover current events, or they may address very recent scholarship practices, more quickly than journal articles or books.
  • They may provide very detailed primary-source material (interview transcripts, text reproductions, expanded statistical treatments), methodological descriptions (questionnaires, interview protocols, event recording templates), and other useful supporting information typically omitted from journal articles or books.
  • They include chapter-length literature reviews, as doctoral candidates are expected to situate their dissertation topic within the larger research community.

HRAF / eHRAF and ethnographic Big Data

Big Data has had a presence in ethnography since the 1950s, with the creation of the Human Relations Area Files.

HRAF and eHRAF - subject-indexed ethnographies

eHRAF World Cultures and its not-yet-superseded microfiche predecessor Human Relations Area Files (at the Museum Library) provide cultural-attribute indexing for fulltext ethnographies about cultures around the world.

In addition to covering Native American cultures and traditional cultures on other continents, eHRAFincludes a number of US ethnic groups:

African Americans Amish
Arab Americans Basque Americans
Cajuns Chicanos
Chinese Americans Cuban Americans
Haitian Americans Hawaiians
Italian Americans Korean Americans
North American Armenians North American Hasidic Jews
North American Hmong Puerto Ricans (Island)
Puerto Ricans (Mainland) Sea Islanders
Serbian Americans

eHRAF's Outline of Cultural Materials provides subject terms applied to individual paragraphs. By searching for an OCM term, you can quickly locate very specific information within a culture's ethnographies. By searching across several cultures, you can make quick crosscultural comparisons.


"Database of Dreams" - psychological anthropology documents

Microcard Publications of Primary Records in Culture and Personality (Van Pelt Microtext Center: Microcard 61) is a microprint collection of more than 60 reports of unprocessed and uninterpreted psychological anthropology materials for non-Western cultural groups, including Rorschach inkblot tests, Thematic Apperception Tests, sentence completion tests, life histories and autobiographies, and dream accounts, produced during 1956-1962. Two leading Penn psychological anthropologists, A Irving Hallowell and Anthony FC Wallace, were important contributors.

Individual titles within Microcard Publications appear in Franklin Catalog. Van Pelt Library's Microtext Center offers equipment to read microcards.

Microcard Publications is the subject of a recent book:

Database of dreams: the lost quest to catalog humanity / Rebecca M Lemov. (Yale Univ Press, 2015)
Penn Libraries Home Franklin Home
(215) 898-7555