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Format: Microfiche
Media: 23,380 Microfiche
Coverage Dates: 1880-1989
Sources Covered: 6,526

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The entire HRAF Collection of Ethnography—an on-going project compiled over more than half a century—is an unparalleled source of information on world cultures. It currently contains over 900,000 original pages of robustly indexed information on 371 cultural, ethnic, religious, and national groups. With more than 3 million pages overall, representing all major regions of the world, this vast collection gathers together primary source materials on selected cultures or societies from published books, articles, unpublished manuscripts, and dissertations, as well as numerous translations into English.

Associate membership in HRAF is required to purchase fiche from this collection. Please visit the HRAF web site for more information at The HRAF membership form is located at

The materials are organized by an indexing method designed for rapid retrieval of specific data on given cultures and topics. HRAF's system of organization and classification of source material presents information in a manner that significantly enhances the usefulness of original source materials. The collection is available as a whole or in subsets by culture, religion, nationality, and region. Whereas there are over 800,000 original pages on the microfiche, there are only 250,000 pages on the web site. Of the 371 culture files in the HRAF Collection of Ethnography as of 2001, 283 are exclusive to the microfiche.

To view a list of all subsets available, please click here.

Most microfiche contain about 240 file pages. In addition to the text pages, most fiche also contain eye‑readable targets which indicate where new subject categories begin. Each microfiche also has a header that includes the name of the culture, its OWC code, the OCM codes for the subjects covered on the fiche, and the fiche serial number. 

Originally published in 1954 by HRAF, the Outline of World Cultures presents a systematic, comprehensive coding scheme for contemporary and historical world cultures, one of the two principal organizational axes for the Collection of Ethnography. Articles in the collection, consisting mostly of ethnographic documents and brief cultural summaries, are compiled into culture files. Because culture names may vary and change over time, each culture is assigned an invariant alphanumeric OWC code. The initial two letters of each OWC code represent a region of the world.

The Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM), first published in 1938 and continually fine-tuned since, is what makes the HRAF Collection unique. The entire OCM comprises more than 750 subject categories describing all aspects of social and cultural life.

The OWC and the OCM are the two major indexing systems for the HRAF materials.

Printed materials:   

  • Ember, Carol R. & Ember, Melvin 1997. A Basic Guide to Cross-Cultural Research (Pamphlet-includes Organization & Classification). Photocopied. (The online version is available at - Click on Pamphlets and User Guides.) This pamphlet reviews the overall cross-cultural strategy. 
  • Levinson, David 1988. Instructor's and librarian's guide to the HRAF archive. Paper. This pamphlet focuses on the fiche specifically.

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