Reply to Barry Lewis

Sat, 30 Apr 1994 11:33:19 CDT

I wanted to reply to Barry Lewis's comments about HRAF. I could have
done this in the corridors of our department (where all the department
work seems to get done), but Barry's thoughts were put out over the
net and I thought it would be only fair to answer them in that
context. First, I should mention that Barry really is the heaviest
user of HRAF in our department. Most of my students use the files as
they exist now to crib a note or two for their term papers. This is
probably the way that most undergraduates get introduced to the files
and it is probably the size and unwieldliness of these files that
has made them so daunting to most users over the years.
This has changed in the last five years with the release of CD ROM
crosscuts of the files dealing with significant social issues. They
are used by a large number of libraries and departments and have been
a true success at providing usable machine readable comparative
material for classroom and for research use. They also provided
HRAF with a p-latform from which to design an electronic format
for the files as a whole. That platform is now in place. It is
flexible and it is useable by researchers either using a pre-arranged
framework similar to the OCM (Outline of Cultural Materials) or the
OCW (Outline of World Cultures) or using their own text based coding.
The researcher also has available the context of the phrase, word,
concept, technique, economic practice, etc., right there, so that the
decontextualization that was a major problem of the old paper and
fiche based file is no longer a problem with the text based electronic
Now, the reason that scanning is not used is that it is impossible at this
point in time to get the needed 99.99% accuracy by scanning that would
allow a flexible ASCII based system to be accessed using SGML ( Stand-
ard Generalized Marking Language) architecture. When scanning becomes
that accurate it will be used. HRAF has found it necessary to have
the filed stroked by a Conversion company to attain the accuracy needed.
You have to realize as well that the early texts were typed on manual
typewriters and then were duplicated in what are now considered archaic
ways. It is impossible to scan them accurately at present.
The end product of this flexible approach is a product that will
be much more user friendly than any scanned text, will allow manipulation
by a researcher using whatever categories he/she wishes to put together
or will allow the old workhorse OCM and OWC outlines to be used, and
will allow people to do some very important contextual research that
will ocnlude the critical analysis of changing approaches to cultures
over time, literally making it possible to examine the changing texts
that are cultures as represented in the writings of anthropologists
from one time period to another.
I should mention that this is possible because the 360 cultures repre-sented
in HRAF, and the ever growing number of ethnic groups, are updated on a
Barry's comments are well considered and bring up important considerations.
I should mention that there are many reasons for the format that
HRAF has taken as an organization. It is a membership organization,
and it is non-profit. It serves the research community and there are
levels of membership that allow a library, campus or system of campuses
to be a user or to participate in the directions that this major
research tool represents. And it is a major research tool for
disciplines other than anthropology. Political Science, Sociology and
other comparative disciplines are using it more heavily now, and it
will be more flexible and useful as it comes online beginning in December
of this year. The 50,000 pages of accessible text will be the equivalent
of nearly 250,000 pages of materials on fiche and on paper. Within
5 years the major cross cultural database of 60 cultures will be
online as well as a number of modern etthnic groups and new groups. We
hope that the conversion will go faster than this, and it may if
the advances in scanning technology catch up with the sophistication
that we demand at the output end of HRAF.
One last thing that should be mentioned. I am not an employee of
HRAF, and neither are its Board of Directors. The 22 Directors are
anthropologists and librarians who are representatives of the 23
worldwide research libraries - ranging from Yale to Michigan to USC
in this country, and worldwide from Seoul National University to
the Laboratoire danthropologie Sociale of the College de France
back to the National Museum of Ethnology in Tokyo. Our avowed
purpose is to enahnce these files, and to makie them available to
out membership for significant social science research. We also
make new productse available such as the Encyclopedia of World
Cultures and the in progress Enclyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology.
Our end is self serving only to the enhancement of our capabilities
in social science and hman sciences research as an end that we are
dedicated to serving. Sorry about this last sentence, but it
will have to stand. See you in the corridor, Barry. Hope to
hear from any of you who might have a bone to pick with us. See
YOU in the information corridor!