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Anthropology: Finding Ethnographies

The University Libraries own a variety of print and electronic resources to use when researching your topics. The following are a few core tools to help you begin your research in anthropology.

Medical Anthropology Ethnographies

Finding ethnographies in the library catalog

Finding ethnographies in the library catalog isn't always straightforward or easy. First of all, there isn't a specific Library of Congress subject heading (LCSH) just for ethnographies. The most common subject heading subheading assigned to ethnographies is "social life and customs" but "case studies"  and "ethnology" are other subheadings that may be applied.

Since ethnographic books about a particular cultural group, region of the world, or subject area are grouped with other books about that region, country, or subject area, you won't be able to find all ethnographies shelved in one place in the library. Given all of these factors, here are some tips for using the library catalog to identify ethnographies:

1) Identify the correct name of the group you are researching. For example, the subject heading for the !Kung is "!Kung (African people)" not Kung Bushmen, and "Navajo Indians" is the correct LCSH, not Navajos or Navajo People.

2) Once you have the correct name of the group or subject,  search with that name and the subheading phrase "social life and customs". For example, search:

navajo indians social life and customs

either as an exact subject heading search, or as a keyword search.

3) Try searching the name of the group or subject in combination with the subheading "case studies." Although not all case studies are ethnographies, some of the titles retrieved from this search might be ethnographies.  You will need to look at the books to determine if they are actually ethnographies.

4) Search with the group name or subject and the subheading "ethnology." Again, you will need to look at the books to determine if they are ethnographies.

5) Search by keywords with your group name or subject and add the truncated term "ethnograph*" (e.g., maasai and ethnograph*). This search will only retrieve those titles that have ethnography in the title (not all do) or somewhere else within the record.

6) Try a keyword search that combines the name of the group and the aspect of the culture that you want to research. You will need to look at the books to determine if they are ethnographies.

7) Search in the library catalog by a series title, such as Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology or Contemporary Ethnography, and then review the books to determine if a specific title is an ethnography. Potential series are listed in the box to the left.

8) Identify an anthropologist and then search by his or her name as an author in the catalog to determine if he or she has published an ethnography based on their fieldwork.  You can use biographical sources such as the Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology or the International Dictionary of Anthropologists to find potential authors.

Thanks to Liz Cooper, Janet Steins, Anne Davis, and other ACRL ANSS members for their suggestions.

Finding ethnographies in full-text sources

Google Books

Since Google Books will search the full text, you can try searching with your topic keywords (e.g., aids, indigenous medicine) and add either ethnography or ethnographic study to pick up these terms from the book description, introduction, or within the text. You will need to review the results carefully to confirm that the book is an ethnography.


Try a similar search strategy in Compass, which will search the full text of many electronic books from the library's catalog.  After your initial search, limit the results on the left side, under "Refine your search" to items in the library catalog.  You will need to review the results carefully.  You can also look up a particular title that sounds interesting in Google Books to read the book description which may help you determine its relevancy.


Search for book reviews of ethnographic monographs in this database by typing in your topic keywords and ethnograph* (e.g., aids and ethnograph*) to be searched in the full text.  Then choose to narrow the search by Item Type to Reviews and if desired, also to Anthropology journals.  You can then scan the resulting book reviews to identify relevant ethnographies on your topic, but you will need to read through the review carefully to determine if the book is based on ethnographic research.

Finding ethnographies in databases

Anthropology Plus

The term Ethnography is a subject heading in the database Anthropology Plus, so you can use it in combination with your cultural group or other topic keywords to identify ethnographies. Since the Ethnography subject heading will retrieve ethnographic articles and book chapters, you will need to review your results in order to select the appropriate source, or narrow the results by selecting the Source Types on the left tool bar.  Anthropology Plus does not include individual, book-length ethnographies.

eHRAF World Cultures

The database eHRAF World Cultures includes many full-text ethnographies.  To find an ethnography on a particular culture, select the Browse Cultures tab. From here you can choose a culture by the A-Z Index, by Region, or by Country. Once you have found the cultural group that interests you, then select the Collection Documents tab. The Collection Documents will list the ethnographies for the group, which may be books or journal articles. Clicking on the title will retrieve the record for the source, with links to the full text on the left.  Rather than read an entire book online, you can also choose to search for the book by title in the library catalog and if it is in the collection or available through Prospector, check it out to read the print version instead.

Classic and Newer Ethnographies