Introduction to the Ethnographic Atlas

This page is authored by Jerome Levi, Carleton College, using the online Ethnographic Atlas, http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/ethno.html
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project

Summary

In this anthropology assignment, students are introduced to a method of integrating quantitative and qualitative data analysis in cross-cultural studies. Students make cross-tabulations using the Ethnographic Atlas, an online database coded for 1167 societies, and discuss the results of the observed correlations. The whole class first runs a cross-tabulation comparing Subsistence Economy with Descent and is asked to explain the difference between actual versus expected distribution values (as well as probability and chi square).

Learning Goals

Learning goals:
  1. Familiarize students with the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data in ethnological research with special reference to the Ethnographic Atlas.
  2. Further students' active learning in understanding that culture is not composed of disarticulated shreds and patches but instead exhibits a functional interdependence of institutions, traits, and variables.
  3. Give students an opportunity to experiment in seeing which cultural variables exhibit statistically significant correlations and require them to explain those associations using hypotheses integrating both qualitative and quantitative data.
  4. Show students the relation between ethnological knowledge, cross-cultural patterns, numerical literacy, critical thinking, and the scientific method.

Context for Use

This exercise can be used for any college level courses in anthropology and cross-cultural studies. It works particularly well in methods courses where the class has access to a computer lab so that all can engage in the activity together and discuss the results. The exercise ideally can be completed in a single session.

Description and Teaching Materials

The text below is given to students an an assignment handout.

Introduction to the Ethnographic Atlas:
Integrating quantitative and qualitative data analysis in cross-cultural studies

There are two main branches of socio-cultural anthropology, ethnography and ethnology. Ethnography is the detailed description of a culture based on first hand observations. Ethnology is the cross-cultural or comparative study of different cultures, based on data obtained from various ethnographies. Two powerful tools used in certain types of ethnological and cross-cultural research is the electronic Human Relations Area Files and the online Ethnographic Atlas. In this assignment, students are introduced to a method of integrating quantitative and qualitative data analysis in cross-cultural studies using the Ethnographic Atlas. Students make cross-tabulations using the Ethnographic Atlas, an online database coded for 1167 societies, and discuss the results of the observed correlations. The whole class first runs a cross-tabulation comparing Subsistence Economy with Descent and is asked to explain the difference between actual versus expected distribution values (as well as probability and chi square). Students consider why certain types of descent systems are correlated with specific subsistence economies. Students then experiment with running several cross-tabulations of their own design.

Learning goals:
  1. Familiarize students with the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data in ethnological research with special reference to the Ethnographic Atlas.
  2. Further students' active learning in understanding that culture is not composed of disarticulated shreds and patches but instead exhibits a functional interdependence of institutions, traits, and variables.
  3. Give students an opportunity to experiment in seeing which cultural variables exhibit statistically significant correlations and require them to explain those associations using hypotheses integrating both qualitative and quantitative data.
  4. Show students the relation between ethnological knowledge, cross-cultural patterns, numerical literacy, critical thinking, and the scientific method.

Assignment:

Go to the Ethnographic Atlas http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/ethno.html

Use the section of the Ethnographic Atlas that allows you to make cross-cultural tables (cross-tabulations). Tick the box marked "Expected." This will contrast the "expected" values you would find if the distribution is due to chance and the actual distribution of values.

  1. Why might you want to compare actual versus expected distribution values? What do the probability and chi square values show?
  2. Make the following cross tabulation: Subsistence Economy and Descent
    What is the result that you get? Make hypotheses that explain the distribution of values seen in the cells. What hypotheses might explain the positive correlations reflected in the data, which cultural variables or traits intersect and why? Which traits are negatively correlated? What hypotheses might account for these negative associations?
  3. Using ethnographic data culled from the literature you have read for this course, as well as the "Cultural Summaries" listed in the Ethnographic Atlas http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/societies.html and/or on the Electronic Human Relations Area Files, support your hypotheses with qualitative data. Is there evidence that weakens your hypotheses? What alternate hypotheses might also account for the data displayed in the cross-tabulation of descent and subsistence economy?
  4. Next experiment running some cross-tabulations of your own choosing. Then suggest hypotheses that explain these cultural relationships.
    Some possible cross-tabulations that you might want to consider:
    1. High gods and norms of premarital sex behavior of girls
    2. Games and subsistence economy
    3. Class stratification and subsistence economy
    4. Prevailing type of dwelling: floor level and subsistence economy
    5. Inheritance of movable property and distribution of inheritance among individuals of same category
    6. Class stratification and prevailing type of inheritance of real property
    7. Subsistence economy and settlement
    8. Marriage and inheritance
    9. Slavery and the importance of agriculture
    10. Agriculture and the gender division of labor
  5. Finally, how would you evaluate this research instrument? Are there problems with the Ethnographic Atlas, and if so what are they?
  6. Write up the answers to the above questions and be prepared to discuss in class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Assessment

At the completion of the exercise, students are asked to provide a brief narrative describing the strengths and weaknesses of this new assignment.

References and Resources

ETHNOGRAPHIC ATLAS (ONLINE)
http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/ethno.html

CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON (good, brief introduction)
http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/local-only/csa/se300/cross_cul_lect_1.html

CROSS-CULTURAL RESEARCH: AN INTRODUCTION FOR STUDENTS
http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/~drwhite/courses/Cross-Cultural_Research.pdf

SOCIETY FOR CROSS-CULTURAL RESEARCH
http://www.sccr.org/