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Research Guides

What is an ethnography?

In anthropological usage, ethnography is a genre of writing that describes a particular cultural group based on in-depth first hand observations, interviews and participation. Ethnographies can be found in reference works, edited volumes and journals, but the typical format is as an ethnographic monograph, which is a single book written by one person focusing on a particular population, place and time, and offering a holistic portrait of a single cultural group. The word "ethnography" comes from the Greek ethnos = folk/people and graphein = writing. Other disciplines may use the word differently.

How do I look up ethnographies in the library catalog?

Ethnographies can be tricky to find and identify because there is no specific subject heading (or LCSH) for "ethnography". There is no one section or simple search for ethnographies, because books in the library are organized by the region or people being described, not the genre of writing. So, here are some tips for searching for them in the library catalog

  • Identify the correct name of the group you are researching. For example, the subject heading for Navajos is Navajo Indians, NOT "Navajos" or Navajo People"
  • The most often-used subject heading subheading for ethnographies is "Social life and customs".
  • Another sub-heading that is useful is "case studies". Although most case studies are not ethnographies, some are. You will have to go to the stacks and look at the books to determine if they are actually ethnographies.
  • Identify an anthropologist first and then do an author search in the catalog to find any ethnographies they may have written from their fieldwork. Books such as these may help:

               Women anthropologists : a biographical dictionary

               Biographical dictionary of social and cultural anthropology

               International dictionary of anthropologists



Examples of ethnographies