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Finding an Ethnography

Most students in one of the sections of SOAN 102 (Introduction to Anthropology) will need to use an ethnography as one of the sources to inform their investigation and support the conclusions put forth in the final paper or project. The basic criteria for the ethnography will be listed in the assignment sheet that your professor provides, and you should review this before beginning your search. Generally speaking however, the following criteria will be applicable:

  1. book-length
  2. written by an anthropologist
  3. based on fieldwork (living with and studying the culture or community) that is CURRENT (not historical research or 20-year old field notes), EXTENSIVE (usuallly one year or longer), and based on techniques such as participant-observation and interviews.
  4. written between certain dates (see your assignment sheet).   

Searching the Colgate Library Catalog

The first place to search is the Colgate Library Catalog.The basic strategy is to search for the name of the culture or community and variations of the word ethnography, which you can do by searching for the term “ethno*”. Using the term ethno* will locate records with the words ethnography, ethnology (a broader term), etc.

Example: trobriand AND ethno*

Unfortunately, not all books that meet the criteria have the word “ethnography” in the catalog record and therefore you may have to try other keyword terms. Terms like “customs” or “ceremony” are often used in catalog records of ethnographic materials. Consider your topic and choose the most appropriate terms.

Example: trobriand AND customs/ceremony, etc.  

Other Libraries

Be aware that it can often be difficult to find an appropriate ethnography that meets all of the selection criteria in the Colgate Libraries. When this happens you will have to request books that appear to meet the criteria (based on their catalog records) from another library through ConnectNY (up to 4 business days for delivery) or Worldcat (interlibrary loan, 4 - 7 business days for delivery). 

In either catalog, conduct a similar search to one of the ones listed above.

NOTE: To request interlibrary loan books via Worldcat, click on the “My Loan” link and complete the online form. If it is the first time you have used interlibrary loan you will have to create an account before making a request.

Verifying Criteria

Collect the books you have located in the catalog that you think may meet your criteria. You must look through each book to verify that it meets the criteria provided by your professor. The two most common problems students have are:

  1. Verifying that that the author is an anthropologist – often it is unclear if the author is an anthropologist or from another field that also employs a methodology that includes fieldwork. Usually this information is ascertained by:
    1. reading the meta-information about the book that is often provided on the front or back covers.
    2. searching the book to see if you find mention of the author being associated with an academic department at a higher education institution.
    3. finding biographical information in Google that indicates the author’s field.
    4. ascertaining that the author is a member of the American Anthropological Association, by looking them up in the Association’s Guide: A Guide to Departments, A Directory of Members, which is keep in the Reference Area (Level 3, Case Library) at call number GN43.A2 G84.
  1. Determining if the book is based on fieldwork (living with and studying the culture or community). Usually this information ascertained by:
    1. reading the introduction or part of the first chapter, where the author will explain their methodology and/or talk about fieldwork experience, etc.
    2. reading book reviews. Occasionally it is hard to ascertain if the investigation involved “fieldwork” or other types of research involving interactions with a community. Book reviews of the book, which can be found in a scholarly journal by searching for the book’s title in Anthrosource, Anthropological Literature or Jstor, will often describe the methods used and provide clarifying details.

Start Early - getting a book from off campus (ConnectNY and Worldcat) will take extra time (3 to 7 business days). Once you receive the book you will still have peruse it to verify that it meets the assignment criteria.  So, you will want to start looking for your ethnography early—as soon as you decide on your topic.

Need Assistance

If you need assistance with any portion of this process, please contact the Reference Desk (in person, phone, chat, e-mail, or appointment) by following the links on the Ask-a-Librarian page.

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