Researching Ethnic And Cultural Groups

Starting Your Search

The best place to start a search for information on peoples is in reference books. The books listed below are in Chemeketa's library. When you look at articles in reference books, make sure you note the following: alternate names for the ethnic group ("ethnonym"); alternate spellings of these names, where the group lives, name(s) of the group's language. All these things can help you find more information later. Also note any bibliographic references to books or articles about the group.

Reference Books for Studying Cultures in Their Native Environment

OnlineCountries and their cultures
R 306.03 IL6The Illustrated encyclopedia of mankind
R 306.097 En1 and onlineThe Encyclopedia of world cultures
OnlineEncyclopedia of World Cultures: Supplement
R 305.8003 W89 and onlineWorldmark encyclopedia of cultures and daily life
R 305.803 En1Encyclopedia of cultural anthropology
OnlineEncyclopedia of multicultural psychology
R 394.26 F715The Folklore of world holidays
R 394.26 H71Holidays, festivals, and celebrations of the world dictionary
R 909.83 C89wCulturegrams
R 910.3 En1 1995World geographical encyclopedia
R 960 M85Peoples of the world: Africans south of the Sahara

There are also subject dictionaries or encyclopedias on particular countries, regions, or groups of people, e.g., Kodansha encyclopedia of Japan, The African American encyclopedia, Dictionary of Chicano folklore.

Student Resources in Context has additional reference books and articles. Tip: Click "Reference" above the search space before entering a term for the culture you're researching.

Reference Books For Studying Cultures In the United States

R 305.800973 AmAmerican immigrant cultures: builders of a nation
R 305.800973 G13Gale encyclopedia of multicultural America
OnlineEncyclopedia of multicultural psychology
R 306.446 En1Encyclopedia of multiculturalism
R 305.8003 W89 and onlineWorldmark encyclopedia of cultures and daily life

Try looking in the Keyword search the library search with the place name or ethnic name followed by "and dictionar*" or "and encyclopedia*." For further advice on finding subject encyclopedias in the library search, see How To Find Specialized Dictionaries & Encyclopedias. A reference librarian can also help you find these works.

Finding Further Information

The Library Search

Books (usually) are on more general subjects; articles in periodicals are on more specific ones. Books are found in the library search. Electronic books are available through to Chemeketa students through the library search, or by going to our database pages. To access these books from off campus you will need your My Chemeketa user name and six-digit password.

Books about "mainstream" inhabitants of a country, or about a variety of ethnic groups within a country, are entered under such subject headings as

  • Argentina - Social life and customs
  • Business etiquette - China
  • Etiquette - Ukraine
  • Japan - Civilization
  • National characteristics, Philippine

Books on specific inhabitants of that country are entered under the name of the people:

  • Chontal Indians
  • !Kung (African people)

Names of places may also be used as subdivisions following a topical subject heading:

  • Funeral rites and ceremonies - Mexico
  • Kinship - Pakistan

Names of groups may be used adjectivally, for example:

  • Mourning customs, Jewish
  • Folk songs, Finnish

Use truncation characters to find all the words that start with the same letters. The truncation character for the library search is an asterisk, "*" (Example: cultur*).

Try the Keyword search to find the name of an ethnic group anywhere it appears. Also try the Keyword search option for books to find specific chapters listed in contents notes, or for names of peoples mentioned in the title, but not in the subject heading:

      Keyword search for BASQUE* finds books including one 
      called The Spanish World, which has a chapter called, 
      "The Basque Country."
      Keyword search for INDIA and ETIQUETTE finds books 
      including one called Passport India : your pocket guide 
      to Indian business, customs & etiquette. 

For guidance on subject headings used in the library search, consult Library of Congress Subject Headings (Reference 025.49 L61), or try Library of Congress Authorities.

Magazines and Journals

Periodical Articles are found in the Gale Academic OneFile database. If using databases from off campus, you will need your My Chemeketa user name and password.

Examples of some "anthropological" subject headings used in Gale include:

  • Burial
  • Culture with adjectival forms of countries, as Spanish Culture
  • Subject headings containing the word "customs," such as Marriage Customs
  • Funerals
  • Subject headings containing the word "kinship," such as Matrilineal Kinship
  • Manners and customs
  • Marital Status
  • Polygamy
  • Polyandry
  • Puberty rites
  • also to some extent the subdivision - Social Aspects under the names of places

For the purpose of finding an article on a particular group, keyword searching often works best. Use ethnonyms and alternate spellings.

General Searching Tips

Click Advanced Search in the orange toolbar banner to do a search combining key words.

Use truncation characters to find all the words that start with the same letters. The truncation character for Gale databases is "*" (Example: cultur*). In any keyword search, it is critical to spell the key words correctly. If you find no results in a keyword search, check your spelling.

Limit your search to scholarly journals (if desired) by clicking the peer-reviewed check box on the search screen.

Combine a word for the group you are researching (e.g., African Americans, Navajo) with another key word, using AND, OR, NOT:

cultur* beliefs marriage, family, etc.
custom* values acculturation
practices perceptions counsel*
habits behavior clients

For example, in the search

         Pakistan AND marriage customs

we combine the word "Pakistan*" with a key phrase, "marriage customs", to find articles. (Pakistan* returns Pakistan, Pakistani, Pakistanis) Here's what it looks like on the screen:

picture of Gale Advanced Search Screen

Internet Sites

Online Guide to Anthropology Resources ( is a good place to start. You'll find Cultural Orientation, Executive Planet, and Ethnomed, good sites for information about ethnic groups or cultures of a country. You may also wish to try Online Guide to Geography and Map Resources. Countries of the World has some resources that may be useful.

To comment or request help, please e-mail Reference or call 503.399.5231.

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Updated: 17 December 2014