AAAD 214 Ethnography of Africa (Lambert)

How do I find an ethnography?

Part 1: Start with the right Subject Heading

Choosing the right subject heading can be tricky, especially when searching for cultures and native peoples. Luckily, they tend to follow certain patterns and show up in the auto-fill dropdown menu in the catalog:

Peoples of Africa, Europe, or Asia

>> Add the continent on which they live and add the word "people," for example:

  • use Kikuyu African People , NOT Kikuyus,” “Kikuyu people” or “Kikuyu tribe”
  • use Zulu People , NOT “Zulus” or "Zulu tribe"


Of course, there will be occasional exceptions to the rules. For example, the Tuaregs of northern Africa have the subject heading of “Tuaregs,” not “Tuareg African People.”

Occasionally, a group will be classified under a smaller geographic area:

  • Ndebele in South Africa, not Zimbabwe: use Ndebele People South Africa

If you do not find what you want using the above rules, try entering the name of the culture or group without a suffix e.g. “Tuareg” without the “African people.”


Part 2: Narrow your subject with the right subject subheading

You may find that subject-searching solely for a culture will produce too many irrelevant hits. It is a good idea to narrow your subject heading by using a "subheading" or "suffix."

The most often-used subject heading subheading for ethnographies is "Social life and customs."

For example:

  • Nbele (African people) – Social life and customs

Remember, however, that ethnographies may focus on a particular aspect of a culture. Depending on what you’re investigating, you may wish to look for the subheading that corresponds to your research. For example:

  • Hausa (African people) – Folklore


Part 3: You can also use Keyword Searches

You can also find ethnographies in the library catalog with a Keyword search. This is a last resort, because many ethnographies do not have the word "ethnography" in their titles, and if you only do a keyword search, you will miss a great many likely sources.

Here are some hints:

  • Use the asterisk! The asterisk is important because it will expand the term. For example:
    • ethnograph* finds materials with the words "ethnography", "ethnographic", "ethnograph", etc.
  • Search for the name of the group AND ethnograph* For example:
    • Gikuyu AND ethnograph*
    • Kikuyu* AND ethnograph*
  • Search for the aspect of the culture you want to research: Many ethnographies do not have the word "ethnography" in their titles, so it is also useful to do a keyword search combining the name of the group and the aspect of the culture being researched. For example:
    • For Kikuyu hunting rituals: Kikuyu* AND hunt* AND rit* (rit* for "ritual" and "rites")

When you want an article-length ethnography

Part 4: Databases & Encyclopedias

The following article indexes and encyclopedias are also good resources for finding article-length ethnographies and citations to books:

For ethnographies of peoples from ALL geographic areas:

For ethnographies of peoples of Africa:

Adapted from the University of Arizona Library

Ethnic Groups of Africa


Mohamed Hamed
Davis Library Global Resources & Area Studies

Office 132

(919) 843-3859

About This Guide

Welcome to the library research guide for AAAD 214: Ethnography of Africa!

Africa - Ethnolinguistic Map of the Peoples (1972) Source: National Geographic

This course uses ethnography (detailed case studies) to introduce you to the study of African cultures and societies.  By examining ethnographic texts you will learn about topics in African studies such as systems of thought, aesthetics and arts, the economy, politics, social organization, and identity.  You will also learn about the production of ethnographic texts as a sub-discipline of anthropology and the issues that this raises with respect to the politics of representation.

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