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AAAD 214 : Ethnography of Africa

What is an Ethnography?

This course guide will help you find an ethnographic monograph on a particular African ethnic group or on an issue relevant to African Studies. This guide will get you started on your analytic paper. 

"Ethnography is the recording and analysis of a culture or society, usually based on participant-observation and resulting in a written account of a people, place or institution".

Traditionally, ethnographies have focused on a particular group of people, such as The Nuer, or The San in Namibia but ethnographies can also focus on a particular aspect of contemporary society such as the meaning of a national headdress, tattooing, cooking rituals, social media, or fans of UNC basketball.

The concept of ethnography originated within social anthropology and provided in-depth case studies that served to inform and educate about global cultures and issues. Even if the case study is on a particular aspect of a society, anthropologists will place the study in a broader context providing a deep and nuanced account. 


Where are Ethnographies located in the library?

  • Ethnographies are not always easy to find in the library or the library catalog. There is not one section of ethnographies because the word 'Ethnography'  is not a Library of Congress subject heading (the classification system Davis Library and a lot of other academic libraries use).
  • Ethnographies are found in different locations of the library depending on the call number or classification of the ethic group, cultural aspect or geographic area of your research. 
  • In order to find ethnographies you will have to use the library catalog and probably perform several different search strategies.

Searching and finding Ethnographies in the library catalog

Tips for searching the library catalog:

  • Most ethnographies do not have the word ethnography in the title. Try to identify the correct name of the ethnic group or cultural aspect you are researching instead and perform a keyword search. A keyword search of an ethnic group will not automatically result in ethnographies. You will find a lot of books about that group but you will have to decide by looking at book reviews, the introduction, the summary or methodology section of the book whether it is an ethnography. 
  • Ethnographies can often be found under the subject heading Social Life and Customs. Try a search in the catalog using social life and customs and the name of an ethnic group. Example: Yoruba social life and customs. 
  • Try searching the name of the group or subject in combination with the subheading "case studies". Not all case studies are ethnographies. 
  • Search with the group name or subject and the subheading "ethnology".
  • Try a keyword search that combines the name of the ethnic group and the cultural aspect that you want to research.
  • Another search strategy might be to identify an anthropologist. Search the catalog by his or her name as an author and see if they have published any ethnographies. 
  • Try searching ethnographic journals for book reviews, for example American Ethnologist.

Useful subject headings

Subject headings in combination with an ethnic group or cultural aspect:

  • Case studies
  • Ethnology
  • Folklore
  • Public health
  • Climate changes
  • Economic aspects

Useful Titles

Reference works


Joanneke Elliott's picture
Joanneke Elliott


Ethnographic Films

  • Last Updated: Aug 27, 2020 3:35 PM
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