Ethnographic Atlas by George P. Murdock

Ethnographic Atlas On-Line Tabulations, by Michael Fischer

The Ethnographic Atlas is a database on 1167 societies coded by George P. Murdock and published in 29 successive installments in the journal ETHNOLOGY, 1962-1980. It gives ethnographic codes and geographical coordinates but no actual maps (maps were later added by the World Cultures electronic journal's MAPTAB program, by Douglas R. White, along with an electronic version of the codes and the codebooks). A summary volume of the Atlas was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1967. It contained the data on 862 of the better-described societies in each of 412 cultural clusters of the world. Murdock published a new edition with Pittsburgh Press in 1980 titled ATLAS OF WORLD CULTURES, and included 563 of the better-described societies in the atlas, classified in 150 more linguistically-based clusters.

The original and complete atlas of 1167 societies as coded numerically by Herbert Barry, III, was published by World Cultures in volume 2, number 4 (1986), under the editorship of Douglas R. White, the journal founder. These were replaced by the codes printed in volume 6, number 3 (1990), under the editorship of Gregory F. Truex. On-line tabulation software was added by Michael Fischer, Director of the University of Kent in Canterbury's Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing.

The 1986 and 1990 data did not incorporate all of Murdock's later corrections. To compile the corrected codes in the current volume, Editor Patrick gray located every appearance of a society in the Ethnology installments. He identified the last date a correction was made for any of the four tables published by Murdock. The hard copy article disk file žEANOTES.TXTÓ shows the last time a table was changed for a society. The articles also include the coding notes Murdock provided for many societies. These notes were indicated by asterisks in the original Ethnographic Atlas. The notes provide a wealth of information useful to researchers seeking to dispute Murdock's codings or to understand his coding decisions. The coding notes were difficult to use because they were scattered among the twenty-one installments. Gray's codebook, published in World Cultures volume 10, number 1, which is reprinted below, makes them much more accessible.

Contrary to common opinion, the Atlas had nothing to do with HRAF (the Human Relations Area Files), which Murdock had founded at Yale in the 1940s. His codes have nothing to do with the categories by which the HRAF collection indexes their materials. Murdock's codes classified the specific characteristics of societies in his Atlas, and his judgments were based on his ethnographic readings in the Yale Library and his personal collection of monographs and articles, although some of the sources were available in the HRAF collection. The sources for Murdock's readings, which give rise to the database, are far broader than the sources included in HRAF. HRAF as yet has still not incorporated all the relevant sources even for a much smaller 186 sample subset of the atlas, described below, the STANDARD CROSS CULTURAL SAMPLE.


In 1969, Murdock and White published a selection of the best-described society in each of 186 cultural provinces of the world, all but three of which had previously been rated by Murdock in the Atlas. Their selection, intended to facilitate cross-cultural research, constituted the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.