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Music 203 & 307: World Music / Ethnomusicology: Ethnography

What is ethnography?

Ethnography is a qualitative research method that comes from the discipline of anthropology; the in-depth study of a culture or a facet of a culture (such as music).

Some aspects of ethnography:

  1. Ethnography takes time: traditionally, ethnographers live among  members of the culture they are studying. The people learn to know and get used to the ethnographer, who also is able to build rapport with local people.
  2. Ethnography relies on participant observation as its key data collection method. The ethnographer becomes completely immersed in another culture and way of life, observing but also participating. For example, an ethnographer studying the religious practices of a culture would both attend religious services and also participate in them, in order to truly understand these practices from an insider’s point of view.
  3. Ethnographic data comes from the ethnographer’s field notes, which are written daily logs, almost like journals, that describe daily life and events that the ethnographer witnessed and took part in. Field notes are detailed and descriptive enough so that another person could read them and feel like they were there with the ethnographer.

“It is important to remember that ethnography is not ethnography unless it incorporates participant-observation in which the researcher both observes the culture/group/milieu and participates in it to learn more.”  (Thanks to Simon Fraser University Library for this quote.)

What is ethnology? How does it compare to ethnography?

What is ethnology?

a branch of cultural anthropology dealing chiefly with the comparative and analytical study of cultures

Ethnology is the systematic collection, comparison, and contrast of ethnographies. So ethnography is specific, ethnology is generic. A person writes or collects ethnographies, while ethnology is a specific academic discipline, a branch of cultural anthropology.

Keyword Searches

Use either 'ethnography' OR 'ethnology' in combination with the name of the people you're researching othe geographic region in which they live.

Use truncation symbol (*) in case either term has been pluralized

Use filters on left side—limit “RESOURCE TYPE” to books and collection to “MUSIC AND DANCE”

  • Example #1: ethnograph* AND China
  • Example #2: ethnograph* AND Chinese opera
  • Example #3: ethnolog* AND China

How do I find an ethnography?

How do you know what you find is actually an ethnography? 

You won't until you look at it. Remember that many ethnographies do not have the word “ethnography” in their titles.

There are several approaches to finding ethnographies; each depending on your knowledge or comfort level with the course material. 

  1. Look at sources that provide background information on work of anthropologists or sources that provide overviews of cultural groups (encyclopedias, handbooks, bibliographies).
  2. Look for ethnographies in the Library Catalog:
    • Search ethnograph$ -- limit to Music and Dance Library for subject specificity
    • Use ADVANCED SEARCH to also limit to Books MARC format

How do I find the SUBJECT "ethnology"?

  1. Look for ethnology I the Library Catalog.
    • Search ethnology – this is an authorized SUBJECT. Limit to Music and Dance Library for subject specificity
    • Use ADVANCED SEARCH to also limit to Books MARC format