American Indian and Indigenous Studies

E.A. Burbank, Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah (Kiowa: “Young Woman”). Ayer Art Burbank 77.
E.A. Burbank, Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah (Kiowa: “Young Woman”). Ayer Art Burbank 77.

As a collection of general Americana, the Newberry’s Edward E. Ayer Collection is one of the best in the country and one of the strongest collections on American Indians in the world.

In 1911, Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927) donated more than 17,000 pieces on the early contacts between American Indians and Europeans. Ayer, a member of the first Board of Trustees, was the first donor of a great collection to the Newberry. Since then, the Ayer endowment fund has enabled the library to collect in excess of 130,000 volumes, over 1 million manuscript pages, 2,000 maps, 500 atlases, 11,000 photographs, and 3,500 drawings and paintings on the subject.

The D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies enacts programming, including fellowships and seminars, that allows participants to draw from the Newberry’s collections in their research. 

The Ayer Collection is rich in printed and manuscript accounts of the discovery, exploration, and settlement of the Americas. While the nucleus of the Ayer Collection consists of an extensive body of literature that concerns the American Indian directly, there are five main subject areas within Ayer:

Newberry librarians and interns have compiled Research Guides containing bibliographies, checklists, and other resources helpful in directing research in certain subjects at the Newberry; a few closely related collection descriptions are Latin American History, Portuguese and Brazilian History, Philippine History, and French in the Americas.  All the research guides relating to American Indian and Indigenous Studies are found below; relevant digital collections, such as the Ayer Art Digital Collection, Great Lakes Digital Collection, and North American Indian Photographs Collection, are also found at the bottom of this page.

Ayer Collection acquisitions are listed in the Newberry’s Online Catalog and in WorldCat. In addition, Ayer Collection acquisitions to 1978 are described in the Dictionary Catalog of the Edward E. Ayer Collection of Americana and American Indians (21 volumes, 1961-1980).  Please call the reference desk at (312) 255-3506 with questions on our holdings, or Contact a Librarian with research questions.

Read about the modest beginnings of this great collection in Edward E. Ayer’s “How I Bought My First Book”

Digital Resources

Below is a list of related digital resources.

American Indian Histories and Cultures is a deep and wide ranging selection of visual and textual resources related to Native American culture and history. Taken from the Newberry Library’s Edward E Ayer Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of American Indian history, the resource provides documents, images, context, and insight into American Indian culture and history, the European settlement of the Americas, and the interactions between the two groups. *Access to this subscription database is available on-site through any of the Newberry’s public computers.*

The story of the American West has exerted a powerful influence over the psyche of the modern world, helping to fashion senses of national identity as well as permeating literary and cinematic culture. The Graff collection is a unique resource which will allow scholars to explore all of these subject areas in great detail. *Access to this subscription database is only available on-site through any of the Newberry’s public computers.*

This collection illuminates the expanse of visual material on American Indian history and culture found within the library’s world-renowned Edward E. Ayer Collection.

This virtual exhibition is based on The Aztecs and the Making of Colonial Mexico, a display of original manuscripts, books, and other materials at the Newberry from September 28, 2006 through January 13, 2007. The virtual exhibit includes the complete text from the original gallery exhibit and digitized images of many of the manuscripts and books that were displayed.