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.

Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom are thematic collections of primary source documents selected from the Newberry’s extensive holdings.

By combining image galleries and original scholarship, this exhibit explores how central North America first became known as the “Frontier” and eventually as the “Heartland.”

550 images of Illinois and the Great Lakes from the French period of exploration and settlement to the early twentieth Century.

Historic Maps in K-12 Classrooms is a resource for teachers and students developed by the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography.