Rare manuscripts, artworks, and photographs are among the more than 4,000 digital objects included in the Newberry’s newly expanded Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection. Featuring historically significant works of art and literature both by and about American Indians, the online collection combines three previously distinct digital reserves into one, while making a set of collection items digitally available for the first time. It is freely accessible to users worldwide.
“The artwork in the Ayer Collection, created by Native American artists as well as by European and American artists, represents multiple perspectives on life in the Americas from the contact era to the modern period,” says Seonaid Valiant, Ayer Reference Librarian at the Newberry. “Expanding the digital collection gives scholars access to a variety of visual styles that will help them to make cross-disciplinary discoveries.”
Collection highlights include over 1,300 pages of sixteenth-century manuscripts written by the Spanish missionary Father Bernardino de Sahagún, widely considered the first ethnohistorian in the Americas for his work documenting the religions and customs of Indigenous Mexicans. The Sahagún manuscripts have also been added to the World Digital Library, a project of the Library of Congress, UNESCO, and partner institutions around the world to provide free access to significant primary materials from all countries and cultures.
The Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection is the latest effort of the Newberry’s Digital Initiatives and Services Department. “Digitization extends the Newberry’s mission to promote its materials to foster research, teaching, and lifelong learning,” says Jennifer Thom, Director of Digital Initiatives and Services. “Fulfilling this mission increasingly involves supporting the way users work in the digital world—especially by improving access to one of the Newberry’s signature collections.”
As a collection of general Americana, the Ayer Collection is one of the best in the country, and one of the strongest collections on American Indians in the world. It originated in 1911 with a donation of 17,000 items documenting early contacts between colonists and Indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere. Supported by an endowment that Edward E. Ayer himself initiated, the collection has grown by many thousands of volumes, maps, and manuscript pages to become an indispensible resource on the exploration and settlement of the Americas for scholars all over the world.
The Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection was funded in part by Roger and Julie Baskes, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and an Illinois State Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant.