Nature and Scope

[Lithographs of Osage Indians visiting Paris in 1827]. Copyright The Newberry Library Catalogue.



Language and Terminology

Document Types



Time Periods



The wide range of material included in American Indian Histories and Cultures presents a unique insight into interactions between American Indians and Europeans from their earliest contact, continuing through the turbulence of the American Civil War, the on-going repercussions of government legislation, right up to the civil rights movement of the mid- to late-twentieth century. This resource contains material from the Newberry Library’s extensive Edward E. Ayer Collection; one of the strongest archival collections on American Indian history in the world.

A note on the selection process...

The Ayer collection is truly vast, containing 130,000 volumes, over one million manuscript pages, 2,000 maps, 500 atlases, 11,000 photographs, and 3,500 drawings and paintings. The collection covers not only American Indian history, but archaeology, voyages, exploration and accounts of early America, the development of cartography, Philippine and Hawaiian history, and Central and South American history.

For the purposes of this resource we focussed specifically on selecting material relating to American Indian history in the United States, Canada and Mexico. We have aimed to cover the important themes and time periods in American Indian history and to provide a rich resource for both in depth research and for teaching.

Almost all of the unique Ayer manuscript collection has been included where the items were directly related to the themes listed below. We also selected a large proportion of visual material, including art work, photographs and maps. Some rare printed items were selected to add context to the manuscript material. We have also included some of the Ayer Modern Manuscript collections and some twentieth century American Indian newspapers to try to bring the story closer to the present day.

We have endeavoured to handle the material and subject matter sensitively and have followed advice to exclude certain documents and collections due to their sensitivity, especially some of those surrounding ceremonies and religious practices. We also took advice from the academic advisory board and from the Newberry Library throughout the development and production processes.

Director of the D'Arcy McNickle Centre, Scott Manning Stevens, introduces this unique collection in his essay: Mr. Ayer’s Community Service: The Creation and Use of a Great Collection.


NEW cross-searchability!

American Indian Histories and Cultures is fully cross-searchable with The American West collection; an award-winning resource from Adam Matthew on Western Americana sourced from the Newberry Library’s prestigious Everett D. Graff Collection. These collections complement each other brilliantly through related documents, valuable secondary resources and similar thematic content. You will find helpful links to expand your search across both collections and links to The American West document list throughout the site.

Screenshot of The American West homepage


To search across both collections, click here: Link to the American West resource or here: Link: 'Cross-search with The American West Collection'


For a full list of documents from The American West, click here: View Documents from The American West


Please note: If your institution does not have access to The American West collection content will be restricted. For more information please contact


Language and terminology

All editorial decisions relating to this project have been made with great care, consideration and with the utmost sensitivity. We have been advised throughout by notable academics in the field across North America, as well as by the Newberry Library itself.

Every care and attention has been paid to preserve the historic authenticity of these documents which range widely in date from the early 16th century to the end of the 20th century. Any terminology that may be deemed discriminatory or offensive by present-day principles may have been preserved for the historic accuracy and relevance to that particular document.


Document types, digitized in full colour, include:

  • An extensive collection of manuscripts ranging from the early 16th to the mid-20th centuries
  • A striking collection of artwork including rare American Indian ledger art
  • Speeches and petitions written by American Indians
  • Diaries, essays, travel journals and ledger books from early European expeditions
  • Correspondence, notes and minutes relating to important treaties
  • Early linguistic studies and ethnographic accounts of American Indian life
  • Thousands of photographs
  • Historic maps and atlases
  • Rare printed books
  • American Indian newspapers from the 1960s-1990s


This rich selection of primary sources covers such important themes as:

  • American Indians and the European Powers
  • American Indians and the US Government
  • Military Encounters: Conflicts, Rebellions and Alliances
  • Observation, Representation and Cultural Encounters
  • Indigenous Peoples of Mexico
  • First Nations of Canada
  • Missionaries and Education
  • Trade and Indian Economies
  • Civil Rights Movement


Providing information on subjects such as:

  • Early America and European colonialism including New France, New Spain and British colonialism
  • Territorial disputes; treaties, land cessions, delegations
  • Relations with the US Government incorporating treaties, land claims and petitions, the Indian Removal Act and termination
  • Battles and conflicts such as the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, Pontiac's Rebellion, the US Civil War, Creek War, Battle of Washita and the Battles of Little Big Horn
  • European and inter-tribal Indian alliances
  • Mexico and the surrounding areas
  • Canadian First Nations and the fur trade
  • Religion; the dissemination of Christianity, Jesuits, Missionaries
  • Education and Indian Boarding schools
  • Artwork, photographs, journals and travel narratives describing customs, traditions and cultures
  • 20th century political activism; the Red Power Movement, Urban Indian Conferences and the occupation of Alcatraz


The combination of primary documents and secondary resources provides an extensive overview of American Indian History in North America. Key periods covered include:

  • Pre-contact – see our Interactive Map for visualisations of American Indian migration and trade routes
  • Early contact between American Indians and Europeans settlers
  • The first days of the New Republic and the emerging Federalist Era
  • Relocation policy and the ensuing Indian Removal Act of 1830
  • Indian Wars, the War of Independence and the American Civil War
  • Turn of the century politics and the Progressive Era
  • The impact of the Indian New Deal
  • The Red Power Movement and the occupation of Alcatraz
  • Current areas of interest in American Indian study – see our online exhibitions and external links