A Guide to American Indian and Indigenous Studies Collections


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 Indian and Indigenous people 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 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:

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) 255-3512 with questions on our holdings, or contact a librarian with research questions.

Newberry librarians and assistants have compiled various resources 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 (also see the Greenlee Collection description on Portuguese and Brazilian history), and French in the Americas.

Relevant digital collections, such as the Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection, are found at the bottom of this page.

The Newberry has also developed a policy regarding access to and treatment of Culturally Sensitive Indigenous Materials in the Library’s collections.

One of the Newberry’s research centers, the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, offers resources and programming, including fellowships and seminars, that allow participants to draw from the Newberry’s collections in their research.

To find books within the Edward E. Ayer collection or on American Indian topics in our collection, you can search by Subject in our online catalog using the “Advanced Search” function to the right of the search bar. Select “Subject” or "Author/creator" in the drop-down menu of search features in place of “Any field,” then copy-and-paste one of the following subject headings:

  • Ayer, Edward Everett, 1841-1927
  • Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection (Newberry Library)
  • Edward E Ayer North And Middle American Indian Collection Newberry Library
  • Indians of North America
  • Indians of the West
  • Hawaii
  • Mexico-History-Conquest, 1519-1540
  • Mexico
  • Nahuatl language-Texts
  • Philippines
  • Spain-Colonies-Law
  • West Indies-History

Results can be filtered by Material Type, Language, Date, Author, Title, etc. prior to searching by using the drop-down menus in the search panel. If your search produces too many options, you can also narrow results using the faceted options on the left-hand side, under the heading “Refine your results.” Clicking on one of these filter terms or the box to their left will limit results to only those that fit this criterion, while clicking on the red box to the right of the term will exclude those results.

Many of our Ayer collection resources are in English, Spanish, Nahuatl, or other Indigenous/non-Indigenous languages. To view these resources, search in the Newberry’s catalog for the subject. You can also use the facets on the left side of the results page to limit by language.

For those items listed as on the 3rd floor Reference shelves, you might also consider looking at the call numbers around those books, since there should be materials dealing with similar topics nearby. All items with a “Ref” call number can be viewed on the open shelves on the 3rd floor. General and Special Collections items must be retrieved by staff. For more information about searching in our online catalog, please see our Guide to Using the Newberry's Online Catalog.

American Indians. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1995. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref E 76.2 .A45 1995.

Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. Call Number: Ref E 78 .G7 A87 1987a. Notes: With other atlases on Atlas Stand on 3rd floor Reference. Other copies shelved at Local & Family History Reference 2nd floor, Special Collections 4th floor, and Special Collections Reference 4th floor.

Bataille, Gretchen M. American Indian Women: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland, 1991. Location: 3rd floor Reference. Call Number: Ref Z 1209.2 .N67 B36 1991.

Beam, Joan. The Native American in Long Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call Number: Ayer Z 1231 .F4 B42 1996.

Biographical Dictionary of Indians of the Americas. Newport Beach, CA: American Indian Publishers, 1991. Call Number: Ref E 89 .B56 1991.

More reference resources can be found here.

Pargellis, Stanley. “The Problem of American Indian History.” The Newberry Library Bulletin 4.5 (1957): 129-138.

Read John Phelan’s 1955 article in the Newberry Bulletin on Edward Ayer’s Philippine Collection.

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

Full catalog records with name and subject access are included in the Newberry Library’s online catalog and OCLC’s WorldCat.

Brief citations for manuscripts acquired before 1937 are included in A Check List of Manuscripts in the Edward E. Ayer Collection compiled by Ruth Lapham Butler (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1937).

Manuscript collections dating from 1700 and containing five or more items are listed both by author and primary subject in the Newberry’s Modern Manuscripts Collections, 1700-present.

[Black Horse ledger], ca. 1877-1879. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT oversize Ayer MS 3227.

Burbank, E.A., E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: Oversize Ayer Art Burbank Prints.

Catlin, George. Souvenir of the North American Indians as They Were in the Middle of the 19th Century, between 1852 and ca. 1860. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT oversize Ayer Art Catlin 1.

[Codex Zempoala], ca. 1720. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 1472.

Cortez, Hernan, [Mexico City and the Gulf of Mexico], 1524. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT Ayer 655.51 .C8 1524d.

[Map of lands in the Tultepec and Jaltocán regions adjacent to the Hacienda de Santa Inés (Mexico)], 1569. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT drawer Ayer MS 1801 map1.

Sahagún, Bernardino, Siguense veynte y seis addiciones desta postilla: las quales hizo el auctor della despues de muchos años que la avía hecho, ante que se imprimiese/oquimochi huilli yn fray Bernardino de Sahagun, 1560-1579. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 1486.

Ximenez, Francisco, Arte de las tres lenguas kakchiquel, quiché y tzutuhil, ca. 1700-1703. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 1515. More information about the Popol Vuh can be found here.

Boudinot, Elias (editor), Cherokee Phoenix. New Echota [Ga.]: Isaac H. Harris, 1828-1829. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: Ayer 1 .C45.

Waldeck, Frédéric de. [A collection of Waldeck’s original artwork of Mesoamerica]. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: VAULT oversize Ayer Art Waldeck.

Carlos Montezuma Papers, 1888-1936. Call number: Ayer Modern MS Montezuma.

Chicago American Oral History Project Records, 1982-1985. Call number: Ayer Modern MS Oral History.

David Tilden Brown Papers, 1848-1850. Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 1819.

E.A. Burbank Papers, 1897-1949. Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 120.

John Howard Payne Papers, 1794-1842. Call number: Vault Ayer MS 689.

The Pete Brown Collection of Native Americans in Comic Books, 1937-2015. Call number: Ayer Modern MS BrownP.

Seeing Indian in Chicago Exhibition Records, 1958-1985. Call number: Ayer Modern MS Seeing Indian.

Waldeck, Frédéric de. Papers, 1825-1867, Call number: VAULT Ayer MS 1268.

All of these collections are located in Special Collections on the 4th floor.

The Spanish American manuscripts constitute an important part of the larger Ayer Collection of manuscripts, books, photographs, maps, and artwork that Ayer donated to the Newberry Library between 1911 and 1927. They offer a detailed picture of life in the Spanish colonies of South and Central America (especially Mexico), the Caribbean, and parts of North America, including Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. They are particularly rich in Spanish colonial administrative papers, ecclesiastical and legal documents, and travel literature of discovery and exploration. Please refer to the links below for further resources on this subject area.


American Indian Studies – Colonial Spanish Sources for Indian Ethnohistory

Indigenous Linguistics

American Indian Studies – Colonial Spanish Sources for Indian Linguistics

Modern Editions of Indigenous Ethnohistory

American Indian Studies – Modern Editions of Colonial Spanish Sources for Indian Ethnohistory

Modern Editions of Indigenous Linguistics

American Indian Studies – Modern Editions of Colonial Spanish Sources for Indian Linguistics

The Newberry Library’s Digital Collections for the Classroom website is an educational resource designed for teachers and students featuring primary sources from the Newberry’s holdings, contextual essays, and discussion questions. Newberry Teacher and Student Programs collaborates with scholars, university faculty, and classroom teachers to develop the collections in this growing resource for classroom use.

American Indians in an Age of Empire and Revolution, 1750-1783: This digital collection places American Indians at the center of the action and demonstrates the important roles they played. From the Seven Years’ War through the American Revolution, they both resisted and adapted to the presence of whites in North America while also navigating internal tribal rivalries and relationships with histories that predated contact with Europeans.

Art and Exploration in the American West and Mexico: This collection of documents offers four case studies of the exploration and visual art, broadly defined, of nineteenth-century America and Mexico, from the first expeditions up the Missouri River, to the development of everyday life along the Mississippi, to the discovery of Yellowstone and the establishment of the national park, to representations of the people and natural resources of Mexico.

Art of Conflict: Portraying American Indians, 1850-1900: This collection of documents presents visual art by and about western Indians from the second half of the nineteenth century.

Indians in the Archives: This collection focuses on artwork from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and includes works by both American Indian and Euro-American artists.

American Indian Histories and Cultures: 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.

Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection: The Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection features several thousand digitized images and texts selected from the Newberry’s Ayer Collection, one of the strongest on American Indians in the world.

Indians of the Midwest: On “Indians of the Midwest,” you can explore important issues, learn how to do further research, and gain an introduction to the research methods that underlie scholars’ findings.

Writing the Voices of the Americas: This timeline allows users to visualize the process by which European missionaries sought to learn and utilize languages entirely new to them, featuring a variety of books, pamphlets, and images.

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