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:
- Native American Archaeology, Ethnology, Art, and Language
- History of the Contact between Europeans and Native Peoples
- Voyages, Travels, and Accounts of Early America
- Development of Cartography of the Western Hemisphere
- Philippine and Hawaiian History: the history of the aboriginal peoples under the jurisdiction of the U.S. in the Philippine Islands and Hawaii
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 Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection, are also found at the bottom of this page.
The Newberry has also developed a policy regarding access to and treatment of Culturally Sensitive Indigenous Materials (available as a pdf file) in the Library’s collections.
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”.