Newberry Marks National Native American Heritage Month with Exhibition, New Website

October 2011

Home to one of the world’s foremost archives related to American Indians and the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere, the Newberry is celebrating National Native American Heritage Month with an exciting new exhibition to accompany the recent launch of a permanent, educational website. The website is made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Conceived and developed by the Newberry’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, “Indians of the Midwest” is a multimedia educational website that engages and informs a broad public audience about major issues in American Indian history and culture. Marrying the library’s rich collections on American Indian history with state-of-the art interactive web capabilities, the site will contribute to the public discourse on key contemporary issues involving American Indians— such as debates over gaming, the disposition of archaeological sites and objects, fishing rights, and sports mascots—that often lack historical and cultural context.

“The information on the ‘Indians of the Midwest’ website is organized around several broad themes that continue to resonate today but whose roots in the complex history of the region and its people are often misunderstood or distorted in public debate,” said Dr. Scott Stevens, Director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center. “In addition to historical collections, the site also features contemporary photos, interviews with contemporary American Indian scholars and tribal members, interactive maps, and links to tribal and other websites.”

To further highlight these issues and enrich the public’s experience with, and knowledge of, Native American materials, the Newberry has mounted an exhibition featuring a wide variety of historically and culturally significant items from its world-renowned collections, including: early colonial maps denoting Indian communities in the region; rare books and manuscripts related to indigenous cultures from the early colonial period to the present; and a variety of drawings and painting depicting various aspect of Indian life in the Midwest.

Opening November 2 and running through December 31, the exhibition includes computer stations on which the public can access the new website and demonstrations of how to best use the site by the lead scholar on the project, professor of anthropology Dr. Loretta Fowler.

As a collection of general Americana, the Newberry Library’s Edward E. Ayer Collection is one of the best in the country and in the words of a former Yale University Library Curator, Ayer is “perhaps the finest gathering of materials 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, more than 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:

  • Native American archaeology, ethnology, art, language
  • History of Contact between Native peoples and Europeans
  • History of the voyages and travels which include accounts of early America
  • Development of the cartography of the Western Hemisphere
  • The expanding western frontier of America: the history of the aboriginal peoples under the jurisdiction of the US in the Philippine Islands and Hawaii

The D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies was founded in 1972. Its goals are to encourage the use of the Newberry collections in American Indian and indigenous studies; improve the quality of what is written about American Indians and indigenous peoples; educate teachers about American Indian and indigenous cultures, histories, and literature; assist American Indian tribal and indigenous historians in their research; and provide a meeting ground where scholars, teachers, tribal historians, and others interested in American Indian and indigenous studies can discuss their work with each other.