Nature and Scope

The wide range of material included in Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America presents a unique insight into interactions between Indigenous Peoples in North America and European colonists 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 histories of Indigenous Peoples in North America in the world.

Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America is fully cross-searchable with the American West collection; an award-winning resource from AM on Western Americana sourced from the Newberry Library's prestigious Everett D. Graff Collection. These collections complement each other through related documents, valuable secondary resources and similar thematic content. You will find helpful links to expand your search across both collections.

Explore content across both collections by clicking the AM's cross-search pop-up, when searching within Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America. Click "Show me the results" and you will be taken to a document list containing all relevant results in AM collections. 

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

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 sixteenth century to the end of the twentieth 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.

Due to the antiquated, colonial and imperialist origin of much of the material in this resource, the language that is used to refer to Indigenous Peoples, enslaved people and free people of colour within this material is often derogatory or offensive by modern standards.

Some of the archival catalogue information presented in this resource was written and compiled many years ago and it may contain antiquated language and terminology. For more information on language and terminology within this resource, please see our Language Statement.

Some of the material within this resource features textual and visual depictions of racism, discrimination, oppression and violence, including assault, torture and murder which users may find distressing.

Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America contains a wealth of visual material, including photographs, illustrations and paintings of Indigenous Peoples in North America. There are some examples in the collection of artwork and photographs from an Indigenous perspective but the majority of visual material is from a colonial source. Visual material including photographs, should be engaged with critically considering the possible motivations of their creator. In the nineteenth century photographs of Indigenous Peoples were more likely to sell if they fed the idea of these peoples being "savage" or "primitive", supporting the belief in manifest destiny that entitled white colonists to expand further into the lands of these peoples. It was common for subjects of these photographs to be staged and given props, seen as traditional by their Western audience, but likely with no use or affiliation to the Tribe or Nation the individual actually belonged to. These photographs can also represent interpretations of Indigenous ways of life before colonization that at the time these were captured, had already been dismantled by US government policies of assimilation, such as residential schools. These factors should be considered when analysing images of Indigenous Peoples from a colonial perspective, but these materials do remain an invaluable resource to understanding perception of and resistance by Indigenous Peoples in North America from the sixteenth to twentieth century. 

This context should be taken into account when using these images in research and we have considered this in our own use of images across the resource. Images have been selected in visual content wherever possible from an Indigenous perspective and in the case of visual galleries have been used to reflect the type of content featured in the resource.

Document types, digitized in full colour, include:

  • An extensive collection of manuscripts ranging from the early sixteenth to the mid- twentieth centuries
  • A striking collection of artwork including rare Indigenous ledger art
  • Speeches and petitions written by Indigenous people
  • 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 Indigenous life
  • Thousands of photographs
  • Historic maps and atlases
  • Rare printed books
  • Indigenous newspapers from the 1960s-1990s

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

  • Indigenous Peoples in North America and the European Powers
  • Indigenous Peoples in Mexico
  • Indigenous Peoples in North America and the US Government
  • Military Encounters: Conflicts, Resistance and Alliances
  • Observation, Representation and Cultural Encounters
  • Missionaries and Education
  • Trade and Indigenous Economies
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America provides information on subjects such as:

  • Early United States of 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 Indigenous alliances
  • Mexico and the surrounding areas
  • Canadian Indigenous Peoples and the fur trade
  • Religion; the dissemination of Christianity, Jesuits, Missionaries
  • Education and Indigenous Boarding schools
  • Artwork, photographs, journals and travel narratives describing customs 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 Indigenous histories in North America. Key periods covered include:

  • Pre-colonization – see our Map for visualisations of Indigenous migration and trade routes
  • Early contact between Indigenous Peoples in North America and European colonists
  • 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
  •  Topical areas of interest in Indigenous studies  – see our online exhibitions