Selection Criteria


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 histories of Indigenous Peoples in North America, but archaeology, voyages, exploration and accounts of the early United States of America, the development of cartography, Philippine and Hawaiian histories, and Central and South American histories.

For the purposes of this resource we focused specifically on selecting material relating to Indigenous histories in the United States, Canada and Mexico. We have aimed to cover the important themes and time periods in the histories of Indigenous Peoples in these regions 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 selected themes. 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 Indigenous newspapers to highlight the ongoing histories of these Peoples.

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.


The Edward E. Ayer collection

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 Indigenous Peoples in North America in the world.

In 1911, Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927) donated more than 17,000 pieces on the early contacts between Indigenous Peoples in North America 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 one 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 Centre's Director, Scott Manning Stevens, introduces this unique collection in his essay: Mr. Ayer’s Community Service: The Creation and Use of a Great Collection.