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Native American History and Culture: Finding Pictures

An overview of Prints & Photographs Division visual resources, including photographs, drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and architectural drawings, related to North American indigenous communities. Includes search strategies and tips.

Selected Collections

[Zuni Indian bead worker drilling holes in beads].
[Zuni Indian bead worker drilling holes in beads]. Edward S. Curtis, photographer, 1903. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Documentary Surveys

Edward S. Curtis Collection: (ca. 1900-1930) The Edward S. Curtis Collection includes a large number of individual or group portraits, as well as images showing traditional and ceremonial dress, structures, agriculture, arts and crafts, rites and ceremonies, dances, games, food preparation, transportation, and scenery. The collection contains approximately 2,800 photographs.

Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Landscape Survey/Historic American Engineering Record: (1933-present) HABS/HAER/HALS surveys include photographs, measured drawings, and written historical documentation on thousands of structures. Includes dozens of surveys of structures related to American Indian history and culture (e.g. pueblos in New Mexico or Yuma reservation buildings).

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection: (1935-1944) The photographs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life. There are hundreds of images depicting American Indian life in the collection. Suggested search terms: "Indian"; "Reservation"; "Crow"', etc.

Carol Highsmith Archive: (1980-present) Features photographs of American structures, landscapes and people. Native American images from this collection depict the Million Indian March in Washington, D.C., festivals, powwows and other gatherings.

 

[Sacaton Indian Reservation. Indian plowing his land. Salt River Project]</a>, between 1909 and 1932. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c07200

[Sacaton Indian Reservation. Indian plowing his land. Salt River Project], between 1909 and 1932. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Newspaper and Magazine Photograph Collections

National Photo Company Collection: (bulk 1909-1932, with a focus on Washington, D.C.) The bulk of the images in the collection focus on life and events in Washington. Sample search terms: "Indian Delegations"; "Indians of North America"; "Sacaton"; "Apache", etc.

New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection(bulk 1920 to 1967) Sample search terms: "SUBJ/GEOG--Indians--"; "BIOG--Thorpe, Jim--"; etc.

LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection(bulk 1952-1971) Sample search terms:  "Native American"; "Navajo"; "Sioux"; "Hopi"; "Reservation", etc.

U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection: (1952-1986) Sample search terms: "Navajo"; "Indians--", etc.

Wichita Indians building their typical grass lodge, Indian camp, World's Fair, St. Louis, 1904. Photo by William Herman Rau. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. The photo’s published title is a strong reminder of the viewpoints held in 1904. The Library presents the historic titles because they are an important context for understanding why the photo was taken.

Stereograph Cards

Stereograph cards (bulk 1870-1920) consist of two almost identical photographic images mounted on a card, which take on a 3-dimensional effect when viewed through a binocular-type device called a stereoscope. Designed to be viewed in 3-D, stereographs related to American Indian history often show stereotypical or stylized scenes of community members posing in ceremonial dress, dancing, being photographed at World's Fair displays, hunting, etc.

Drawings

The Cabinet of American Illustration collection (1850 to 1930) includes original drawings by American book, magazine and newspaper illustrators, including about twenty-five works that depict American Indians, primarily in sentimental wilderness scenes, as a hostile threat to settlers in the West, or as a spiritual force in nature.

 

Support the American Indian Movement, between 1968 and 1980. Silkscreen by Woody Crumbo.
Support the American Indian Movement, between 1968 and 1980. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Prints

Primarily produced by non-Native artists, the images from the Popular Graphic Arts Collection include political cartoons often showing Native individuals in a pejorative way, as well as prints showing conflict between tribes and the U.S. government, and sentimental or stereotypical depictions of American Indian life. Fine Prints include works by non-Native artists dating from the 17th century, but also a number of recent acquisitions, many produced by American Indian artists. The collections also include product labels for tobacco [view catalog record] and patent medicine [view catalog record] as well as bank note engravings and sheet music covers.

Posters

The Yanker Poster Collection includes political, propaganda, and social issue posters. Many of the American Indian-related posters have activist themes. The WPA Poster Collection has about a dozen posters with Native American themes, mostly related to the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Copyright Deposit Images

Many commercial images, including those related to Native American history and culture, arrived in the Prints & Photographs Division's collections through copyright deposit, as creators and rights holders submitted copies to the U.S. Copyright Office to register their rights to control copying and distribution of their works. Selections of these images were then distributed throughout the Division's collections, including the LOTs and Reading Room browsing files.

Sample Images Acquired through Copyright Deposit