Native American Images Project

Welcome to the Native American Images Project of the American Philosophical Society Library.

This Gallery highlights nearly 150 visually striking, historically significant, and representative images selected from the Library’s extensive collections of pictures of or relating to Native Americans.

We invite you to explore this Gallery and the Library’s many other resources on Native American peoples, languages, and cultures.

Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 for “the promotion of useful knowledge,” the American Philosophical Society (APS) is the oldest scholarly society in the United States. Its name comes from a time when “philosophy” meant a wide range of knowledge, including the study of peoples and cultures worldwide (now called anthropology).

From its beginnings, the Society has collected information about the original inhabitants of the Americas. The APS Library now holds thousands of books, over 1000 hours of language sound recordings, and more than 200 manuscript and picture collections on Native American topics.

More than 113,000 images are included in these manuscript and picture collections: drawings, prints, and photographs in a wide range of artistic styles and media, dating from the 1630s to the present day. The images span the Western hemisphere from the Arctic to the Amazon, representing hundreds of tribes and cultures and a great variety of subjects and topics.

This Gallery is an introduction and a portal to the APS collections that contain images of or related to Native Americans, helping to make these materials available to a wide audience. Arranged thematically, it also provides historical and cultural context for the selected images.

The Gallery and the Society’s collections do not, of course, provide an exhaustive overview of either anthropology or Native American history. Rather, the Gallery is meant to provide an intriguing glimpse into the vast holdings that we encourage visitors to explore more fully by visiting the APS. For more on the Society’s collecting history, see Then & Now.

The images in the Gallery are only a very small selection of what the APS holds. To browse or search a larger selection of images (over 700 total), visit the Native American Images section of the Library’s Digital Collections. Alternatively, click on an image in the Gallery and follow any of the linked keywords in the catalogue record.

Images and text in the Gallery and in the Native American Images Digital Collections have been reviewed by an Advisory Committee of members of Native American communities. We have greatly benefited from their insight into the materials and are deeply grateful for their generous assistance. Please see Cultural Sensitivity for more information on image selection and interpretation.

We welcome your feedback. Specific information about the people, places, or events pictured here is particularly welcome. Please visit Contacts & Reference Assistance to contact the Library's Manuscripts Department.