Native American Collections

The following subject guide is a comprehensive database of manuscript holdings pertaining to Native American languages and cultures held at the American Philosophical Society. From its earliest days, under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson (1797-1814) and Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (1828-1844), the society sought to cultivate knowledge and understanding of Native American tribes through inquiry “into the Customs, Manners, Languages, and Character of the Indian Nations” (APS Transactions 4, 1799). As such, the historical holdings of the APS library include a wide variety of Native American materials, which are important in particular to the fields of linguistics, anthropology, and history.

The guide exhibited here is derived from John Freeman and Murphy Smith's Guide to Manuscripts Relating to the American Indian (1966) and Daythal Kendall's Supplement to Guide to Manuscripts Relating to the American Indian (1982). It is presented in the memory of Daythal Kendall (1941-2008), a linguist and software engineer who was a Senior Research Fellow at the APS library.

The present version of the guide was completed in 2009 by Michael Miller thanks to a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The previous online incarnation, a basic HTML presentation of the original printed sources, was converted into a more robust, searcher-friendly XML database developed with XTF. Call numbers and links to online finding aids were added to all entries in the guide, improving ease of access to the materials. The guide’s bibliography was also digitized for the first time, enabling online researchers to explore references contained within the guide’s written text.

This subject guide is meant to serve as a portal to potentially useful sources; it does not completely describe all of the holdings of Native American items at the APS library. Finding aids for materials acquired after the original printed guides were written can be found in the APS Collection Search, the online guide to APS manuscript collections. The library will endeavor to periodically add entries to the subject guide for more recent acquisitions. Please return to this site to search for newly described materials.

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