Brown Quarterly - Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1996)

The D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History

The Newberry Library's D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History was founded in 1972 to improve the quality of what is taught and written about American Indian history through the use of the Newberry's matchless collections in the field. D'Arcy McNickle (a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Center's founding director), initiated this mission and subsequent directors and Center staff members have carried out the mandate vigorously through a wide variety of programs. Center fellowships have brought hundreds of people to the Library to use the collections; conferences have assembled many hundreds more to hear reports on research; and publications have extended our circle of scholarly activity and debate to schools and colleges throughout the United States and beyond.

A National Advisory Council has helped guide the Center since its inception in 1972. Made up of prominent scholars and intellectual leaders from across the country, the Council has a majority Indian membership. Ten council members serve staggered, five-year terms, so that two new members join the group each year as another two complete their terms. At its annual meetings and in regular correspondence with staff, Council members evaluate current projects, suggest future directions and help focus the Center's activities.

The Center from its outset has served not only historians but scholars and teachers in other fields, particularly linguistics, literature and anthropology. Both the Center and its programs draw their energy and their purpose from the Library's two unequaled collections of print and non-print materials on the histories, cultures and literatures of American Indian peoples: the Edward E. Ayer Collection and the Everett D. Graff Collection. The Ayer collection is the largest special collection in the Newberry Library and forms the backbone of the Library's American history collections. As a collection of general Americana, it is one of the best in the country and, in the words of retired Yale Library curator Archibald Hanna, it remains "perhaps the finest gathering of material on American Indians in the world" (Hanna 1980:v). The Graff collection of Western Americana deals primarily with the exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West in the 19th century. The late Ray Allen Billington, a distinguished expert in the field said that the Graff and Ayer Collections together made the Newberry one of two or three outstanding libraries for the study of the American West.

The Ayer collection alone contains over 1,000,000 manuscript pages, 130,000 volumes, 2000 maps, 500 atlases, 6000 photographs and 3500 drawings and paintings. It is supplemented by some 900 maps and 10,000 volumes in the Graff collection and extensive holdings of microfilmed government documents, scholarly journals and related collections in American history. In addition, the McNickle Center's curriculum library includes some 2800 items--books, catalogs, guides, art work, reports, audio tapes, video cassettes, slide-tape sets and a tribal newspaper collection. These materials constitute a unique resource for teachers and researchers conducting advanced study on virtually any tribe in North America.

McNickle Center programs have improved the teaching and writing of American Indian history and literature through fellowships for individual research, summer institutes and workshops for secondary and post-secondary school teachers, as well as a series of publications designed both to introduce beginning students to the scholarly literature in the field and to make conference papers, curriculum guides and course outlines nationally available. The Center has also initiated the Newberry Library Seminar in American Indian History for National Park Service historians and faculty and graduate students from affiliated universities and tribal colleges.

In addition to supporting the work of individual scholars, the Center has sponsored major independent research projects. These include: the Documentary History of the Iroquois (which produced both a volume published by Syracuse University Press and a massive, fifty-reel microfilm edition of Iroquois treaties); the Chicago Oral History Project; The Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (published by the University of Oklahoma Press); and the American Indian Family History Project. Each of these projects opened new areas of research and resulted in significant publications. Following in this tradition, the Center has begun work on a Hypermedia Tribal Histories Project that integrates audio, video, graphic and textual materials from both tribal and non-tribal repositories in an interactive format.

The McNickle Center's conferences and workshops have brought together the latest research in American Indian history and literature to both college and high school teachers. The Center is uniquely equipped to bring disparate groups together to address common concerns relating to teaching and writing about Native Americans. Indians and non-Indians, teachers and research scholars, historians and those from other disciplines have all found the Newberry a stimulating place and have responded enthusiastically to the opportunities for collaboration provided by our programs.

(Craig Howe, Director, D'Arcy McNickle Center)