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Native American Resources in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections

This guide provides a description and list of materials in the Booth Family Center comprised of grammars, vocabularies, cultural observations, photographs, and other items descriptive of historical Native American societies.


Introduction to Native American Resources in Special Collections 

Image of handwritten text in a Cherokee grammar from the John Gilmary Shea Papers

Detail from an undated manuscript describing the tribes, history, marriages, dances, language, and customs of the Cherokee Nation, "ex libris" Lewis Cass (1782-1866), 56 pages; includes extensive information on vocabulary and grammar. John Gilmary Shea Papers, GTM-GAMMS269


Detail from the photograph Tossing a native in a walrus skin - a favorite game

Detail from the photograph Tossing a native in a walrus skin - a favorite game, in "Photos from cruise on the [U.S. Revenue Cutter] 'Bear' (1898), Francis A. Barnum Papers, GTM-GAMMS56.

This guide is intended to direct the user to a variety of historical materials distributed among the library’s Manuscripts and Rare Books collections which are important to the study of Native American language and history. These materials date from the mid-16th century to the early 20th century, documenting the encounter of missionaries, settlers, and governments with the indigenous societies of the Americas. The geographical scope of the material is equally expansive, extending across the Americas from Alaska to Argentina. Nearly all of this material was created by nonnative people in the course of their work, including priests, ethnologists, Indian agents, linguists, soldiers, and historians. The bulk of the material was created for nonnative people as well, some exceptions being Bibles, catechisms, and other religious works translated into native languages. Three items in the Manuscripts and Rare Books holdings described in the guide are identified as creations of Native Americans: an Incan quipu, or khipu, (part of the David Landers Peruvian Manuscripts Collection), The Cherokee Phoenix newspaper (part of the collection of John Gilmary Shea), and the unpublished autobiography of George Bent, 50 Years Among the Cheyennes (comprising the B.W. Butler Papers).

The guide breaks down the description of this material into a few broad categories in order to more easily organize it. Each of these is described in its own page which can be selected using the linked buttons at the top of the left column on each page. Described in page 2 of this guide, and central to these resources, is the collection of correspondence and manuscripts amassed by historian John Gilmary Shea in the late 19th century around the subject of Native American languages and cultures. The remainder of material from the Manuscripts collections has been divided into collections of Jesuits’ papers, on page 3, and non-Jesuit papers, on page 4. While the bulk of the manuscripts resources described in this guide are letters, monographs, notes, and other written documents, they may also include photographs, printed ephemera, and objects. Related selections from the Rare Books collection are described on page 5.

Where available, this guide provides links to online records for collections (catalog entries, finding aids, blog posts and onliine exhibits), as well as series and items within collections. Links to reproductions published in Digital Georgetown are also provided wherever possible.




Excerpt from a description of an antelope hunt with attached diagram, from 50 Years Among the Cheyennes, by George Bent

Excerpt from a description of an antelope hunt with attached diagram, from 50 Years Among the Cheyennes, by George Bent, B.W. Butler Papers, GTM-180519



A Note on Terms and Language

Staff at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections strive to describe archival materials in a manner that is respectful of the people and communities represented in the collections under our care.  Archival description, however, is created by many people, often reflects work completed over a lengthy period of time, and is necessarily influenced by the assumptions and preconceptions of archivists and organizations alike.  Researchers thus may encounter outdated, offensive or harmful language in our finding aids, digital records, catalog records, blog posts, and online exhibitions. 

We invite users to notify us if they encounter problematic language in our finding aids or elsewhere on our site.  You may provide feedback by email, chat, or phone (202-687-7444).  You may also wish to visit our contacts page if you have questions about a specific collection or collections.  After reviewing suggestions, we will do our best to improve descriptions by replacing terminology and/or providing additional context.

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