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Bancroft’s Images of Native Americans online exhibit honored

Left, “Ta Ma Kake Toke:The Woman That Spoke First, A Chippeway Squaw (mourning),” and “Kaa Nun Der Waaguinse Zoo: The Berry Picker, A Famous Chippewa Chief.” Both are plates included in James Otto Lewis’ Aboriginal Port Folio.  Images courtesy of Bancroft Library

13 August 2003

Images of Native Americans, an electronic collection that includes images and text from the Bancroft Library materials covering 400 years of Native American history, has won a special commendation from the American Library Association (ALA). The organization announced the award in July at its annual meeting in Toronto.

In developing the website, Bill Brown, Bancroft associate director for public services, culled photographs, lantern slides, illustrations, portraits, and other images from rare books, newspapers, pulp magazines, advertisements, and other material. He worked with Brooke Dockter of the Library’s digital publishing group to produce an easy-to-use digital site that would educate, entertain, and contribute to a better understanding of the historical perceptions of Native Americans.

There are several ways to navigate and explore the online collection. In addition to allowing chronological and alphabetical access, the Bancroft site organizes and presents examples of its extensive collection in categories that encourage the study of Euro-American attitudes toward Native Americans as they developed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

For instance, the “Early Ethnography” category contains a range of photographs, lantern slides, illustrations, and text excerpts that represent early European-American efforts to study and document Native American culture. These include excerpts from Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States as well as from The American Aboriginal Portfolio, written in the mid-19th century by Mary Henderson Eastman and featuring illustrations by her husband, U.S. Infantry Captain Seth Eastman.

Though of course there are distinct differences between the Native American way of life a century and a half ago and that of modern-day viewers, there are points of similarity as well. In describing the activity portrayed in Seth Eastman’s illustration Ball-Play on the Ice, his wife wrote: “... braves of one village send a message to those of another, challenging them to a game of ball....The challenge is always accepted; old men, young men, and boys, are eager for the fun. It must here be remembered, that each Indian feels it a sort of duty to enjoy himself in the same customs as did his ancestors; and in the game of ball, duty and inclination meet most harmoniously.”

Another category in the online exhibit, “Mass Market Appeal,” presents samples of comic books and other popular publications and images that reflect common myths and stereotypes of Native Americans. Yet another, “Foreign Views,” catalogs examples of early European imaginings of Native American life.

In presenting the award to the Bancroft, the ALA also praised the website’s chronicling of the evaluation, purchase, and behind-the-scenes conservation of James Otto Lewis’ Aboriginal Port Folio, the University of California Library’s nine-millionth volume and a jewel in the Bancroft’s Native American collection. The heart of the online exhibit is found in the images taken from the Aboriginal Port Folio’s color plates, which were produced from sketches Lewis made as he toured Native American treaty councils in the early 1800s. Published in 1835-36, it was the first book in the nation devoted to images of Native Americans.

To view the Images of Native Americans website, visit bancroft.berkeley.edu/Exhibits/nativeamericans/index2.html.

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