Nature and Scope


"The American West remains the most imagined region of the United States. Its history, for many, embodies the nation's. As this important and exciting resource reveals, there are many ways to access and enjoy American history. Using unparalleled resources for guidance, this superb and innovative technology provides many tools for learning.”

Professor Ned Blackhawk
Yale University

The story of the American West has exerted a powerful influence over the psyche of the modern world, helping to fashion senses of national identity as well as permeating literary and cinematic culture. Tales of early colonies in the West, Indigenous Peoples in North America and vigilantes and outlaws are of constant interest and are matched by more recent interest in the growth of urban centres, the environmental impact of westward expansion and life in the borderlands. The Graff Collection is a unique resource which enables scholars to explore all of these areas and more. Through a mixture of original manuscripts, maps, ephemeral material and rare printed sources, this resource is a dynamic teaching and research resource.

In addition to the thorough indexing process, some document information has been sourced from the Colton Storm catalogue and The Newberry Library catalogue. The Colton Storm catalogue is a catalogue of material from the Graff Collection compiled in 1968, which contains many observations (not necessarily written by Storm) on the items featured in this resource. The catalogue is fully searchable within the resource, and where pertinent these notes are recorded in document metadata.

American West is fully cross-searchable with the Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America collection sourced from The Newberry Library’s prestigious Edward E. Ayer Collection. These collections complement each other through related documents, valuable secondary resources and similar thematic content. You will find helpful links to expand your search across both collections.

Explore content across both collections by clicking the AM's cross-search pop-up, when searching within American West. Click "Show me the results" and you will be taken to a document list containing all relevant results in AM collections. 

Please note: If your institution does not have access to Indigenous Histories and Cultures in North America content will be restricted. For more information please contact

American West contains a wealth of visual material, including photographs, illustrations and paintings of Indigenous Peoples in North America. There are some examples in the collection of artwork and photographs from an Indigenous perspective but the majority of visual material is from a colonial source. Visual material including photographs, should be engaged with critically considering the possible motivations of their creator. In the nineteenth century photographs of Indigenous Peoples were more likely to sell if they fed the idea of these peoples being "savage" or "primitive", supporting the belief in manifest destiny that entitled white colonists to expand further into the lands of these peoples. It was common for subjects of these photographs to be staged and given props, seen as traditional by their Western audience, but likely with no use or affiliation to the Tribe or Nation the individual actually belonged to. These photographs can also represent interpretations of Indigenous ways of life before colonization that at the time these were captured, had already been dismantled by US government policies of assimilation, such as residential schools. These factors should be considered when analysing images of Indigenous Peoples from a colonial perspective, but these materials do remain an invaluable resource to understanding perception of and resistance by Indigenous Peoples in North America from the sixteenth to twentieth century. 

This context should be taken into account when using these images in research and we have considered this in our own use of images across the resource. Images have been selected in visual content wherever possible from an Indigenous perspective and in the case of visual galleries have been used to reflect the type of content featured in the resource. 

A diverse range of subjects can be explored through American West, including:

  • Papers of early colonists, explorers and hunters, including items such as the original manuscript journal and papers of James Audubon
  • Accounts of the Gold Rush and of the landscape of Canada and the Pacific Northwest
  • The evolution of Western towns through materials such as prospectuses and city directories
  • The growth of railway and road networks through maps and through records of key railroad companies
  • Emigrants guides, manuscript travel journals, store catalogues, illustrations and maps to enable a better understanding of the phenomenon of Westward expansion
  • The agricultural transformation of the West, accounts of ranches and of the prairie lands
  • Texas, Mexico and the South
  • Literary and historical works – as well as contemporary newspapers and posters - for a better understanding of the real and mythic West, with first-hand accounts of the lives of vigilantes and outlaws
  • Original manuscripts
  • Ephemera, including:
    • trade cards
    • wanted posters
    • claim certificates
    • news-sheets
  • Maps
  • Rare printed works
  • Financial Records
  • Photographs
  • Artwork
  • Periodicals