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.
For more information on the types of images that can be found in American West and our selection process, visit Nature and Scope.
Browse the galleries below by image type to discover the wealth of visual material within the Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana. If you are interested in viewing the maps in the collection, visit the Maps gallery.