Zuni girls. Edward S. Curtis. Copyrighted 1903. Prints and Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-112234. bibliographic record
Photographer Edward S. Curtis embarked at the turn of the century on an effort to document all of the Native American peoples
who “still retained to a considerable degree their primitive customs and traditions.” In the course of a thirty-year project,
Curtis documented more than eighty tribes. Numerous commentators have pointed out how Curtis manipulated his subjects and
their surroundings to produce a romanticized vision of a Native American past, often eliminating any acknowledgment of the
ways in which modern Euro-American culture had already reshaped Native American life.
Scope of the Collection
The Edward Curtis Collection (2,400 photographic prints, 1899-1929) consists primarily of photographic prints that Curtis deposited for copyright in the
course of preparing his twenty-volume work The North American Indian, including many views not published in the book. The prints offer plentiful, often detailed portrayals of Native American
women and their activities, inviting exploration not only of the subject matter of the photographs but of how Curtis chose
to represent his subjects in light of his own objectives and assumptions.4
The collection has been organized into twenty-two groups (LOTs) by tribal group.
Most images for which copy negatives or transparencies exist can be searched in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
The collection has its own listing in the online catalog. Digitized images generally accompany the records.
A list of tribes represented in the collection is available at: http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/067_appendix.html. The list includes links to online records describing the group of photographs (LOT) for that tribe; the online record, in
turn, provides a link to any items from that LOT that are cataloged online.
Here is how onsite researchers can look for images for which no online record exists.
Determine which LOTs have images of interest
Search for Edward Curtis or particular subjects in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Groups in High Demand (Miscellaneous) category.
A card file also exists, arranged by Curtis's original numbering scheme, with unnumbered images listed by title. The cards
cite the LOT number for the image, title, copyright date, tribal group, geographical location, reproduction number, and description.
Submit a call slip to have a desired LOT retrieved.
Reprint volumes of The North American Indian (New York, Johnston Reprint Corp., 1970; E77.C9
[catalog record]), kept in the division's reference book collection, provide an additional avenue of access to the images. The original edition
of the publication
[catalog record], with its photogravure illustrations, is housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Northwestern University
has digitized the photogravures from a copy of the work in its collections; these are offered in American Memory as: Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian: Photographic Images.