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Prints and Photographs Division



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Edward S. Curtis Collection
see caption below

Zuni girls. Edward S. Curtis. Copyrighted 1903. Prints and Photographs Division.
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

For further information about the collection, see the collection profile: For rights information, see

Searching the Collection

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: 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.

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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