In the 1880s Princeton acquired a collection of 1609 albumen prints of photographs of American Indians. The donor was Sheldon Jackson, a graduate of the Princeton Theological Seminary, whose religious calling was tempered by a keen interest in missionary activity. Jackson collected numerous ethnographic objects which became part of Princeton's Museum of Geology and Archaeology in the last two decades of the century. Photographs which depict the use of these objects and the people who had once owned them would obviously be an instructive adjunct to the collection. Jackson apparently ordered prints made from plates available at the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian, and supplemented these with prints from the Carlisle Indian School and the Continental Stereoscopic Company.
When these photographs reemerged (in remarkably pristine condition) midst the accelerating interest in the American Indian in the 1970s, they rekindled acquisition interest. "Building on strength" - the curatorial justification for pursuing personal enthusiasms - made it possible to triple the size of the collection before the price of 19th-century photographs began to genuinely reflect their scholarly importance. In 1985, the Princeton University Library was host to a conference and exhibition titled "The Photograph and the American Indian" (a catalog of the exhibition was published by the Princeton University Press in 1994). Since this conference, the acquisition of photographs of Native Americans has continued to be pursued vigorously by the curator of the Princeton Collections of Western Americana.
The collection presented here consists of photographs of (and sometimes by) American Indians that have come to the library singly. Photographs that arrive as part of a collection - or an album - or a clearly defined unit are cataloged separately (as is the Sheldon Jackson collection). The collection is not limited geographically or chronologically. Images of indigenous Americans are included from anywhere in this hemisphere. The collection reaches from the first identified photograph of a Native American (the calotypes made in Scotland by Hill and Adamson of a visiting Mississauga in 1844) into the present.
Alfred L. Bush