Amherst College
Books from the collection are examined.

Amherst College Acquires Rare Native Book Collection


According to a release by Amherst College it is the “most complete collection of Native American literature and history in existence,” and it’s now at the college’s Frost Library in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The collection includes items ranging from religious pamphlets from before the United States existed to first-edition crime by noted novelist Martin Cruz Smith.

“This collection is significant because it is a collection of works written by Native Americans,” College Librarian Bryn Geffert said in a story about the collection. “It presents a unique opportunity for Native American Studies scholars here at Amherst and elsewhere to mine the most complete collection ever compiled by a single collector.”

The Younghee Kim-Wait ’82 Pablo Eisenberg Collection, so named to honor the financial support of alumna Younghee Kim-Wait, who helped make acquiring the collection possible.

Kiara Vigil, left, and Lisa Brooks, get emotional over the collection.

The 32 boxes holding some 1,500 volumes written from the 1700s to the 21st century astounded Native American Studies scholars at Amherst, who began the task of unpacking the boxes.

“Since the collection arrived, it is difficult to describe how it has felt—like suddenly being amidst a seemingly infinite living sea, a literary and intellectual tradition that I have been studying and teaching, immersed in, my whole life,” said Lisa Brooks, associate professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College, and co-chair of the Five Colleges Native American Indian Studies program, in the college’s story.

“It is one thing to know it exists, to write about the authors, the networks between them, to teach them in classes, to once in a while, hold a first edition, signed by the author, in your hands,” Brooks added. “It is another to experience that immersion, physically surrounded by these books—some of them hundreds of years old, in perfect condition—and to see that vast network all around you, to visibly see the connections between them, to hold one book after the other in your hands, the pages opening before you, inviting you to know, to understand more.”

It’s been emotional for Kiara Vigil, an assistant professor of American Studies at Amherst.

“I was brought to tears upon finding an original handbook of the Constitutional by-laws for the National Council of American Indians, created and founded by Gertrude Bonnin in 1926,” Vigil said in the story. “Bonnin’s life and writings are central to my first book on turn-of-the-20th-century Native intellectuals. As far as I know no other archival collection, including those that have Bonnin’s personal papers, have a copy of this particular document.”

Michael Kelly, center, with Brooks, right, and Vigil.

Michael Kelly, director of archives and special collections at Amherst, says the collection has got it all—even hundreds of items you won’t find at Harvard or Yale.

“The comprehensive nature of the collection is what makes it special. We have the Native American authors you’ve heard of and for every Native American author you’ve heard of there are two dozen you haven’t heard of whose books we also now have,” Kelly said in the story.

See a full list of the collection here.

And the collection is already being incorporated in the curriculum. Brooks plans on teaching a course focused on Native American literature and intellectual traditions, and Vigil is planning a seminar course called History of the Native Book.

Read the full story by Amherst College’s Peter Rooney, here.

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Nathan's picture
Submitted by Nathan on
First, they obviously need a museum technician to show them how not to handle the materials (see images), second, they need to show they can house these, so called rare materials and last, need to make sure they are disseminated to Native Americans from all walks of life. Time and time again, we cannot even access our history, freely.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Absolutely fabulous acquisition! My hat is off to all those who made this possible. It does my heart good to know that all these invaluable publications are now in the hands of an educational institution that actively teaches history and culture of the tribal nations. If the collection ended up in a private collection only a handful of individuals would benefit from its existence. No pun intended, but it appears that Amherst College is now ready to begin a new chapter in it educational curriculum. Isaac Curley (Apache/Navajo) Tempe, AZ

Alumnus's picture
Submitted by Alumnus on
how ironic considering that amherst's mascot has been called insensitive and offensive by native americans and non-native americans. the soldier who is the mascot's namesake, lord jeffrey amherst, is historically responsible for the genocide of native americans through the spreading of smallpox

Willam 's picture
Submitted by Willam on
This makes me so proud to be an Amherst College alum. Knowing the College as I do, they will do everything possible to safeguard this remarkable collection and make it accessible to scholars...