Scholar donates collection of American Indian and Indigenous books and texts to NU


Courtesy of Patty Loew

The Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, located at 515 Clark St. Some of the books from the recent donation will go to CNAIR.

Grace Wu, Reporter

Northwestern recently received an extensive collection of American Indian texts from acclaimed scholar Arlene Hirschfelder.

The donation, which includes about 1,800 books and 65 unique journals with over 2,000 issues, will be eventually distributed between NU Libraries and the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. For a center that is three years old, a donation of this magnitude and quality is validating and “humbling,” CNAIR Director and Medill Prof. Patty Loew said.

“To have a couple like the Hirschfelders decide we’re important enough to give their library to makes us feel we’re doing something right,” Loew, who is a citizen of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, said. “People are trusting us, and our reputation is growing enough where (these kinds) of gifts are in the realm of possibility.”

Hirschfelder’s interest in Indigenous studies began when she took a college history course at Brandeis University, her husband Dennis Hirschfelder said.

“She knew (the professor) was dead wrong on some issues on Native Americans,” Dennis Hirschfelder said. “This led to her master’s thesis at the University of Chicago on the treatment of Native Americans in high school textbooks.”

Arlene Hirschfelder has dedicated her life to Indigenous studies: among her achievements are writing 25 books on the subject—with one more in the works. Wherever she traveled, she purchased non-contemporary books on Indigenous peoples, whether it be from a trading store or a museum.

She also ordered numerous books and periodicals from publishers’ catalogues. Among her collection are rare poetry books, small-run books and every single issue of the Association on American Indian Affairs newsletter since 1938, according to Loew. The donation also includes cook books, art books, history books and photo books, Hirschfelder said.

Arlene Hirschfelder sitting at her desk. She has presently written 25 books on Indigenous subjects and is currently working on one more. (Courtesy of Dennis Hirschfelder)

Discussions about moving the vast collection from the Hirschfelders’ home in New Jersey to Evanston have been in the works for over two years. Hirschfelder has close ties to NU, as her son graduated from the University in 1992.

“I started thinking of places that might be interested,” Hirschfelder said. “They needed to go somewhere where there would be a lot of interest in Native people… They had to go somewhere special. And special to me (has) always been Northwestern.”

Earlier in August, the University sent movers to New Jersey to pack up the collection in boxes and bring them to Evanston, where they currently reside in a warehouse. The next step, which is expected to be delayed due to the pandemic, is for the collection to be sorted and divided between the NU Libraries system and CNAIR.

The Hirschfelders said they hope to have the “widest circulation” of the books. The timing of this donation is especially meaningful given recent initiatives by students, faculty and staff of the University to increase American Indian representation on campus and education about the legacy of the University’s founder, John Evans.

“Knowledge is power, isn’t it?” Loew said. “And books have knowledge. Having the resources available on campus is a really important piece of the greater goal of trying to address past wrongs, trying to encourage people to think and be tolerant of other ways of knowing.”

The Hirschfelders say one of the most important parts of educating oneself is learning about the stereotyping of American Indians and the false perceptions associated with these stereotypes.

Arlene Hirschfelder said she hopes members of the NU community read and learn from the books.

“There is so much ‘learning’ out there that is inaccurate,” Hirschfelder said, referencing the event that brought her to study Indigenous people over 50 years ago. “These books deal with realities, with truths. The writers are so well-informed; that’s why I want all of these books used.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @gracewu_10

Related Stories:

Native American and Indigenous Studies minor is set to launch in the 2020-2021 academic year 

Grant-funded Northwestern Indigenous Tour reveals ‘untold stories’

University plans to establish center for Native American, indigenous studies with grant funding