November 2022 - February 2023


Second Floor Mezzanine
Baker Library  |  Bloomberg Center
Harvard Business School

Virtual Tour

This exhibition explores representations of Native Americans in the popular imagination through a selection of advertising trade cards, currency, illustrations, and sculpture from Baker Library Special Collections and the HBS Art and Artifacts Collection. Seen and Unseen looks at how companies, advertisers, and artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used images of “the Indian” to promote the railroad, market specific messages, or sell a range of products that included coffee and “medicinal” remedies. The objects in this exhibition romanticize and picture Indigenous people variously as warriors engaged in violent conflicts; as skilled hunters, peaceful potters, or ceremonial dancers; or as stoic figures stepping aside, waving on, and even seeming to welcome the arrival of the railroad and the “progress” associated with westward expansion. 

Such imagery, while ubiquitous in American culture, is not innocuous. Whether in an allegorical image of an “Indian princess” printed on currency, an elaborate illustration in a German railroad album, a colorful vignette on an advertising trade card, or a nostalgic sculpture of a Native man on horseback, such representations have shaped the public’s perception of Native peoples and reinforced harmful stereotypes. Many of these objects also portray Indigenous people as a “vanishing race” or as belonging to the past, and participate in the formation of myths about America, perpetuating ideas such as the “noble savage” and “manifest destiny.” 

Seen and Unseen examines what is pictured, and more importantly, what is not shown in these representations. It investigates how they inaccurately depict the lived experiences of hundreds of diverse Native communities and the reality and impact of settler colonialism; land dispossession; and across the breadth of the continent, the dislocation of Native peoples from their homelands. This exhibition invites us to engage with this complicated imagery both to reflect on history and to confront the persistence of such stereotypes in American advertising, branding, and society today.

Acknowledgment of Land and People 

Harvard University is located on the traditional and ancestral land of the Massachusett, the original inhabitants of what is now known as Boston and Cambridge. We pay respect to the people of the Massachusett Tribe, past and present, and honor the land itself, which remains sacred to the Massachusett People. 


Click on the images below for more information about each work in the exhibition.

Exhibition curated by Kabl Wilkerson, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, PhD Student, Department of History, Harvard University and 2022 Pforzheimer Fellow, Harvard Library, through the support of Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School and the Pforzheimer Fellowship, Harvard Library.

Sources for further reading:

Berkhofer, Robert F. 1978. The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. New York: Knopf.

Black, Jennifer M. 2009. “Corporate Calling Cards: Advertising Trade Cards and Logos in the United States, 1876–1890.” Journal of American Culture 32 (4): 291–306. 

Deloria, Philip J. 1998. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Deloria, Philip J. 2004. Indians in Unexpected Places. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Fleming, E. McClung. 1965. “The American Image as Indian Princess 1765–1783.” Winterthur Portfolio 2: 65–81.

Fleming, E. McClung. 1967. “From Indian Princess to Greek Goddess: The American Image, 1783–1815.” Winterthur Portfolio 3: 37–66.

Green, Michael K. 1993. “Images of Native Americans in advertising: Some moral issues.” Journal of Business Ethics 12: 323–30. 

Jay, Robert. 1987. The Trade Card in Nineteenth-century America. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

McNamara, Brooks. 1971. “The Indian Medicine Show.” Educational Theatre Journal 23 (4): 431–45. 

Mihm, Stephen. 2009. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oatsvall, Neil. 2018. “Advertising Indians.” Gastronomica 18 (2): 11–18.

Ostler, Jeffrey. 2020. Surviving Genocide: Native nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Sedgewick, Augustine. 2021. Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug. New York: Penguin Books.

Treuer, David. 2019. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Riverhead Books. 


Every exhibition is the result of collaboration within Baker Library Special Collections. Thank you to the exhibition team members—Melissa Renn, Christine Riggle, Laura Linard, Heather Oswald, Lisa Clark, and Debra Cuoco—and to Baker Library Executive Director Ken Peterson for their knowledge, support, and enthusiasm. Thank you to Ann Blair, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, Department of History, Harvard University; Grace Strong, Ross Mulcare, and Hannah Hack, Harvard Library; and the Pforzheimer Fellowship, Harvard Library for their support of this project. A special thanks to Philip J. Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History and Chair, Committee on Degrees in History and Literature, Harvard University; Danielle Kost; and Carmen Arnold-Biucchi for their guidance and insights; and to Jerry Shu and Jennifer Wilson, Baker Library; Jean Wilcox, Wilcox Design; John Walsh, WB Incorporated; Richard Siegel, Stanhope Framers; Jay Faircloth, MSP Digital Marketing; Marcus DiSalvo, Brian Driscoll, Rick MacNeill, Melissa Pierre, and Corey Tolbert; and Steve Briggs, Dawn Carelli, and Craig Uram for their contributions to this exhibition. 

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