In 1985 the American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) was founded at Indiana University to serve as an interdisciplinary research center for projects focusing on the native peoples of the Americas. AISRI was founded in part on the premise that to fully understand and describe the language, culture, or history of a people, the study of any one of these topics must be informed by work in the others.
Historically, Indiana University has been preeminent in American Indian studies, tracing back to the 1930s when archaeologist Glenn A. Black and bioanthropologist Georg Newmann actively pursued research in Indiana prehistory. During that same period, Stith Thompson, who founded folklore studies at Indiana University, was the recognized leader in the field of American Indian folklore. Thompson brought Carl F. Voegelin, an anthropological linguist, to Bloomington in 1941 to develop the study of American Indian languages and cultures.
In 1946, Voegelin founded the Department of Anthropology to consolidate American Indian studies in the four fields of anthropology. Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, who eventually joined the Department of History, applied anthropological methods to the study of historical documents and was instrumental in defining a new field of study known as ethnohistory.
In 1948, George Herzog came to Bloomington and founded the Archives of Traditional Music, which, together with the Library of Congress, houses the premier collection of recorded American Indian music.
From this beginning, American Indian studies flourished at Indiana University as students contributed their talents and more faculty joined the university. Their collective legacy to Indiana University today consists of invaluable archival, library, and museum collections that form the basis for on-going research projects, making Bloomington one of the richest centers for resource material in American Indian studies.