In all, the collection contains nearly 5,000 pieces representing countries throughout West, East, Central, and North Africa. The strongest collections come from the Tetela of eastern Zaire, obtained by John White in the late 1920s and early 1930s; the Hausa and Yoruba of Nigeria, collected by Arnold Rubin, former professor of Art History at UCLA; the Hausa of Nigeria, collected by renowned art historian Roy Sieber; over 1,200 objects and textiles from Liberia; and a large number of musical instruments collected throughout Africa by pioneering ethnomusicologist, Laura Boulton. Other African collections include materials from Angola, Cameroon, Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia.
The Asian collection contains nearly 3,000 items from East Asia, Central Asia, Southern Asia, and Southeast Asia. The Pacific-Oceania collection includes materials from Java, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Palau.
Central and South American Materials
The Central and South American ethnographic collections consist of approximately 4,700 artifacts mostly dating to the mid-20th century, but some are considerably older. Cultures of Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Surinam, Colombia, and Peru account for most of the ethnographic holdings.
North American/European American Materials
These collections largely represent the American Midwest and particularly Indiana historic materials. The museum also has several collections of folk art, including many European American works. These include paintings by Emma Schrock, coverlets from the 1800s, and quilts by Midwestern craftswomen of the 1800s and 1900s.
North American/Native American Materials
The ethnographic collections of Native American materials consist of approximately 2,300 objects. Most of the collections represent the early to mid-20th century, although there are some older pieces. Objects represent the Pawnee Nation, Florida Seminole groups, several Southwestern Pueblos, and Navajo. The Griest Collection, made at Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska in the 1920s and 1930s, includes—in addition to around 100 ethnographic items—over 3,000 artifacts collected from the surface of beaches and tundra around Barrow.
The museum's collection of over 2,000 ethnomusicology items is one of the largest such collections in the country, and includes materials from all continents.
The museum has several significant collections of photographic materials. These include over 8,000 images of the Wanamaker Collection of Native American photographs; the 1,000 image Shaw-Starks and Shaw-East Collections of Bloomington, ca. 1910-1935; and the Elizabeth Bridgwaters and John Drake collections—totaling well over 900 images—documenting the African American community in Bloomington, ca. 1890-1990.
The textile collections, featuring over 3,000 pieces, contains domestic items such as rugs and bed covers, garments of all kinds including shoes and hats, wrap-around garments, and cloth length samples. This sub-collection also contains examples of the skill and variety in world textile work: Southeast Asian batik and ikat, Andean in-loom embroidery, African resist dying and embroidery, Sea Island Gullah quilts, Central Asian garment construction and embroidery, Middle Eastern tapestry and carpet-weaving, Seminole patchwork, and Pueblo and Navajo upright and belt loom textiles.