Unlike previous guides focused on significant portions of the Virginia Historical Society’s manuscripts collections, this finding aid was envisioned from its start as an online resource. Although the approach to its formulation mirrors that of our guides to African American, women’s, and Civil War manuscript resources in our holdings, we have tightened the focus here and attempted to streamline the entries in order to get users to pertinent materials quickly and efficiently. Although in the case of some of our largest collections, we have continued to provide a context in entries that at least briefly summarizes the thrust of those collections in terms of scope and content. In many cases our entries in this guide merely focus on what we have identified as potentially useful materials related to environmental history in its broadest applications, leaving it to the researcher to seek out the broader contexts should further inquiry point in that direction.
This effort has grown out of a larger project generously funded by the Virginia Environmental Endowment. The key component of that overall project was the gathering, processing, and description of the VEE’s own archival records, now stored and available for research at the VHS. An extended entry on the VEE records that form the Robert R. Merhige Jr. Environmental History Archive serves as the centerpiece of this guide, but through the vision of the VEE’s executive director, Gerald P. McCarthy, and the members of the VEE board of directors, the VHS was given an opportunity to dig more deeply into its holdings to create a specially focused guide to a rich set of manuscript records that offer keen potential for research into the broadly defined field of environmental history. The entries that join the VEE records description are drawn from collections, both large and small, as well as individually cataloged pieces that have been identified by our archivists as having pertinent research potential. Although we have far from exhausted the possibilities in our holdings, and though we know our collections will continue to grow—two good reasons for this guide to be regularly updated—we feel the guide as it stands now offers numerous opportunities for assessing the availability of study resources and will hopefully motivate researchers to delve even more deeply into our online catalog to seek out kindred materials for study and use.
The preparation of this guide was supported by a grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment.