FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 14, 2008
Contact: Jennifer M. Guild, Senior Officer for Public Relations and Marketing
Tel: (804) 342-9665 | Email:
Preserving the Environment, One Document at a Time
Historical Society Receives Grant to Process Virginia Environmental Endowment Records
Richmond, VA – Thousands of organizations are doing their part to help preserve the environment. But, how many organizations have been taking action to preserve the records of their own activities? Very few … until now.
The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) was recently awarded a $127,600 grant from the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE) to organize, archive, and preserve records related to the VEE's role in the state's recent environmental history. The VEE is donating thousands of pages of documents related to the organization's work over the past 31 years to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and promote environmental literacy. In addition, the Endowment has provided funding to process hundreds of boxes of material already in the Society's holdings related to environmental history.
"Throughout its history, the VEE has played a pivotal role in raising awareness about environmental issues in the Commonwealth and in supporting innovative efforts to confront threats and implement new approaches," said Dr. Paul A. Levengood, President-elect and CEO-elect of the Virginia Historical Society. "The record of that contribution is worth preserving and making accessible to an ever-expanding audience of scholars and other researchers studying the relationship between humankind, the land, and its resources."
With the VEE grant money, the VHS intends to accomplish three key goals. The first objective is to process the Endowment's records and make them accessible at the Society. VHS staff will prepare both a hard copy guide to the VEE collection that will include an in-depth history of the organization, and an online, searchable version of the finding aid with select digital highlights of its content.
Secondly, the VHS will assist the VEE in preparing an oral history of recent environmental activities in Virginia. Oral recollections of key players serve as a crucial complement to surviving documentation, amplifying, illuminating, and contextualizing the often dry facts contained in the written word, and allowing the voices of the actual persons who participated in the events to be heard. Information obtained from the oral histories, and the resulting transcriptions of those conversations, will be added to the VEE archives to form one comprehensive collection.
Lastly, the VHS will process manuscript collections in its own holdings containing significant environmental content with an eye to bringing that content to public attention. The grant from the VEE complements monies already received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Hunton & Williams law firm to archive papers from such Virginians as Governor Gerald L. Baliles, Governor Linwood Holton, W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr., and Littleton Hewitt Roden, Jr. The Guide to Environmental History Resources in the Collections of the Virginia Historical Society will include both the VHS and VEE materials in an electronic finding aid available on the VHS web site.
"We have consciously sought to be an agent of change, to make good results happen in public policy and environmental conservation," said Gerald P. McCarthy, Executive Director of the Virginia Environmental Endowment. "By finding, funding, and supporting outstanding people over the years, we have attempted to provide venture capital for environmental improvements that focus on results. There are some terrific stories in our files!"
The VEE collection, which will become part of the VHS's Reynolds Business History Center records, will be named in honor of the late Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Using funds from the 1977 Kepone court settlement, Judge Merhige created the Endowment for the purpose of improving the quality of the state's environment. This unprecedented use of judicial discretion to bring some good out of a pollution disaster set a high standard of excellence that the VEE has tried to live up to in all its work. The Robert R. Merhige Jr. Archives of Virginia Environmental Endowment collection is expected to be processed at the VHS by mid-2011.
"The story of the relationship between the land and the people of Virginia has been largely untold, and historians are beginning to study this topic in new and creative ways," Levengood said. "With all the components of this project complete, the VHS will hold one of the most important collections of environmental records in the Commonwealth."
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday–Saturday 10 am–5 pm
and Sunday 1 pm–5p m (Museum Galleries and Shop only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit www.vahistorical.org.
Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE), a nonprofit, independent corporation, came about in a unique way: by court order. In February 1977, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Allied Chemical Corporation was fined for polluting the James River. With the approval of Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr., a portion of this fine was paid to fund the creation of Virginia Environmental Endowment for the purpose of improving the quality of Virginia's environment. Between 1981 and 1991, VEE received another $1.4 million in court settlements, which expanded the Endowment's work into the Kanawha River and Ohio River Valleys. For over thirty years the Endowment has honored its innovative creation by funding imaginative people working effectively to enhance the environment. When combined with matching funds, grants awarded by VEE since 1977 to a wide variety of organizations represent an investment of over $65 million in environmental improvement. For more information, please call (804) 644-5000 or visit www.vee.org.