From the period of its founding as an English settlement in North America, essentially a business venture from the start, Virginia has thrived on the availability and use of its natural resources. Whether recognized at the time or not, Virginia’s environment has both influenced and been affected by the peoples who have inhabited the land and waterways that make up what we now call the commonwealth.
Today, researchers and historians are delving deeply into Virginia’s past to explore a growing and diverse set of questions about land and water and other natural resources in the broad context of human history. To foster that study, the Virginia Historical Society has long offered pertinent resources. With this guide, the VHS is pleased to offer a special finding aid crafted to call attention to specific manuscripts materials that, to our staff, qualify as potentially useful to environmental research and merit the attention of students of this important and growing field of historical inquiry.
In developing this guide, VHS staff has considered the term “environmental history” in its broadest possible applications. We have reviewed existing collection entries in our online public access catalog looking for terms that might suggest the presence of appropriate materials. We have processed new collections with a sharper eye toward the appearance of such records. We have thought broadly about the breadth of our collections, including related published materials and three-dimensional objects, to seek out relationships among our holdings that might suggest fresh paths of investigation and the resources that might promote that work.
All this has been accomplished through the generosity of the Virginia Environmental Endowment, which placed its own records here at the VHS as the foundation piece of the Robert R. Merhige for Environmental History Archive and supported this with crucial funding. Because of the vision of its executive director, Gerald P. McCarthy, and its board of directors, this resource has been conceived and made possible. We are deeply grateful to the VEE for encouraging the VHS staff to take another very significant step forward in its commitment to the preservation of and access to its collections.