Our collections focus on the American Civil War, History of Food & Drink, History of Women & the Built Environment, Local/Regional History & the Appalachian South, Science and Technology History, and the Virginia Tech University Archives.

We are committed to acquiring publications, manuscripts, and other materials related to these collecting areas that document the experience of underrepresented and/or marginalized communities, groups, or individuals.

Read the Gifts & Donations Policy if you are interested in making a financial gift or donating materials to Special Colletions.

Collecting Areas

  • American Civil War
  • History of Food & Drink
  • History of Women & the Built Environment
  • Local/Regional History & the Appalachian South
  • Science & Technology
  • University History

Special Collections houses more than 8,000 volumes and 500 manuscript collections focused on the Virginia experience during the American Civil War, including materials covering both sides of the conflict.

Our collections contain numerous types of records:

  • Diaries and memoirs
  • Letters from the home front and soldiers on the battlefield
  • Materials on the history of slavery and Reconstruction
  • Military records
  • Papers from military organizations (units, regiments, and officers) and non-military organizations (United Daughters of the Confederacy, veterans reunion chapters)
  • Photographs and ephemera
  • Published monographs
  • Secondary research collections

The History of Food & Drink collecting area has more than 5,000 books and publications, as well as more than 100 manuscript collections. Materials such as early American imprints, community cookbooks, and more exemplify Virginia, regional, and southern cooking; food technology and processing; nutrition and dietetics history; household management; domestic, economic, and social history; food customs and habits; and the history of home demonstration, home economics, and agricultural extension.

Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection

The Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection is a group of over 500 published works preserving more than three centuries of culinary history. It consists of Dora Greenlaw Peacock’s and Laura Jane Harper’s private collections of contemporary and historic cookbooks, community cookbooks, household management guides, and home economics and domestic science manuals.

Visit the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection page for more information.

Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection & Endowment Fund

In 2006, Special Collections received an endowment from Dr. Ann Hertzler to acquire publications relating to children’s cookbooks and items examining nutrition history. The endowment funds the purchase of new and historic cookbooks for children; publications focused on the raising, feeding, and nutrition of children and families; and storybooks that feature food products, food advertising, and food history. Highlights include manuals for young mothers, guides on proper eating for children, Virginia Cooperative Extension pamphlets, books designed to educate children about cooking (and eating!), themed cookbooks, and storybooks for children that heavily feature food.

History of the American Cocktail Collection

The History of the American Cocktail Collection contains cocktail manuals and bartenders’ guides, books on social activities and entertaining, and a variety of items regarding the history of cocktail ingredients, cocktail creation, and cocktail consumption. The collection also has materials on individual spirits, the medicinal and alcoholic history of bitters, temperance and Prohibition, and advertising ephemera.

Food Technology and Production Collection

The Food Technology and Production Collection brings together aspects of agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the history of changes to the growth, production, marketing, sale, transportation, preparation, and consumption of food. The collection examines the agricultural, commercial, and scientific lives of foods and how these processes have evolved over time.

Building upon the strength of Virginia Tech's academic programs in engineering, design, and construction, Special Collections aims to document the historic contributions of women to the built environment. Key to this effort is the International Archive of Women in Architecture, the founding initiative for this collecting area.

In addition to the IAWA, we collect analog and born-digital design records, correspondence, manuscripts, and other materials which document the historic contributions of women to the built environment. Disciplines of interest include urban planning, interior architecture and textiles, interior design, landscape architecture, environmental planning, building construction, and materials science. While the IAWA is international in scope, our focus for the broader area of women in the built environment priorities the contributions of women from Southern Appalachia.

International Archive of Women in Architecture

The International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) collects archival manuscripts and organizational records that highlight the global contributions of women to the built environment. The IAWA illuminate the lives and legacies of women who:

  • pioneered the practice, teaching, or study of a design field in their country;
  • managed independent firms or architectural practices;
  • invented or innovated new materials, processes, and techniques;
  • lead or founded organizations, task forces, and committees that promote the interests of women professionals in architecture and design;
  • created groundbreaking or challenging exhibits about the experiences of women in design fields; and
  • advanced awareness of and advocated for women in these fields.

Visit the International Archive of Women in Architecture website for more information.

Special Collections believes an important part of our role is to document the experiences of our area. We broadly define our Local/Regional History & the Appalachian South Collection as materials from Blacksburg, Montgomery County, Southwest Virginia, southern Appalachia (Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, northern North Carolina, and surrounding areas), and to some extent Washington, DC. The collection contains personal and family letters, diaries, photographs, oral histories, business records, religious and cultural organizational records, genealogical research, rare books, and vertical files, as well as publications by local authors, illustrators, and presses.

Special Collections has long been involved in illuminating the history of Science and Technology from many perspectives. Our collections in this area focus on the history of engineering with an emphasis on aerospace and railroad history and the contributions of faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Virginia Tech. We house the papers of inventors and pioneers, scientists, researchers, academics, professional organizations, and business and industry leaders. We also have collections related to science fiction, speculative fiction, and ornithology.

Archives of American Aerospace Exploration (AAAE)

Established in 1986, the Archives of American Aerospace Exploration (AAAE) preserves and makes accessible published and unpublished materials that document American aeronautical and space history, as well as related sciences. The collection includes books and articles, letters, notes, photographs, reminiscences, memorabilia, oral histories, patents, and drawings/schematics. Current holdings comprise more than three dozen collections of papers from pilots, astronauts, physicists, chemists, engineers, NACA and NASA administrators and project managers, writers, illustrators, and researchers in industry and academia.

Railroad History

Special Collections is home to a significant group of materials on railroad history with an emphasis on Virginia and southern railroads and dating as early as the 1840s. More than 60 manuscript collections relate to railway companies, employees, historians and collectors, and corporations. The collections include business records, drawings, photographs, personal papers, scrapbooks, diaries, ephemera, maps, and publications.

Note: The historic records of Norfolk Southern Corp (formerly Norfolk & Western Railroad and other subsidiaries) were returned to the company in 2008. Researchers interested in those records should contact the company’s archivist, Jennifer McDaid.

William J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection

Between 1989 and 1994, Special Collections acquired a significant collection of science fiction materials from William J. Heron, a private collector from North Carolina. There are more than 150 science fiction reference works, 11,000 paperback novels, and 4,500 issues from over 200 titles of British, Australian, and primarily American pulp magazines, dating from the 1910s through 1980s. These include the first published works of well-known science fiction and fantasy authors.

Bailey-Law Ornithology Collection

The Bailey-Law Collection was donated to Special Collections in 1982 by the Virginia Tech Biology Department, who originally obtained it as part of the Bailey Collection of Natural History. The collection consists of papers and monographs from Harold H. Bailey (1878-1962) and John Eugene Law (1877-1931).

The Virginia Museum of Natural History maintains ornithological specimens related to this collection.

Special Collections aims to document the history and development of the university, its various components, and the relationships with the community. We are actively engaged in bringing new materials to tell the story of the university and reflect the diverse contributions of the students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

We collect, preserve, and provide access to numerous types of materials:

  • University Archives
  • Professional and personal papers of faculty, staff, students, and alumni
  • Theses, dissertations, and faculty publications
  • Historical photographs and campus maps
  • Oral histories of alumni and employees
  • Vertical files containing ephemera and newspaper clippings

For assistance locating materials about the history of Virginia Tech, please visit the Virginia Tech History Resources and University Archives research guide or contact us.

University Archives

The University Archives collects, preserves, and provides access to materials documenting the history and development of the university and its various components.

University Archives the official records and publications of the university:

  • Records of the university president and Board of Visitors
  • Publications, papers, and born digital materials from departments, offices, and centers of the university
  • Publications and reports by the university and its components
  • Historical photographs and campus maps
  • Vertical files containing ephemera and newspaper clippings

Visit the University Archives page for more information.

Online Collections & Exhibits

Special Collections hosts digital and digitized materials from our collections online in a few different locations. These items are available for the public to view and share. Most items are also available to patrons who would like to request a copy in accordance with the Reproductions & Duplications Policy.

Special Collections Research Guides identify resources about specific topics in Special Collections and beyond. The Virginia Tech Resources and University Archives Guide, the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) Guide, and others include subject-specific lists of online collections and exhibits, including legacy exhibits on Archive-It.org.

  • Special Collections Online
  • ImageBase
  • VTechWorks
  • Special Collections Website Archives

Special Collections Online features online exhibits and digital collections of rare and unique materials such as letters, diaries, photographs, films, oral histories, maps, newspapers, posters, reports, and other media from the Special Collections of Virginia Tech. The website continues to be updated regularly with new exhibits and digital collections.

Specific exhibits of interest include

  • Black History at Virginia Tech,
  • LGBTQ+ History at Virginia Tech,
  • Women’s History Month exhibits, and
  • Communities of Caring: Selections from the April 16, 2007 Condolence Archive.

Visit Special Collections Online.

Imagebase features images, drawings, maps, and other visual resources from Special Collections’ materials. The database has been retired as newly digitized images (and other items) are now added to Special Collections Online, but ImageBase items are still accessible and information about each item is updated, as needed.

Images depict the following:

  • railroad history in the American South
  • members of the Christiansburg Institute
  • Virginia Tech activities, campus, students, faculty, and staff from its founding in 1872 thru the 1980s

Visit ImageBase.

VTechWorks publicizes and preserves the scholarly work of Virginia Tech faculty, students, and staff. University Archives materials include over 7,000 items digitized from the April 16, 2007 Condolence Archives, over 100 years of the Bugle yearbook, and every issue of the Tin Horn, the coed yearbook from 1925-1931. (Please note, anyone can add to VTechWorks, so this collection includes additional items not belonging to Special Collections.)

Visit the University Archives' collection in VTechWorks.

Archived versions of the Special Collections website, including legacy online exhibits, are available on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and on Archive-It.org. The Internet Archive has captured the Special Collections website on the Wayback Machine since 2000, and dates with captures are highlighted in blue on the website.

Visit Special Collections' website archives on the Wayback Machine.

Virginia Tech Libraries has archived the Special Collections website using Archive-It.org since 2009. These captures have a much simpler interface that may be easier for some to view than the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

Visit Special Collections' website archives on Archive-It.org.

Types of Materials

We collect primarily manuscripts and rare books. In addition to these, we also have a collection of maps and a small collection of artwork. Among our manuscripts and rare books, various audio-visual formats may also be found.

  • Manuscripts
  • Rare Books
  • Maps
  • Artwork

Special Collections holds more than 2,000 manuscript collections of personal and professional papers, correspondence, business papers and ledgers, family papers, architectural drawings, legal documents, maps, photographs, oral histories, and other items.

Visit ArchivesSpace or Virginia Heritage to search our finding aids for these collections. For Virginia Heritage, select “Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University” from the dropdown menu to limit your search to our collections.

Special Collections has more than 75,000 volumes of rare books, including printed editions published before 1700, first editions of literary and historical works, small press publications, signed editions, and limited editions.

Special strengths in rare books:

  • American Civil War
  • American West
  • Appalachian history and culture
  • Culinary history
  • English literature (1880-1940)
  • Heraldry
  • History of 18th- and 19th-century technology
  • Ornithology
  • University publications

Visit the University Libraries' Online Catalog to search our rare books collection.

Our map collection with items from the 17th through 20th centuries covers a variety of genres:

  • American Civil War
  • Cities and towns in the USA
  • Counties in Southwest Virginia
  • National maps for more than 17 countries
  • Railroads (primarily USA)
  • USA State maps
  • Virginia cities and towns
  • Virginia Tech campus
  • World maps

Visit ArchivesSpace to search our map collection.

Our art collection includes over 350 large photographs, paintings, lithographs, tapestries, and other types of visual media. Items in the collection are related to the American Civil War, architecture, Virginia Tech history, Southwest Virginia, ornithology, and other subjects.

For more information about our art collection, please contact us.


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