Researching and Documenting Environmental Issues in the Archive

-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member, Silver Special Collections Library, University of Vermont

Archives and libraries are increasingly acquiring archival collections that address environmental issues and making them accessible through online finding aids and digital collections. This post profiles nine selected collections held by Silver Special Collections at the University of Vermont that document twentieth-century environmental politics and legislation, advocacy, research, and conservation and management.

Politics and Legislation

George Aiken represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate from 1941-1974. In the 1960s, as a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Aiken fought for legislation that created badly needed public water supplies in rural areas. Correspondence and documents in the George D. Aiken Papers demonstrate the serious situation in the Champlain Valley, the political wrangling and bureaucratic barriers that slowed solutions, and the celebrations that marked the opening of rural water districts.

Letter to Senator Aiken from Bridport Selectman Stephen Cooke included in June 18, 1965 hearing on S. 1766, Water Supply Systems and Insured FHA Loans.

Robert Stafford, Vermont senator from 1971-1989, was a member and then chair of the Environment and Public works Committee. The Robert T. Stafford Papers document his efforts to ensure toxic waste cleanup, clean air through reduction of acid rain and automobile emissions standards, and protections against water pollution in the face of colleagues and a U.S. president who favored deregulation.

At the local level, Lilian Baker Carlisle decided to run for the Vermont legislature when she realized that legislation was required to control the air pollution produced by a coal-burning electric generation facility on the Burlington waterfront near her home. The Lilian Baker Carlisle Collection includes her “Legislative Notes” on electric power plants and correspondence during her 1969-1970 legislative term, as well as her “scrapbooks” on energy and air pollution.

Advocacy

Environmental advocates include nonprofit organizations and citizens. Sylvia Knight waged a vigorous campaign to ban or reduce the use of lampricides to control lamprey populations in Lake Champlain that is documented in the Sylvia Knight Papers. Her papers also include documents related the Earth Care ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlington. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, founded in 1972, is committed to protecting the health of people and the environment by sharing information and mobilizing citizens. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group Collection Includes documentation from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s on environmental issues such as energy (global warming, energy efficiency, climate change), radon, toxic waste, solid waste and water quality.

Research

The University of Vermont Archives collects faculty papers that include research data and reports. Hubert Vogelmann was a botanist at UVM from 1955-1991. His groundbreaking research on the effects of acid rain on high-elevation Vermont forests influenced Senator Stafford’s 1980s work for federal clean air legislation. Vogelmann also identified and helped conserve important natural areas around the state. The Hubert Vogelmann Papers include research data, results, reports and files on natural areas. The vast Maple Research, University of Vermont collection includes the papers of UVM researcher Mariafranca Morselli, who investigated the impact of acid rain on maple tree health and sap production.

An acid rain researcher checks a mountain test plot in 1976.

Conservation and Management

Albert Gottlieb began his long career in Vermont in the 1933 overseeing Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects. He served as assistant state forester and then state forester from 1935-1960 and headed the Vermont Department of Forests from 1960-1970. The Albert Gottlieb Papers provide detailed records of CCC activities as well as information on conservation, fire protection and forest management. The papers include a large number of photographs taken by Gottlieb and Charles Lockard.

 The Emporium Lumber Company Records document nineteenth and early twentieth century logging operations in southern Vermont, first by a local company owned by Silas Griffith and then by Emporium, a large firm that operated branches in several states. The records include timber data from the 1950s, long after Emporium ended logging in Vermont. The records also document the transition of the former commercial forest to conserved public land as part of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Finding Environmental Collections

Other Vermont repositories hold collections that address a range of environmental issues. The Forest History Society (FHS) offers a searchable Guide to Environmental History Archival Collections. Searching for Vermont in the “Subjects” box turns up collections held at the Vermont State Archives, the Vermont Historical Society Library, UVM Special Collections, and the Sheldon Museum, as well as Vermont collections at repositories located outside the state. The FHS guide indicates that records from the Emporium Lumber Company mentioned above are available at UVM, the Adirondack Museum in New York, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Division of Archives and Manuscripts, reflecting the geographic distribution of its operations.

Work crew photo from the Gottlieb Papers.

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