The mission of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is to connect people to America’s past through the unparalleled story of Virginia.By collecting, preserving, and interpreting the Commonwealth’s history, the VHS links past with present and inspires future generations.
Although a private, non-profit institution, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is unique in that it is the Official State Historical Society of Virginia. The nature of our comprehensive collection allows us to interpret broad themes in Virginia history spanning all centuries of the state’s history, all geographical regions, and all socioeconomic groups. We are the only Southern member of the prestigious Independent Research Libraries Association. Our educational programs for the public, teachers, and schoolchildren have reached all of the state’s counties and cities. We host an extensive website on the Internet (www.vahistorical.org) and our catalog of collections records is now online. In recognition of the high standards of museum professionalism and our success in the advancement of our mission, the American Association of Museums awarded accreditation to the VHS in 1998 and again in 2008. In the course of its 184-year history, the Society has reinvented itself numerous times in order to survive and serve an ever widening public.
Maintaining the momentum of the last two decades and continuing to expand the ways we fulfill our mission are key initiatives as we set the course for our institution in the 21st century.
If you have read David Stewart’s book, Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America, you know that James Madison cared more about achieving results than taking the credit. Because of that, Madison is frequently over-shadowed by other founding fathers who were more charismatic, better orators and taller. But James Madison understood the power that comes from strategic partnerships and because of that, he was able to achieve his lifelong dream of a self-governing constitutional republic.
In many ways, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is using the same technique — forming strategic partnerships — to accomplish our goals. Recently, we announced the VHS and George Mason University (GMU) NoVA Banner Lecture Series, an initiative created from meetings with GMU, Historic Fairfax City, Friends of Fairfax Courthouse and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. And, we worked with the Taubman Museum of Art to create a special evening for our VHS members in Roanoke. There, our members enjoyed a lecture on George Washington’s Southern Tour given by Warren Bingham followed by a tour of the Taubman’s path-breaking exhibition, A Portrait of George Washington, The Man, The Soldier, and The President. Our partnership with the American Civil War Museum to transfer the research collections from the Museum of the Confederacy to the VHS to be catalogued and digitized will create the Civil War Research Center at the VHS which will be the largest private repository of Civil War research materials.
In the months to come you will learn about other programs in the planning stage, all supported by strong partnerships with other nonprofits to reinforce our strategic goal of providing statewide programming. We think James Madison was definitely on to something — working with others — to create something larger than can be achieved alone.
We shouldn’t be surprised. He was, after all, the first honorary member of the VHS.
I have been a VHS member and supporter for more than a decade. Were I a native Virginian, it surely would have been longer. That’s one thing you can expect—an effort from the VHS to make the Commonwealth’s history more accessible and more relevant to everyone, not only those fortunate enough to have been born in Virginia.
You also can expect some changes in how we communicate with you. Soon, we will offer you a choice of receiving certain publications in digital format instead of print. And, we are working on an easier way for you to search our collection of digital images and an easier way for you to navigate our website when you want to renew your membership, purchase tickets, or check on an event date.
After having completed a nearly two-year construction project, you can expect to see more exhibitions and more VHS collections on display. If you depend on our HistoryConnects programming, you can expect more topic offerings. If you are a teacher, you can expect more professional development opportunities online and onsite.
If you are a researcher, you can expect progress in our daunting project to absorb the immense Civil War collections of the Museum of the Confederacy into our research collection, thereby creating the largest single collection of Civil War research material in a private institution.
The Virginia Historical Society will cast a national net for a new CEO while getting interim leadership from John R. Nelson Jr., chairman of the VHS board of trustees and a recently retired executive vice president and chief technology officer at Altria.
Paul A. Levengood, VHS president and CEO since 2008, has resigned from his position effective July 1. He will be on sabbatical for the next year. His last big public event was a Banner Lecture on Wednesday evening, when he led a conversation with Edward L. Ayers, president emeritus of the University of Richmond, on “The Roads from War to Reconstruction and Beyond.”
Nelson, who holds a doctorate in history, has served more than 10 years on the board in two terms. He said the goal for the executive search will be to “get a really top talent ... since we think this is the outstanding historical society in the United States.”
Bryan & Jordan just completed a search for the Nebraska Historical Society. “We know the society well, and we know the field very well,” Bryan said of the VHS. “I think it’ll be a very attractive job for any number of people.
Our signature exhibition is The Story of Virginia, and features objects that will help guide the visitor through more than 16,000 years of Virginia history from prehistoric times to the present. Other long-term exhibitions include Changing Styles: 300 Years of Virginia Art and Design, Landscapes of Virginia, The Memorial Military Murals by Charles Hoffbauer, and Charles Hoffbauer: "Painter of Historical Murals.
The new Virginia Sargeant Reynolds Gallery accommodates large, nationally travelling exhibitions. With a sufficiently large and secure space, we offer special exhibitions from other museums, private galleries, and collectors. Very often, these shows may only be available in central Virginia if the VHS hosts them.
Our special exhibitions engage a broader public by presenting history in unexpected ways. And, in some cases by presenting unexpected history. The first exhibits highlighted in our newly created special exhibition gallery represent a look at more national topics, at collections that may not otherwise be available to the public, and at exhibitions not normally associated with history museums.
- The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design
February 2016 – April 2016
- Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
May 2016 – September 2016
We offer free admission to our long-term and changing exhibitions. As a benefit of membership, members receive free admission to our ticketed special exhibitions. We made the decision to eliminate admission fees in 2010 as a testament to our commitment to make history accessible to everyone. No family, student, or up-and-coming historian is ever turned away from our doors for lack of funds.
HistoryConnects is an outreach education initiative by the Virginia Historical Society utilizing Interactive Videoconferencing equipment, Skype, and Zoom Meetings to reach students across the state of Virginia, the nation, and the world.
According to the US Census, the oldest of the Baby Boomer generation turned 60 in 2006. Since then, this group of 78.2 million has been turning 60 at a rate of 7,918 per day. Our “We’ll See You in Class” series is specifically designed to target this demographic and their need for educational programming.
The addition of our new, state-of the art classroom serves an audience of teachers and students as well as a new audience we have dubbed “life-long learners.” We developed a program entitled “We’ll See You in Class” to specifically target this audience. This wildly successful series, established in 2005, invites students of all ages to after-hours classes hosted by staff and visiting historians. Topics have ranged from World War II to Civil War and Southern History film classes. Additionally, we serve this audience with bus trips to various attractions and destinations throughout the Commonwealth. This is a part of a new program which did not exist ten years ago.
In 2008, the popular Banner Lecture Series was endowed in honor of Charles F. Bryan, Jr., to celebrate his twenty years (1988–2008) of service to the VHS as president and to commemorate his retirement after two decades of remarkable leadership. The series, established in 1988 by Dr. Bryan, was the first public lecture series ever offered by the VHS. Contributions to the endowment to support the series are still being accepted.
For more than twenty-eight years, the VHS has been hosting noontime lectures that are open to members and the general public. Authors and scholars discuss their most recent work and research on a variety of topics, ranging from architecture and art to genealogy and modern-day politics. Held in the society's Robins Family Forum, the Banner Lecture Series continues to be a highlight of the VHS calendar for many people. These lectures last approximately one hour followed, in many cases, by a book signing. The VHS has been recording Banner Lectures since 2007. Watch and/or listen to more than fifty past lectures.
In 2013, the VHS was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to participate in its Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle initiative. This program used the power of documentary films to encourage community discussion of America’s civil rights history. The film series was so well-received that the VHS decided to continue the program and to name it in honor of Rev. Grady W. Powell, Sr., of Petersburg, Virginia, who has served on the VHS board since 1996 and as honorary vice chair since 2011, and is instrumental in the development of relevant and accessible programming.
Now in its third year, the series focuses on themes related to civil rights, human rights, and social justice in American history. The VHS partners with the Richmond Peace Education Center and Diversity Richmond in efforts to present this program free of charge to a new and diverse audience.
Already this year, we have shown Freedom Summer, a film about ten memorable weeks in 1964 when more than 700 student volunteers joined with local organizers and black Mississippians in a historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in one of the nation’s most segregated states. In May, we showed the documentary, The House I Live In, which examines the forty-year history of the war on drugs—a war that has resulted in more than 45 million arrests with tremendous and disproportionate consequences to African American communities. Later in September, we will screen Rosenwald. This film tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, the son of Jewish immigrants who rose to become the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the establishment of a challenge grant program that led to the creation of more than 5,000 schools for rural African Americans in the south.
After each film, a notable historian or a panel of distinguished guests provides historical context to the audience, and in turn, the audience has a chance to ask questions.
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