Food & Drink History Resources @Virginia Tech (and Beyond): FAQs

Special Collections in the University Libraries can help with your food & drink history research, including books, manuscript collections, ephemera & digital items. This LibGuide also includes resources you can find at other institutions.

About the FAQs

While we don't want to make a list of every question we've ever received about the culinary history and history of food and drink materials, there are some recurring questions that we thought we'd share here. The answers aren't always conclusive, but they can give you a sense of what it may be like to work with this collecting area. One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that you can ALWAYS contact Special Collections if you need help!

Hours: 
Monday-Friday 8am-5pm & By Appointment

Contact us:
Email: specref@vt.edu
Telephone: 540-231-6308

Special Collections

FAQs

  • "Can I see the culinary history collection?"
    • As we often say in the archives world, "it depends." While the majority of the collection is housed in Special Collections, is not necessarily on the same shelves or in the same spaces. Since we are a closed stacks situation, you can't shelf browse. If you would like to see the history of food and drink materials on the shelves, we encourage you contact us to set up a behind-the-scenes tour. If you are interested in doing research with the collecting area, we suggest you visit our guide to doing research and the "Special Collections" tab on this guide to get started searching on your own. You can also contact or visit us for help learning to navigate archival research. 
  • "What does the collection have?" or "Is the collection just cookbooks?"
    • Our collection of history of food and drink materials is NOT just cookbooks (though they make up a significant portion of our holdings). We also have things like guidebooks and manuals, Virginia Cooperative Extension publications, pamphlets and booklets, ephemera (like advertisements, menus, games/puzzles, and postcards), and digitized materials. 
  • "How many different recipes do you have for X [ingredient, food, or recipe]?" Or, alternatively: "I'm interested in all the versions/history of the recipes you have to make X." 
    • It's important to keep in mind we have nearly 100 manuscript collections and more than 4,500 books and publications relating to aspects of food history. And that doesn't count other materials we have that can overlap with food history and foodways. Sadly, there's no singular index to all these items, so the question "how many" is almost always a unique one. If you are looking to trace the history of an ingredient, food, recipe, or foodways topic, we can help you identify sources!
  • "I'd like to visit from out of town and use the collection. What do I need to do first/in advance?"
    • Technically, nothing, HOWEVER...
    • To make the best use of your time, you might want to do some searching through the library's catalog and of our finding aids. If you identify materials, make a note of them. You can contact us in advance (specref@vt.edu or 540-231-6308) and we can have those materials waiting for you. If you're not finding anything, check with us! We can help with search strategies and suggest publications and manuscripts you may want to review during your visit. 
    • Check our Visitors' Information page.
  • "Do I have to come to Special Collections to use history of food and drink materials?"
    • It depends! The majority of food and drink materials are located in Special Collections and our materials do not circulate, so they do need to be used here. However, about 1/3 of the books and publications are housed in the circulating collection of Newman Library. Those items can be requested or taken from the shelves and checked out. In addition, Special Collections and other units in the library have digitized a variety of resources (check out the "Special Collections" and near the bottom of the "Digital Collections & Exhibits" for links).