About the Archives

Archives collections collage

The Virginia Military Institute Archives, located in Preston Library, contain a wealth of unique collections of interest to both scholars and the general public. Our extensive holdings include personal papers covering a wide range of topics, including military history and the Civil War; historical Institute official records; thousands of photographs; military oral history; alumni biographical and genealogical information for 19th and early 20th century cadets; and much more.

The VMI Archives website is the gateway to our digital collections, collection finding aids and guides, and in-depth scholarly information about an extensive range of historical topics relevant to our holdings. We have an ongoing digitization problem, making a wide range of our holding available online.

A Brief History of the Archives

The first VMI cadets matriculated on November 11, 1839 and, from the beginning, the Institute has treasured and safeguarded its records. Archival holdings are extensive, dating from 1839 with no major gaps. Although the Institute was burned by Union troops in 1864, records from the Civil War and earlier eras survived. The first attempt to review and consolidate VMI's archival holdings was made by COL William Couper, a graduate of the Class of 1904 who spent much of his career as a senior administrator at VMI. He pursued a life-long passion for documenting Institute history and was one of the first to recognize the richness of VMI's historical records and related manuscripts and photographs.  By the 1940's he had accumulated some of the most significant material and housed them in an area of the library that was then known as "Couper's Coop." However, the Archives was not established as an administrative entity with professional management until the mid-1970's.  At that time, each administrative office was surveyed in order to locate important historical records, and those were transferred to the Archives for cataloging and preservation. The Archives occupied a hodgepodge space on the 200 level (bottom floor) of Preston Library for many years.  A new Archives facility was constructed in 1996 as part of the renovation of  the library. Today, the department is a thriving research center that serves not only the VMI community, but a wide range of patrons from around the world. We are located on the 400 level of Preston Library, one floor below the Main (Circulation Desk) level.

VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders