Skip to main content

Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections

By Rosalie Lack, CDL Digital Special Collections Director

Researchers worldwide will soon have access to previously inaccessible collections of documents, photographs, and other rich archival materials related to California’s environmental history.

CDL’s Digital Special Collections Program, in partnership with nine California institutions, has been awarded a competitive grant to catalog thirty-three collections documenting a range of important issues—including irrigation, mining, forestry, agriculture, industry, land use, activism, and research—in the state’s environmental history. Until now, these collections have been effectively hidden to researchers who have not known of their existence or contents.

Highlights from the collections include the corporate records of Unocal, a major oil company; the papers
of Frank Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel-prize winning scientist who discovered the effects of CFCs on the
ozone layer; the records of prominent California leaders in the Sierra Club; and materials on the state’s
tidelands controversy, with a complete environmental profile of Los Angeles Harbor.

Scholars in California and beyond are excited about the many research possibilities that the collections hold. “They will shed light on the interdependence between nature and culture in California’s recent environmental past,” says Professor John Mack Faragher of Yale University.

The CDL will collaborate with the following institutions to arrange and describe the collections for scholarly use, then make the records available online in the Online Archive of California
( and library catalogs:

  • California State University, Chico
  • California State University, Fresno
  • Humboldt State University
  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Riverside
  • University of Southern California

The project is particularly exciting because it is a collaborative effort across universities to uncover a bulk of material. While each institution will independently undertake the cataloging work, CDL will host tools,
training, and a virtual meeting space to promote the exchange of ideas and advance the archival profession’s approach to uncovering hidden collections.

The Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation and administered by Council for Library and Information Resources, totals $446,817. More information about the grant is available at

See UC Press release: