What a Difference a Year Makes

Published:April 28, 2020 by Patti Miller

Social distancing 1950s style
Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

It was just over a year ago that I was first introduced to Encyclopedia Virginia when Peter Hedlund, who directs the project, moderated the panel I appeared on at the Virginia Festival of the Book. We had a great time talking about my book Bringing Down the Colonel in front of a packed house at the City Council Chambers. And later, over drinks at the Author’s Lounge in the speakeasy-esque cellar of Brasserie Saison in Charlottesville, Peter told me about Encyclopedia Virginia. As a huge history geek—I’ve written two books of nonfiction history, the most recent a deep dive into the politics and culture of the South—and a Virginia transplant to boot, I thought “what a cool project!”

Fast forward a year, and here I am taking the helm as the editor of Encyclopedia Virginia. As a journalist turned historian, I couldn’t be more excited about a project that combines rigorous scholarship with cutting-edge digital storytelling. I’m especially looking forward to spotlighting the stories of the people and places of Virginia that have been overlooked in the past, while still taking deep dives into the events and personalities that have defined the state.

Of course, nothing looks like it did a year ago. This year’s Festival of the Book was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us at Encyclopedia Virginia are working remotely for now. But what drives us remains the same: helping to connect people through our shared past. Right now, that feels more important than ever. History reminds us not only of what binds us together, but also that those who went before us also suffered great travails—be it war, pestilence, or social upheaval—and came out the other side. Sometimes, when the daily onslaught of news proves just a little too much, taking the long view isn’t such a bad idea. 

Right now I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring—challenges, to be sure, but also a renewed sense of the importance of community and how all of our stories ultimately interconnect. We’ll be introducing a redesign of Encyclopedia Virginia that will make our great content more accessible, some exciting new features, and a host of new entries to discover. I hope you’ll stay tuned and join me on the journey.