The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives'
record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program
staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted
by researchers or student on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
C. Malcolm Watkins was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long and distinguished career as curator in the Department of Cultural History, National
Museum of American History, and his pioneering role in fields like historical archeology and material culture studies.
These interviews of Watkins by Pamela M. Henson, Historian for Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Susan H. Myers, Curator of Ceramics and Glass at the National Museum
of American History, discuss his family, youth, and education; first job at Wells Historical Museum; curatorial career in the Division of Ethnology and Department of Cultural
History; contributions to exhibits; research interests; role in the development of the fields of material culture studies and historical archeology; and reminiscences of such
colleagues as Edna Muriel Hilburn Little Greenwood, Herbert W. Krieger, Frank A. Taylor, George H. Watson, and Albert Wells.
This collection is comprised of eight interview sessions, totaling approximately 13.0 hours of recordings and 235 pages of transcript.
C. Malcolm Watkins (1911-2001), cultural historian, developed an early interest in American material culture through his parents, Charles H. and Lura Woodside Watkins,
who collected glass and pottery. Watkins received the B.S. from Harvard College in 1934 and began his museum career as Curator for the Wells Historical Museum, predecessor
of Old Sturbridge Village, in Massachusetts. In 1949, he was appointed Associate Curator in the Division of Ethnology, United States National Museum (USNM), where he was responsible
for the collections documenting American technology and decorative arts. When a separate National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT) was created in 1958, Watkins assumed
responsibility for a new Division of Cultural History in the Department of Civil History. In 1969, a separate Department of Cultural History was established, with Watkins
as Chairman. In 1973, he was named Senior Curator in the Department, a position he held until his retirement in 1980; he continued his research as Curator Emeritus until 1984.
In 1980, the National Museum of History and Technology was renamed the National Museum of American History (NMAH).
During his career at the USNM and NMHT, Watkins worked on numerous exhibits, including the Hall of Everyday Life in the American Past, Growth of the United States,
and Nation of Nations. He was responsible for the acquisition of many significant collections, including the Arthur and Edna Greenwood Collection of Americana, the
Remensnyder Collection of American Stoneware, and the Morgenstern Collection of early American material culture. His major research projects included the Marlborough and Jamestown,
Virginia, archeological sites, North Devon pottery export to America, and early California history. Watkins was a pioneer in the fields of material culture studies and historical
Restricted. Contact SIHistory@si.edu to request permission.