4 audiotapes (Reference copies). 4 digital .mp3 files (Reference copies).
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 students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Cowan was interviewed for the Oral History Project because he has made significant scholarly and administrative contributions to the Smithsonian Institution during 17 years
Cowan was interviewed by Miriam Freilicher on March 26 and April 2 and 25, 1974. The interviews include his reminiscences of his early career, the Department of Botany
when he joined the staff, his work in administration, and changes within the National Museum of Natural History and the Institution in the 1960's.
Richard Sumner Cowan began his career in 1948 at the New York Botanical Garden and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952. Cowan joined the staff of the
National Museum of Natural History in 1957 as an Associate Curator in the Department of Botany, where he continued his work in the systematic taxonomy of neotropical flora.
In 1962 Cowan was appointed Assistant Director of the Museum of Natural History, and in 1965 he assumed the directorship of the museum. He has continued his work as Senior
Botanist, National Museum of Natural History, since his retirement from administration in 1973. Cowan has served on many significant committees in the Institution and in many
This collection documents Cowan's career as a systematic botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, USNM, and NMNH. Included are incoming and outgoing correspondence
concerning the identification of specimens, the preparation of scientific papers and monographs, and professional activities; a subject file mostly documenting his research;
and files relating to his work as Secretary of the National Committee of the International Botanical Congress, 1969.
For additional materials documenting Cowan's botanical research and administrative career at NMNH, see Record Units 155, 197, and 9501.
Richard Sumner Cowan (1921-1997), a systematic botanist specializing in neotropical flora, received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952. From 1952 to 1957, he
served as Assistant Curator at the New York Botanical Garden. Cowan joined the United States National Museum (USNM) in 1957 when he was appointed Associate Curator in the
Department of Botany. In 1962, he was appointed Assistant Director of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), and, in 1965, Director. Cowan retired from administration
in 1973 and resumed his research as a Senior Botanist at NMNH. He remained in the position until his retirement in 1985. Cowan's primary research interest is the systematics
of legumes in tropical America.