The Department of Cultural History was one of several departments of the Museum of History and Technology (MHT), and comprised a number of divisions concerned with specialized aspects of cultural history. The name and divisions of the Department of Cultural History changed over the years, following structural reorganizations of the museum.
The Department of Cultural History had its origin in the Department of Civil History, which was founded in 1958. Between 1958 and 1968 the Department of Civil History consisted of the following divisions: Political History, Cultural History, Philately and Postal History, and Numismatics. The Division of Musical Instruments was added in 1967.
Anthony N. D. Garvan served as the head curator of the Department of Civil History from 1958 to 1961, when he was succeeded by Richard H. Howland from 1961 to 1968. In 1964, the designation of head curator changed to department chairman. From 1968 to 1969, C. Malcolm Watkins, curator of the Division of Cultural History, was acting chairman of the department.
In the course of its reorganization in 1969, the MHT was renamed National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT). Five departments were created among which the Department of Cultural History emerged as the successor of the Department of Civil History. The divisions of the new department were Costumes and Furnishings, Ethnic and Western Cultural History, Musical Instruments, and Preindustrial History. C. Malcolm Watkins chaired the department from 1969 to 1973, when he became the department's senior curator, 1973-1980. Rodris C. Roth, curator of costumes, was acting chair from 1973 to 1974, when Richard E. Ahlborn became chairman, 1974 to 1978.
In 1978, another reorganization of the NMHT took place, and the Department of Cultural History continued as one of three departments of the museum. The divisions of the Department of Cultural History were Ceramics and Glass, Community Life, Costume, Domestic Life, Graphic Arts, and Musical Instruments. In the years between 1978 and 1980 the department had three chairpersons. Anne C. Golovin succeeded Richard E. Ahlborn and served as Acting Chair in 1978. In 1978, Peter C. Marzio assumed the chairmanship, and in 1979 he was succeeded by Claudia B. Kidwell.