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 A 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 archeology.