Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9528
Collins, Henry Bascom, 1899- , interviewee
Henry Bascom Collins Oral History Interviews, 1985
Henry Bascom Collins, Jr., was born in 1899 in Geneva, Alabama. Upon receiving the B.A. in geology from Millsaps College in 1922, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to secure a field work position with geologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian, Charles D. Walcott. Collins joined instead the archeological field party exploring Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, under the leadership of Smithsonian anthropologist, Neil M. Judd, thus beginning a sixty-five year career in anthropology. Collins worked for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1923, but returned to the Smithsonian as aide in the Division of Ethnology, United States National Museum (USNM), from 1924 to 1925. After receiving his M.A. in anthropology from the George Washington University in 1925, Collins was appointed Assistant Curator of Ethnology, USNM. He advanced to Associate Curator in 1938 but the following year transferred to the Smithsonian's other anthropological unit, the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), as Senior Ethnologist. He served as acting Director of the BAE from 1963-1965, overseeing its dissolution and merger into the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). He was Senior Scientist in the department from 1965-1966, and upon retirement, continued his research as archeologist emeritus until his death in 1987.
Collins' first exposure to archeological investigations was in the Southwest assisting Judd. When he began his own research, he shifted focus to Southeast prehistory, especially pottery types found in mounds. In 1927, however, Smithsonian physical anthropologist, Aleš Hrdlička sent his aide, T. Dale Stewart, and Collins on a field trip to Alaska. Fascinated by the area, Collins devoted the next sixty years to the study of Inuit prehistory. He was noted for his innovative interpretation of cultural sequences, based especially on his excavations at the Inuit village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. In 1936, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences for this work. During World War II, he served as Director of the Ethnogeographic Board, an interagency liaison group which facilitated communications between academics and the military. Following the war, he was instrumental in establishing the Arctic Institute of North America, and from 1947 to 1967 served as Chairman of the committee responsible for producing the Arctic Bibliography.
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.
Collins was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long and distinguished career as an anthropologist and his role as a Smithsonian administrator.
Collins was interviewed on four occasions in 1985 by Pamela M. Henson for the Smithsonian Archives Oral History Program. The interviews cover Collins' youth, education, career at the Smithsonian from field worker to acting director of the BAE, anthropological research, directorship of the Ethnogeographic Board, role in the Arctic Institute and Arctic Bibliography, as well as reminscences of colleagues such as Matthew W. Stirling and Neil M. Judd.
Restricted. Contact SIHistory@si.edu to request permission.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Collins, Henry Bascom, 1899-1987
- Hrdlička, Aleš, 1869-1943
- Judd, Neil Merton, 1887-1976
- Stewart, T. D. (Thomas Dale), 1901-1997
- Stirling, Matthew Williams, 1896-1975
- Henson, Pamela M., interviewer
- Ethnogeographic Board (Washington, D.C.)
- World War, 1939-1945
- Arctic Institute of North America
- Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Ethnology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Department of Anthropology
- Arctic Bibliography
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9528, Henry Bascom Collins Oral History Interviews