Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9532
Twentieth Century Small Arms Development Videohistory Collection, 1988-1990
Technological and organizational developments have changed the way military small arms are designed in the second half of the twentieth century. The use of alloys and composite materials require more specialized knowledge than one individual can master, and bureaucratized weapon procurement policies require a corporate group to finance and represent innovative weapon concepts. Consequently, it has become almost impossible for one man to design, build, and market a new small arm.
The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.
Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.
Dr. Edward C. Ezell, curator for the Armed Forces Division of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH), recorded twelve interviews with two of the last solo designers. Eugene M. Stoner of the United States and Mikhail T. Kalashnikov of the former Soviet Union are responsible for the M16 and AK47 automatic rifles, two of the most popular firearms in the world since 1945. Ezell was interested in the process by which the men developed and produced their designs and in their experiences with their respective military bureaucracies. The interviewees detailed how they became involved in small arms design and how their weapons improved on those already in service. The sessions also documented visually the evolution of the design of the rifles, and the composition and assembly of their components. The interviews were recorded in Port Clinton, Ohio; Leningrad and Moscow, Soviet Union; and Star Tannery, Virginia, between April 1988 and May 1990, and are organized into three series.
This collection consists of thirteen interview sessions, totaling approximately 18:40 hours of recordings, and 214 pages of transcript.
All sessions were shot professionally and are available to researchers on VHS cassette. All Sessions have been transcribed and translated into English; pertinent visual information has been summarized and keyed to a time code.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Ezell, Edward Clinton, interviewer
- Stoner, Eugene M., 1922-1997
- Kalashnikov, M. T. (Mikhail Timofeevich), 1919-2013
- ARES Incorporated
- AR-15 rifle
- M-16 rifle
- AK-47 rifle
- PK machine gun
- RPK-74 machine gun
- Science -- History
- Technology -- History
- Military history
- Oral history
- Soviet Union
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9532, Twentieth Century Small Arms Development Videohistory Collection