Richard L. Watson, Jr. papers, 1941 - 1989

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. For a period of twenty-five years from the origin of the material, permission in writing from the...
More about accessing and using these materials...


Watson, Richard L., 1914-2000
Richard L. Watson, Jr. served as Professor of History at Duke University (1939-1984), Chair of the Department of History (1960-1967), Chair of the Academic Council (1964-1966, 1975-1977), and associate editor of the South Atlantic Quarterly (1974-1987). Papers include correspondence, notes, committee minutes and reports, course evaluations, research files, and manuscript drafts of chapters, and involve Watson's work with the Army Air Force Historical Office, the History Department, Duke University, professional organizations, research and writings in American history and historiography, and personal materials. English.
19 Linear Feet
14,500 Items
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates > 02 -- Individuals


Scope and content:

The materials in this collection consist of the papers of Richard L. Watson, Jr. accrued between 1941 and 1989. The majority of the collection pertains to his work at Duke University, both in the department of history and in service to university faculty and administration. There are also papers relating to his writings and research, his work in the Army Air Force Historical Office, professional organizations, and personal life. Types of materials include correspondence, notes, committee minutes and reports, teacher course evaluations, chapter files and draft chapters.

Biographical / historical:

Richard Lyness Watson, Jr. was born December 25, 1914 in Mount Hermon, Mass. He attended Mount Hermon Preparatory School and graduated 1931. He studied economics and history at Yale University, receiving his B.A. in 1935, and his Ph.D. in 1939. Immediately after attaining his doctorate he moved to Durham and began teaching at Duke University. He was drafted into the Army in 1941 and commissioned in May 1943. He first served at the Coast Artillery School until appointed to the Army Air Force Historical Office. While at this post he served as chief of the Southwest Pacific Branch and was responsible for selecting documents on and writing histories pertaining to the Pacific theatre of operations during the War. His work was ultimately included in the seven volume series, The Army Air Forces in World War II, edited by Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate.

During his forty-five year tenure at Duke, Watson served as one of the university's leading "citizens." He not only served in positions of leadership at the departmental level, but at the university level as well. Duke recognized his citizenship in 1988 when they awarded him the Duke University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service. While trained to specialize in early 19th century American history, Watson filled a needed role in the Department of History by shifting his research and teaching focus to early twentieth-century American history. His particular interests lay in the Progressive, Depression, and New Deal Eras. He chaired the department from 1960-1967 and stood in as Acting Chair in 1970-1971 and 1980. He took a lead in the burgeoning development of Black Studies, teaching several summer workshops for college professors on the materials of black history.

Watson led, at numerous points in his career, the faculty's most important representative bodies. He was vice chair of the University Council from 1961-1962; Chairman of the Academic Council from 1964-1966, as well as 1975-1977; and vice chair of the Academic Council from 1973-1974. He was the first person to hold the position of Faculty Secretary of the Academic Council, a position created in 1984. In addition, he was a member of the board of the Duke University Press from 1973-1982, and was associate editor of the South Atlantic Quarterly from 1974-1987. Watson also played a central role in the faculty movement to bar the Nixon presidential library from locating at Duke.

Watson answered the university administration's call to service. This is evidenced in the numerous committees, advisory councils, and task forces to which he was appointed. He played a significant role in helping define and implement university policies during student unrest of the late 1960s. As chair of the Committee on Judicial Procedures he helped put into place judicial procedures and policies to deal with the pickets and protests regulations. He also served on the Faculty Committee on Student Concerns which helped develop policies in response to the takeover of the Allen Building in 1969 and his work on the Student-Faculty-Administration Committee addressed drug policies, military recruitment on campus, and the pickets policy.

Watson served as President of the Southern Historical Association (1976-77) and of the Historical Society of North Carolina (1972-73); he was also chair of the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Prize Committee from 1964-68. In addition, he sat on the board of editors of both the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1958-60) and the Journal of Southern History (1968-70). He was a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Augustine's College from 1965-1971.

His activity in the Durham community was recognized by the Duke University Campus Ministry, who in 1992 awarded him its Humanitarian Service Award. Watson aided in the establishment of the St. Philip's Community Kitchen and the Durham Urban Ministry Center. He was also a familiar face in community theater, as a long-time member of Durham Savoyards, a group that presents annual performances of Gilbert and Sullivan.

In the midst of his teaching and academic service, Watson continued to conduct and publish scholarly research. He won the R.D.W. Connor Award for the best article to appear in the North Carolina Historical Review in both 1960 and 1965. He contributed greatly to the teaching of history in the secondary schools by his editorship, along with William Cartwright, of Interpreting and Teaching American History (196?) and its revised edition, Reinterpretation of American History and Culture. Other books he authored or edited include, Bishop Cannon's Own Story, the United States in the Contemporary World, 1945-62, and The Development of National Power: The United States 1900-1919.

Upon retirement in 1984, Watson continued his relationship with Duke. He was active in the university's FOCUS program, as well as hosting Japanese students from Hosei University each year.

Richard L. Watson, Jr. died on September 22, 2000.

Acquisition information:
The Richard L. Watson, Jr. Papers were received by the University Archives as a transfer in 1960-1992.
Processing information:

All recommendation files were shredded. University materials duplicated in office of origin records were discarded: Department of History newsletters, Educational Facilities, Duke University Press material. Student Papers (Accessions 84-63 and 90-112) transferred to History Department, Student Papers section. World War II documents: checked with National Archives; determined these items were most likely declassified and thus open for research. St. Augustine's College BOT materials (Accession 73-91) were deaccessioned June 2001. Sent to St. Augustine's College.

Encoded by Jill Katte, September 2003

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult University Archives, Duke University.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

For a period of twenty-five years from the origin of the material, permission in writing from the office of origin and the University Archivist is required for use. After twenty-five years, records that have been processed may be consulted with the permission of the University Archivist.

Records, such as search committee files or others pertaining to employment where individuals are identified, are closed for 70 years.

In accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 as amended, Duke University permits students to inspect their education records and limits the disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records.

In off-site storage; 48 hours advance notice is required for use.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Richard L. Watson, Jr. Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.