The Magic of History

Watkins, acting curator at the U.S.S. Constitution museum, believes history helps us to learn about ourselves.

When Sarah Watkins was in high school, her grandfather gave her a collection of 18th and 19th century manuscripts and printed material that included newspapers, railroad card passes, and correspondence. "I loved handling the material and learning to take care of it," says Watkins. "There is something magical about being able to make a direct physical connection with the past — you are transported back in time via the object. Historical material brings history to life, and in particular, manuscript material such as letters and diaries is especially intimate. You are connecting with not only the past, but also with the people of the past."

That experience had a profound effect on Watkins. By the time she applied to college, she knew she wanted to work with artifacts and archives. She set out on a course of study to achieve her goal. As an undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke College, Watkins majored in American Studies. From there she went on to obtain her master's degree in the same subject from The College of William and Mary. After securing a position as a curatorial assistant at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Boston, Watkins began part-time studies at the Graduate School for Library and Information Science.

"I knew Simmons had an excellent reputation for archives, so I decided to pursue my M.S. in library science with a concentration in archives management," Watkins notes. "Through coursework about preservation, management, reference, archives, photo archives, and book repair, I was able to realize my dream for the U.S.S. Constitution Museum's library and archives. With my newfound knowledge from Simmons, I served as project manager for a 1.2 million dollar renovation project at the museum to create a library, archives, reading room, and collections storage facility. My Simmons degree has truly been invaluable to me."

Now acting curator at the museum, Watkins recently secured funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support the planning of a new exhibit at the museum — Sailors Speak: Life aboard USS Constitution during the War of 1812. "I truly love my job," says Watkins. "Using U.S.S. Constitution as a lens, 205 years of American history comes alive. One of the best things about my job is connecting people with history in engaging ways. The archives at the museum are an important part of the memory of U.S.S. Constitution. Without the memory, the meaning is lost. U.S.S. Constitution's victories during the War of 1812 contributed to our country's emerging national identity. By learning about U.S.S. Constitution we learn about ourselves."