The Next Chapter
MAY/JUNE 2015 - After nearly 14 years, having had tremendous amounts of fun and having gained dozens upon dozens of lifelong friends, Kerstin and I are putting the finishing touches on this extraordinary chapter in our lives. As I prepare to leave The Huntington on June 30, I’m taking with me something for which I am extraordinarily grateful: a deepened and more fervent appreciation of scholarship and beauty.
I came to this place fully aware of its capacity as a research library; I am a historian, after all, with a deep affection for archival research. But I had scant knowledge of the true depth and breadth of The Huntington’s historic and literary collections, let alone its English Grand Manner portraiture, European art, or the major works of American art in the Scott Galleries. And while I appreciated the aesthetics of nice gardens, it took a real immersion into the landscape traditions of China and Japan, my own personal discovery of the magnificent desert puyas, and, frankly, my morning walks across the property with our dogs (Pepper first, then Mickie, and now Eden) to fully understand how glorious these gardens are and how important they have become for my own well-being. And so I leave The Huntington with a renewed commitment to scholarship and beauty, knowing that both have become integral to my own quality of life.
That doesn’t mean I’m wandering off into the sunset of retirement to sit and ponder all good things. Quite the contrary; I’ve got several projects ramping up. I want to take some time to reflect on, and write about, the challenge of managing major nonprofits and the curious circumstances that lead individuals into these positions. How does one get to such a place, and once they do, what does effectiveness in leadership look like?
I’m also looking forward to working on a book about the history of The Huntington from the time of Mr. Huntington’s death to the present. With any luck, I’ll get Roy Ritchie, our former director of research, to co-author it with me. We’ve been threatening to do it for quite some time. And now that we’re both out of jobs, we really have no excuse. Besides, it’s important for The Huntington to understand its evolution as an institution.
Some of you may know that I am a historian of Swedish 20th-century politics. For the past 40 years, I’ve been thinking about a book on modern Sweden. Its theme will be “Embracing Democracy in the Modern Age.” I want to explore what democracy means to contemporary Europeans. In so doing, I hope to make apparent—and thought-provoking—the differences between contemporary European democracy and American republican traditions.
Finally, I want to complete a personal volume for my grandchildren and their children, so that they might have a window into what it was like to come of age during the last half of the 20th century.
You may well see me at The Huntington from time to time as I hunt and peck my way through these projects. But for the most part, Kerstin and I will be back among old friends—and in our old house—in Claremont. We hope you’ll stay in touch!
Steve Koblik, President