LECTURES | Speaking of Birthdays

Posted on Mon., Feb. 28, 2011 by Matt Stevens
Henry Huntington, 1927
Henry Huntington, 1927. Copyright The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

For a short month, February has a lot of big birthdays—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Charles Darwin, to name just a few. Perhaps none is bigger (here, at least) than Henry Edwards Huntington's. He was born Feb. 27, 1850, in Oneonta, N.Y. Since the founding of this institution, officials have commemorated the anniversary with a Founder's Day lecture.

In recent years, President Steve Koblik has delivered a couple talks. Last year, Jim Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens, spoke about the Japanese Garden, which will close in a month or so for renovation before reopening in 2012 for its centennial. In 2006, David Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Library, gave a talk titled "What a Difference a Decade Makes." He looked back on his first 10 years as director of the library, an era that included the opening of the new Munger Research Center. With some amusement, he also recalled the Founder's Day lecture he nervously delivered in 1996, a couple days before his first day on the job.

This year, Robert C. "Roy" Ritchie's Founder's Day lecture is a bookend of sorts to Zeidberg's 1996 talk. Ritchie is retiring in June after 19 years as the W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research. In his talk last Thursday, he spoke about "The Hidden Huntington: The Huntington as a Research Center." He recounted the early years of an institution that began with a remarkable collection of books and manuscripts and evolved into a place where scholars made use of them. He finished by summarizing the state of the research program today.

In thanking Ritchie at the end of his lecture, Steve Koblik said, "Roy entitled this presentation 'The Hidden Huntington,' but the fact is that since Roy came to The Huntington, the research element is no longer the hidden Huntington. Prior to 1990, this was a very inward looking institution in terms of its research program, and what Roy has done is opened it up, professionalized it, and made it an integral part of humanities research—not only in this region but in the country and internationally."

You can listen to recent Founder's Day lectures, including Roy Ritchie's 2011 address, on iTunes U.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.