Why is there a Burkhardt Lecture? Why is it about French History? and Who was Richard W. Burkhardt anyway?


*** UPDATE: Dr. Richard W. Burkhardt passed away on March 4th, the day after this blog post was published.  Rather than amend it, it was decided to leave it as is.  To read more about Dr. Burkhardt’s final arrangements visit: A Living Legend no More. ***

There are many buildings on campus named after important individuals from Ball State’s history.  Bracken Library (Alexander Bracken – married into Ball family), Ball Communications (Edmund F. Ball – original Ball brother), and the Whitinger Business Building (Ralph J. Whitinger – distinguished alumnus) are only a few examples.Ball_State_University_Science_Hall south end 1950s

Other than David Letterman, most of these individuals seem as if they lived in the distant past, but that is not always the case. Richard W. Burkhardt is still with us today and lives within walking distance of the Ball State campus. Both Richard W. Burkhardt and his wife Dorothy Burkhardt were actively involved at Ball State for many years because of their commitment and dedication to higher education.

Before Dorothy’s death in January 2014, the Burkhardts had been married for 72 years.  In 1990, their three children (Richard W. Burkhardt Jr. [Chip], Claire Decker [Betsy], and Dorothy BurkhardtJon Burkhardt) began the planning to select a gift for the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.  Chip’s wife suggested they follow their parents’ example in selecting the gift.  Previously, the Burkhardts had established funds to support campus lectures at Knox College where they met and both earned their bachelor’s degrees.  With this in mind, their children worked to establish the first Burkhardt Lecture in 1991 for the couple’s 50th anniversary present.  The Burkhardt lecture at the 2014 Student History Conference on February 21, 2014 completed the 24th lecture in the series.

When the Burkhardts came to Muncie in 1952, Dr. Burkhardt began his position as the Dean of the Teachers College.  His administrative titles during his thirty-three years at Ball State included Dean of the Teachers College, Dean of the Division of Sciences and Humanities, Vice-President for Instructional Affairs (later renamed Provost) and Dean of the Faculties, and Acting President. He rounded out his career as a Distinguished Dr. Richard W. BurkhardtUniversity Service Professor and Professor of History teaching modern European history.  Dorothy earned her Master’s degree from Ball State and taught French, Spanish, and Russian.  Her passion was for French though, and to honor this, most of the Burkhardt Lectures have focused on French history.

Dr. Burkhardt earned two Master’s degrees at Harvard (history-1940 and teaching-1942), and then went on to pursue his Doctorate of Education also at Harvard (awarded in 1945).  Having loved sailing as a boy in Massachusetts, Dr. Burkhardt missed this hobby when he came to Muncie, but once Prairie Creek Reservoir was established, he enjoyed the opportunity to be a sailor once more.

It may seem that those who have helped develop Ball State are individuals from the distant past.  The legacy of many of these individuals still impacts how students experience Ball State today, whether or not they are aware of this influence.  The annual Burkhardt lecture is a reminder of the examples that Richard and Dorothy Burkhardt set for the Ball State community.  This legacy will continue to help us further understand how the impact of history applies to us in modern society.

24th Annual Burkhardt Lecture 2014


Dr. Smith, Dr. Spang, Dean Maggiotto, and Chip and Jane BurkhardtIn honor of the 24th Annual Burkhardt Lecture, Dean Maggiotto introduced the speaker, Dr. Rebecca Spang, Professor of History at Indiana University – Bloomington.  She received her Bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed both her Master’s and PhD at Cornell. She presented, “History, Money, and the French Revolution.”

Dr. Spang began by making a distinction between the origin of the monetary system at the beginning of the French Revolution and the relationship between money and what was going on during the revolution.  Prior to the revolution, paper money was used more as an IOU than what we consider today to be money.  It was an agreement between an individual and a businessman for future payment of an agreed upon amount.  One of the influences of the French Revolution was that all currency was switched to a single paper system.  This was different from an individual’s agreement with a businessman and made the use of paper money mandatory.  The assignat became the first form of paper money to be used during the revolution.  The value of the assignat was based on the value of church property throughout the country which was nationalized for this purpose.  There was also still the idea that paper money would eventually be returned to the state and was not considered a permanent solution at the time.

One problem with the assignat was that it was only available in large denominations. Dr. Rebecca Spang Localities became responsible for creating their own currency, called billets de confiance, if they wanted to use smaller denominations.  When Napoleon came to power and began gathering soldiers, the locally issued billets de confiance were not accepted throughout France.  The billets de confiance often had seals, official stamps, or other types of validation that were only recognized at the local level.  A universal and mandatory paper money was introduced to France during the French Revolution, but there were issues to be addressed before it could become an effective form of currency.