In memoriam: Karl Hufbauer

In memoriam: Karl Hufbauer

 Office of the Dean February 25, 2020

We are all much saddened to learn of the passing on January 28, 2020 of our longtime friend and colleague, Karl Hufbauer, Professor Emeritus of history. He died peacefully at his home in Seattle, Washington in the midst of his family, after a long struggle with diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.

Hufbauer was born in San Diego, California on July 7, 1937. He received his B.S. in engineering at Stanford University in 1959, a diploma in history and philosophical science from St. Anthony College, Oxford University in 1961, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from UC Berkeley in 1970. He served as a faculty member in our department from close to its very beginning, from 1966 through 1999. During this period, he sat on countless departmental, school and academic senate committees (including the important Committee on Academic Personnel). From 1997 to 1998, he was director of the E.A.P. in Copenhagen, Denmark and Lund, Sweden. He also served as chair of the Department of History from 1992 to 1996. We remember Hufbauer as a truly outstanding chair — a person of undisputed integrity, always well-informed, always fairly but insistently pursuing the interests of his academic unit and of his colleagues, always firm in his commitments and convictions, and always fair-minded. 

In his scholarship, Hufbauer sought to understand and describe the history of science as a social product. “I believe that the central problem of the history of science,” he once wrote, “is to understand how scientific knowledge has been generated and certified in different social contexts.” To exemplify his conceptualization of science, Hufbauer focused on two extended case studies: The Formation of the German Chemical Community, 1720-1795 (UC Press, 1982), an expanded version of his Ph.D. dissertation, in which he examined how increasing social support for chemistry in Enlightenment Germany enabled chemists there to form one of the first national discipline-oriented communities; and Exploring the Sun: Solar Science since Galileo (commissioned by NASA and published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), in which he studied the history of stellar-energy, when physicists and astronomers began speculating about possible subatomic sources. These projects embodied Hufbauer’s interest in what conditions and considerations inspire some scientists to venture outside the familiar ground of their own disciplines in pursuit of interdisciplinary connections and conclusions. He also published over the years a large array of reviews and articles.

Beyond his academic interests, Hufbauer was a rock climber, a hiker, a high school and university wrestler, a scuba diver, a hunter of fish and mollusks, and a passionate rock hound.  Many of us remember the frequent invitations for dinner at Hufbauer and his wife Sally’s home not far from the campus, for which he made quite wonderful salads and barbecued fish speared that very day in the Pacific Ocean (he had been an avid diver since he was a boy in La Jolla).  We also remember arriving at his house with the porch piled high and spilling down the stairs with rocks he had collected over the years in his many rock-hunting expeditions in the American West. But despite his obvious passion for stones, we were surprised when, after his retirement to Seattle in 1999 -- to be closer to his and Sally’s daughter, Sarah Beth and their grandchildren -- he took up sculpture. He purchased a set of electric sculpting equipment and worked for several years in his basement or in a studio he rented for the purpose. He took regular trips to look for promising material on which to work. (Tim Tackett, Professor Emeritus of history, went with him on two such forays, one in the Washington Cascades, another in the Panamint Valley of California, and watched as Hufbauer identified and lugged back choice boulders from creeks and hillsides to be hauled away in his Volvo.) Several of his creations (see his website) were purchased locally and nationally and a number found a place in public locations: in one of Seattle’s leading hospitals, in a sculpture garden on one of the San Juan Islands, and in the Huntington Library Gardens of San Marino, California. Many of you may also have seen his work “Forest Guardian” now in the Tackett/Chenut dining room in Irvine. While in Seattle, Hufbauer also continued his interest in the history of science and participated regularly in meetings of colleagues interested in the subject at the University of Washington.   

In his final years, disease greatly limited Hufbauer’s mobility. Yet during this period his mind long remained sharp and well-informed and he still enjoyed discussing all manner of subjects with those around him. 
Hufbauer is survived by his wife of over 59 years, Sally; by three children (Sarah Beth, Benjamin, and Ruth); and by six grandchildren. Condolences can be conveyed to Sally Hufbauer at She asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

It is with great sadness indeed that we see Hufbauer depart.

[Prepared by Professors Emeriti Tim Tackett, Spence Olin, and Keith Nelson, for the UCI Department of History]

Join us for a celebration of Hufbauer’s life on Monday, March 2 in Humanities Gateway 1030 at 4:00 p.m. To RSVP, email Timothy Tackett here.