From his first days in grade school until the last year of his life, Erwin Hiebert was deeply dedicated to scholarship. He was passionate about science, not only in regards to his own research, but he was also keenly fascinated with how philosophers and scientists before him conducted their work. That love of science and wonder were at the center of Hiebert’s long teaching career, the last 40-plus years spent at Harvard. Hiebert, professor of the history of science emeritus, died on Nov. 28, at the age of 93.
Hiebert came to Harvard in 1970 as a professor of the history of science, becoming a professor emeritus in 1989. Throughout the years he was known as an active and prolific scholar and teacher whose students became well-known academics in the field.
Hiebert received an M.A. in chemistry and physics at the University of Kansas in 1943. He enjoyed a long, illustrious teaching and research career, beginning with his first teaching post in 1952 at San Francisco State College. He went on to teach as a Fulbright lecturer at the Max-Planck-Institut für Physik in Göttingen, Germany. The following year, Hiebert made a brief stop at Harvard as an instructor in the history of science, before moving to the Department of History of Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, serving as chairman from 1960 to 1965. Hiebert permanently returned to the Department of History of Science at Harvard in 1970. He was chairman of the department from 1977 to 1984 while also serving as a visiting lecturer and scholar at universities across the country and the globe.
Though he reached emeritus status 1989, Hiebert continued to devote most of his time to his own research and writing. He would journey from Belmont, where he settled his family in 1970, to Harvard nearly every day for many years after his retirement to work in his much-loved study in Widener Library.
Hiebertwas a member ofmany organizations, including the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences, and he was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the author of three books: “The Impact of Atomic Energy,” “Historical Roots of the Principle of Conservation of Energy,” and “The Conception of Thermodynamics in the Scientific Thought of Mach and Planck,” in addition to numerous articles. His research and teaching focused on the 19th- and 20th-century history and philosophy of science. At his death he was completing a publication on the implications of the science of acoustics for music composition and instrument construction.
Professor Hiebert was preceded in death in September 2012 by his wife of 69 years, Elfrieda Franz Hiebert, and is survived by his three children: Catherine Hiebert Kerst of Silver Spring, Md.; Margaret Hiebert Beissinger and husband Mark Beissinger of Princeton, N.J.; and Thomas Nels Hiebert and wife Lenore Voth Hiebert of Fresno, Calif.
A memorial service for Hiebert will be held at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m.
Contributions can be made in Hiebert’s memory to the Mennonite Central Committee Global Family Program Supporting Education, 21 S. 12th St., P.O. Box 500, Akron, PA, 17501, or at https://donate.mcc.org/registry/Elfrieda-and-Erwin-Hiebert.