Published February 22, 2018
George Hochfield, professor emeritus of English and one of five UB faculty members embroiled in a landmark battle over academic freedom in the 1960s, died Jan. 17 in Oakland, California. He was 91.
Hochfield had only been at UB for a year when he was asked in 1964 to sign a loyalty oath mandated under the state’s Feinberg Law, which required teachers in public schools and state employees to declare that they had never been members of the Communist Party. He and four colleagues refused.
Their case, Keyishian v. Board of Regents, went all the way the U.S. Supreme Court. On a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled in 1967 that the loyalty oath was unconstitutional.
Hochfield was born in Trenton, N.J. His father had barely escaped the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan in 1911.
Hochfield served in the Navy during World War II, gathering weather information as an aerographer’s mate, and helped set up a weather station in China.
He attended University of California, Los Angeles, on the G.I. Bill and became best friends with a fellow student, Leonard Nathan. Both transferred in 1947 to the University of California, Berkeley, where they founded a poetry magazine called “The Formalist,” which only sold a few copies on campus.
He earned his doctorate at Berkeley in 1958 and taught at Pennsylvania State University and Ohio State University before coming to UB in 1963 to become part of an eminent group of scholars and authors in the English department.
A renowned expert on 19th-century historian and author Henry Adams, he edited “The Great Secession Winter of 1860-61 and Other Essays” in 1958 and authored a 1962 book, “Henry Adams: An Introduction and Interpretation.” He went on to edit an anthology, “Selected Writings of American Transcendentalists,” published in 1966.
Hochfield was a visiting professor at Moscow State University in 1985 and Capitol Normal University in Beijing in 1992. He was the recipient of three Fulbright lectureships: in Bologna and Venice, Italy, in 1958-59; in Slovenia in 1965-66; and in Rome in 1980.
In addition to his scholarly pursuits, he served in many administrative roles at UB, including as vice chair of the English department and as the university’s representative to the AAUP.
Hochfield retired in 1992 and moved back to Berkeley, where he began a new career translating from the Italian, beginning with a World War II memoir “The Officers’ Camp” by Giampiero Carocci, and two novels.
He also resumed collaborating with Nathan, a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and a prolific poet. Looking for a worthy joint venture, Hochfield discovered Umberto Saba, a neglected, early 20th-century poet from Trieste, Italy, and began a lengthy project with Nathan that brought Saba’s work to English-speaking readers.
Their translation, “Songbook: Selected Poems of Umberto Saba,” was a finalist for the 2010 Lewis Galantiere Award from the American Translators Association.
A memorial service is being planned in Buffalo.