Keith Hitchins
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Keith Hitchins

Thursday, April 2nd, 1931 - Sunday, November 1st, 2020

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Keith Arnold Hitchins, 89, passed away on November 1, 2020, at the Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Illinois. Best known simply as Keith Hitchins or Professor Keith Hitchins, he was an internationally honored historian of Romania but also of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, and many Asian countries. From 1967 until his retirement in 2019, he was Professor of East European History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hitchins was born in Schenectady, New York, to H. Arnold Hitchins, commercial artist and writer of business advertisements, and Lillian Turrian Hitchins, stenographer. Arnold's ancestry was English (paternal side) and Dutch (Vanderbild, maternal side); Lillian’s parents were from the German- and French-speaking areas of Switzerland, so young Keith grew up under many European as well as American cultural influences. He also was subject early in life to contending political influences, since his maternal grandmother was a Republican state committeewoman even though Keith’s grandfather was a steel-union organizer. Keith had to tread carefully between his grandparents at family gatherings.

Keith attended a very small rural school with only twelve students in an era when many parents placed little emphasis on education. Nonetheless, Keith went on to complete a bachelor’s degree at Union College in Schenectady before earning his doctorate in history from Harvard University in 1964. His adviser at Harvard, Professor Robert Wolff, told him he was being excused from undergoing the traditional dissertation defense in view of the very high quality of his dissertation, which dealt with the National Movement in Transylvania.

Hitchins’s acquaintance with Romanian language and culture began in 1957-58 at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he studied with Emil Turdeanu and Jean Boutiére. Not long thereafter, he became the first American Fulbright Scholar to be invited to study in a country behind the Iron Curtain. There, in Romania, he worked first under the guidance of the historian Andrei Oțetea. Then, in short order, he made the acquaintance of the giants of Romanian historiography: David Prodan, Constantin Daicoviciu, and Virgil Cândea.

A strong shelf is needed to accommodate the dozens books Hitchins wrote, edited, or contributed with chapters about Transylvania but most about Romania as a whole. Hundreds of his articles also challenged specialists in Romanian history to keep up with his scholarship. Much of his work focused on the prominent role played by intellectuals and clergy in the formation and consolidation of Romania as a modern nation-state as well as on the country’s Europeanization while remaining faithful to its Orthodox and Greek-Catholic heritage. Showing their gratitude for Hitchins’s scholarly choices and recognizing his remarkable intellect, the post-communist Romanian government, Romanian presidents, the Romanian Royal House, the Romanian Academy, Romanian History Institutes, and the nation’s foremost universities lavished their highest honors and distinctions upon him.

Hitchins could recount a few stories about being pursued by the Securitate forces in communist Romania. At the same time he did not forget the many examples of generous hospitality accorded him by communist officials like Mihai Beniuc, Miron Constantinescu, Patriarch Teoctist, Ștefan Pascu, and Gh. Maurer. He was so highly esteemed that the regime invited him to write a biography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a proposition he left unanswered.

Hitchins’s first teaching took place at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where for seven years he taught European history but also the Russian language. Then, after a brief period on the history faculty of Rice University in Texas, he was lured to the University of Illinois, where he spent the most important years of his academic life. His teaching had to do mainly with Europe and Asia, with courses on Habsburg, Mughal, and Mongol Empires, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. As a frequent contributor to the Encyclopedia Iranica, he produced articles on Georgian, Tadjik, and Kurdish literature and culture. Similarly, his articles for the Encyclopedia of Empire dealt mainly with poets, writers, and other intellectuals. He did not speak from notes in his courses but concentrated largely on story-telling, using a warm voice that blended perfectly with a modest countenance.

Keith Hitchins shared with his students his Second World War scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings he had collected as a boy, leaving students at Illinois so fascinated that they would invite their grandparents to campus to meet this Professor Hitchins whom they liked so much.
Although Hitchins helped his former graduate students in many ways, he did not plant his acolytes in history departments across the nation, partly at least because he believed that each of us has to work very hard on our own to succeed. He believed in unconditional loyalty and was not known to have ever broken a single friendship in his entire life. He did not pressure students to adopt his precise and concise--even superb--writing style or to imitate his own scholarly vision. As a true historian, he felt the burden of the past in everything he did. The past lived in him.

Keith Hitchins, Professor Hitchins, is remembered by colleagues, friends, and students as erudite, dependable, and always distinctively dressed, with white shirt, dark dress trousers, Humphrey Bogart trench coat, and his famous green hat. He had all the illuminations of wisdom and none of its pedantry.

He will be deeply missed.

EULOGY in loving memory of KEITH HITCHINS, delivered today, Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at Bond Funeral Home in Schenectady, NY.

"To the residents of the town of Schenectady, to Keith's beloved graduate and postdoctoral students, to Keith's esteemed colleagues:

We come to celebrate a professor who changed all around him for the better: a historian, a patriot, a great teacher, and a pioneering scholar. He embodied so much of what is best in America: the values of a small town, the objective morality of his forbearers, a supreme intellect trained in the best of schools, a rise to prominence from humble beginnings, philanthropy, and the ambition to build a magnificent private library.
I was among the fortunate few who enjoyed Professor Hitchins's company daily as his student, and, upon graduation, as its very close friend and partner in research, writing, and reading. I sensed early on, ever since I have met him, that his modesty and low-key presence were hiding something precious that was worth recording every step of the way, every word that he uttered, every story that he shared. Twenty years later, the notes I took back then prove to be a great source of learning.

He used to say: "Pompilia, What are you aiming to prove?" This question of his captured some of Professor Hitchins's remarkable qualities: to start with, he liked to put thoughts in order by dealing with questions, simple questions such as what, and how, and why, which he found the most difficult to answer.
He used to say to students: "This is our last meeting. I learned much from you. You think it's one-way street, but it isn't. Everybody comes at issues from different perspectives, depending on each of you and your intellectual baggage." He was curious whether it was possible for people in general, coming from different cultures to understand one another. The problem, he thought, was not coming from differences in language or superficial cultural affinities, but the problem was something deeper, more native, fundamental, psychological that can't be reached. If each side interprets the event in utterly different ways, that leads to estrangement and hostility, deeper that misunderstanding. He hoped that two people witnessing an event could still be sympathetic to one another.

Over his five-decade career, he noticed that what has changed for sure was the intellectual climate. But instead of being critical, he explained wisely that, at some point, a new generation comes to the top and sees no reason to continue to do what their predecessors did. So, he told me, they keep bringing forward all sorts of arguments because to them it made no sense anymore. With each change in intellectual climate, we see the same kind of doubts, a lack of purpose, and a lost sense of mission.

He was a refined intellectual, but he rejected intellectualism. Intellectualism, he used to say, was devoid of life and values. He fully embraced Lucian Blaga's summons to create and to surpass oneself.
His energy, his optimism, and his zest for life were on display since the early hours of the morning. He could be found cheering up the staff at the coffeehouse, which he frequented every single day of the week. Then, he cheered up the history department secretaries where he used to have his second coffee for the day. Two cancers did not scare him to show up to work each day of the week, heart problems neither.

He was never opinionated, yet his views clearly emerge in consistent fashion from his writings as a whole.He never spoke of virtues but embodied them. He didn't gloss over mistakes and sins, but pointed to them in the kindest possible way. Go over his book reviews, and articles, and books, and the admonitions and suggestions are right there on the page, shrouded in kindness and understanding. For that reason alone, and he was brilliant writer.

He was fiercely devoted to his graduate students from his very first to his very last, loyal to his friends, and extremely fond of his parents, whom he cherished deeply, especially his father. His work and his being are the culmination of the upbringing that he received from his two Hitchins forefathers: his father and grandfather.

His sense of humor was one of my favorite things about him. What better way to make the stress of graduate school vanish for a minute than inviting me to have a coffee "să discutăm, să conspirăm."
I think it was no secret the longstanding admiration that I had for him. My friends who ran into me in parks and stores preferred to avoid me for talking too much and too highly of Professor Hitchins. It's a habit that continues to this day and I don't see it reaching an end soon. No one was more special than the other in Professor Hitchins's eyes. We all felt that he loved us all, each of us had a special place in his heart. Each of us felt that he was in our corner, no matter what. Through his passing, we all lost our best friend. In each email we received from him, he gave me new powers to confront life with all its difficulties.

He was the first to tell me that he was not perfect. Instead of flaring a temper, he would say "I'm not going to think about that!!" To disagree with me, he liked to pretend he didn't hear what I said, or he was pretending to be confused about things I just told him. So, he would make me repeat what bothered me until I was giving up in exhaustion. Just like the inscription in Frank Lloyd Wright's home, which Professor Hitchins and I used to admire in Chicago on his way to the airport: "Good friend, around these hearth-stones speak no evil word of any creature."

He was quick to forgive but never asked for forgiveness, instead he would say: "I heard you!" He knew how to laugh at himself, be jolly when drinking wine with friends, and show a self-awareness that was striking. He never doubted another man's sincerity and was always willing to learn from others. Even to the point of repeating over and over the same questions. I always wondered why he liked to ask the same questions over and over. In the same way "And there is nothing new under the sun. That which has been is what will be. That which is done is what will be done. The sun also rises and the sun goes down and hastens to the place where it arose... The eye is not satisfied with the seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing." (The Ecclesiastes, 1:5-11).

Conversations with him were always a privilege. He strove to do great things every day without relishing fights and disagreements, which he found small, petty, unworthy. He preferred sharing ideas in an elegant discussion. To him, there was no victory or defeat, but only hard work and surpassing himself every day.
What better way to honor Professor Hitchins's scholarship and nobility of spirit than following his example to reach out to others kindly, be open to all. As members of the historians' community, to learn from each rather than competing or comparing ourselves, and to uphold principles of hard work and dignity.

In the names of these principles, he demonstrated to all of us that there are things more important than money, career, power, and influence that make one a true historian. It's morality, ethics and belief. Professor Hitchins showed us what they mean through his exemplary life.

May God bless Keith Hitchins and may God bless the two countries he loved the most, his own and mine! He served them both with honor and grace."

Service Details

  • Visitation

    Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 | 10:30am - 11:30am
    Bond Funeral Home
    1614 Guilderland Avenue
    Tuesday, November 17th, 2020
    10:30am - 11:30am
  • Service

    Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 | 12:00pm
    Woestina Reformed Cemetery
    Route 5S
    Tuesday, November 17th, 2020
    Rev. Kent McHeard
  • Interment

    Woestina Cemetery
    Main Street
    Rotterdam Junction, NY

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Miha Wood and Greg Wood, Irina Gigova and Bryan Ganaway, and other have sent flowers to the family of Keith Hitchins.
Hand delivered by a local florist
Miha Wood and Greg Wood, Irina Gigova and Bryan Ganaway, and other have sent flowers to the family of Keith Hitchins.
Hand delivered by a local florist

Matei Costinescu

Keith Hitchins was a great scholar, but more importantly a most kind and generous person. Such human beings are rare, and this is one of the reasons his students adored him. He will be sorely missed.
Matei Costinescu

Comment | Posted at 02:23pm via Condolence

Katherine Verdery

I first met Keith while doing research for my first book, Transylvanian Villagers. One of the readers for the press had suggested I seek out this already renowned scholar, upon whom I had not the slightest claim, but this seemed unimportant to Keith, who invited me to visit him if I were to come through Illinois. I did so, looking him up while I was attending the U. of Illinois summer program in East European studies.
He impressed me at the outset with his combination of modesty and erudition, his ability to listen with discernment and offer useful comments without traumatizing his youthful interlocutors. Although he had many visitors as well as students, he never gave me the sense that I was holding him up; he was courteous to a fault.
Most of our visits after that first one occurred either at the AAASS meetings or in Bucharest. We would grab coffee or lunch and talk about whatever had most recently occurred in Romania, our current projects, or plans for a session at the next AAASS meeting. I wrote him periodically to request a loan from the "Hitchins Memorial Library," which already in 1979 was so stuffed with books that one could almost hear the rafters of his house groaning. Indeed, he was compelled to have his library rebuilt so that the books didn't bring the house down around him.
Keith was a gentleman in the full sense of the word. He appreciated the efforts of other scholars no matter their intellectual distance from him; moreover, I never detected in him the slightest trace of sexism. We were all scholars, trying to open up the past together.
Keith will remain in our hearts and in our work. Fie-i tarina usoara.

Comment | Posted at 08:00pm via Condolence

Dmitry Tartakovsky

Professor Keith Hitchins was a kind, supportive academic mentor and a warm, patient, and humorous human being. Many students of several generations, including me, will miss him greatly and remember him for many years.
Dmitry Tartakovsky
Comment | Posted at 04:37pm via Condolence

Kurt Brackob

I am deeply saddened to learn of Keith's passing. He was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was an outstanding scholar, a faithful mentor, and a devout friend who would never turn his back on you even in the most difficult of times. Keith was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. His loss will be forever felt by all those whose lives he touched, but his memory will live on and his scholarship will continue to influence generations of researchers.
Comment | Posted at 08:09pm via Condolence

Diana Jaher

My father and Keith first became friends in graduate school and were later colleagues for more than thirty years. My father called him a "gentleman scholar." I'll always remember the kindness he showed me after my father died -- taking me out to dinner several times: Silver Creek will always be "our" place.
Comment | Posted at 09:54am via Condolence

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    Company will offer you the opportunity to choose (opt-out) whether Personal Information is to be disclosed to a third party or to be used for a purpose other than that for which it was originally collected or has subsequently been authorized. For Sensitive Personal Information (when applicable), Company will give you the opportunity to affirmatively or explicitly consent (opt-in) to the disclosure of the information for a purpose other than that for which it was originally collected or has subsequently been authorized. Company will treat Sensitive Personal Information it receives from anyone the same as it would treat its own Sensitive Personal Information.

  4. Security

    Company shall take reasonable steps to protect Personal Information from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. No company is immune from Internet attacks or data breaches. Company cannot guarantee the security of information on or transmitted via the Internet.

  5. Data Integrity

    Company shall only process Personal Information in a way that is compatible with and relevant to the purpose for which it was collected or has been authorized. To the extent necessary for those purposes, Company shall take reasonable steps to ensure that Personal Information is accurate, complete, current, and reliable for its intended use.

  6. How to Access Your Information

    Company offers you choices for the collection, use and sharing of Personal Information. You may notify Company of your preferences, or change any Personal Information, by emailing Please be sure to provide complete account information so Company can identify you in its records.

    You may also stop the delivery of future promotional e-mail from Company by responding directly to any email you receive with a request to remove you from the mailing list.

3.Reasons the Company Collects Personal Information

Company collects your Personal Information because it helps deliver a superior online experience, gives you convenient access to the Site for browsing, and allows key features of the Site to function properly. In order to better provide you with this superior level of customer service, our Site collects two types of information (referred to in this policy as "Personal Information") about our visitors: Personally Identifiable Information and Non-Personally Identifiable Information. In addition, your Personal Information helps Company keep you informed about the latest announcements, special offers, and events that you might like to hear about.

4. Information Company Collects About You

Any time a guest or member (collectively “Users”) accesses the Site they receive a “cookie” from Company. Company uses cookies (small pieces of data stored for an extended period of time on a computer, mobile phone, or other device) to make the Site easier to use and to protect both you and Company. These cookies give Company certain Non-Personally Identifiable Information about your use of the Site. You may remove or block cookies using the settings in your browser, but in some cases that may impact your ability to use the Site. Company may also use pixels, widgets and other tools to gather such Non-Personally Identifiable Information to improve the experience of the website or mobile application.

Company may contract with third-party service providers to assist it in better understanding its Site Users. These service providers are not permitted to use the Non-Personally Identifiable Information collected on Company’s behalf except to help it conduct and improve its business.

When you access the Site from a computer, mobile phone, or other device, Company may collect Non-Personally Identifiable Information, which does not identify individual users, to analyze trends, to administer the site, to track users’ movements around the site and to gather demographic information about the user base as a whole. Company will not use the information collected to market directly to that person.

Company keeps track of some of the actions you take on the Site such as member profiles and pages you view. Even if you do not provide certain information, Company may obtain it from you profile or the pages of its Site that you visit. Company may retain the details of connections or transactions you make on the Site.

5. Information You Provide to Company

To become a User, Company shall collect certain Personally Identifiable Information, which you are required to provide. Information that is not required shall be deemed voluntary and you may provide such information, although not mandatory.

While using the Site, you may provide text, files, images, photos, videos, location data, or any other materials (collectively “Content”) to Company by uploading, posting, or publishing the Content on the Site. Frequently, Content you place on the Site will contain a picture of your face. Company may retain the details of connections or transactions you make on the Site.

Where applicable, when you interact with other Users on the Site, you may provide other information about yourself, such as political or topical views, religious affiliation, or marital status. Any information in a public forum is accessible by anyone, including people who are not members of the Site. Please be aware they may share information you give them with other Users you may not know. They may also share the information outside the Site without your prior approval. Company does not have control over the actions of its Users and accepts no responsibility or liability for their actions. Please keep this fact in mind when using the Site, and use care when disclosing Personal Information to other Users of the Site.

Company may also collect information from ads you click on when using the Site. Company may also keep track of links you click on in e-mails you receive from Company. This is done to increase the relevancy of the ads you see.

6. How Company Uses Your Personal Information

Company uses the information you are required to provide to become a User in order to insure you are over the age of thirteen (13). THE SITE IS NOT MEANT TO BE USED BY ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF THIRTEEN (13). If you are under thirteen, please do not attempt to register with the Site or send Company any Personal Information. Company may also use your age information to be sure you receive an age appropriate experience while using the Site.

Company will use the information it collects to provide, without limitation, services and features to you and facilitate payment for any Donations between Campaign Organizers and Donors and provide information to Campaign Organizers and Campaign beneficiaries. Company will also use the information to measure and improve the Site, and to provide you with customer support.

Company may contact you with new or updated products or services, designs, routes, surveys, or other related announcements from time to time. You may opt-out of all communications except essential updates. Company may include Content in the e-mails sent to you.

Certain software applications and applets transmit data to Company. Company may not make a formal disclosure if it believes its collection of and use of the information is the obvious purpose of the Site or its related application. If it is not obvious that Company is collecting or using such information, it will disclose its collection to you the first time you provide the information.

Company may use the information collected to prevent potential illegal activities. Company may also use a variety of methods to detect and address anomalous activity and screen content to prevent abuse.

Company may use your information to serve you personalized advertising. Company does not share your information with advertisers without your consent. Company allows advertisers to choose the characteristics of Users who will see their advertisements. Company may use any of the Non-Personally Identifiable Information it has collected in any fashion to select the appropriate audience. Company will not tell the advertiser who you are as part of this process. When you interact with an advertisement there is a possibility that you may receive a cookie from the advertiser.

7. How Company Shares Your Information

Company shares your Personal Information with third parties when it believes you have permitted such sharing, that it is reasonably necessary to offer services, or when legally required to do so. Company will not share your Personally Identifiable Information with third parties in a way that it thinks violates your privacy. The following non-exhaustive list contains examples of how Company shares or could share your information:

  1. If Site allows you to invite a friend to join the Site or become a User, and you choose to do so, the invitation will contain information that will allow your friend to identify you. The invitation may contain information about other Users your friend might know.

  2. Certain information you provide to Company may be shared by using the Site’s search function. This allows other Users to locate your profile and it allows new Users to find people they know on the Site.

  3. Company provides some public information to search engines. This information allows search engines to locate the Site. It also allows people to locate you on the Site using a major search engine. This does not mean all information you post on the Site may be accessed using a search engine.

  4. There are also times when Company may make certain Personal Information about you available to strategic partners or third parties. These companies may help Company process information, render services to you, manage and enhance customer data, provide customer service, assess your interest in products and services, or conduct research or satisfaction surveys. Without such information being made available, it would be difficult for you to use Company's Site and services.

  5. Company may also share Personal Information when it has a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect itself and you from people violating the Terms and Conditions of the Site. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, and courts or other government entities.

  6. Company may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if it has a good faith belief that the law requires such a response. This may include requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States if Company has a good faith belief that the response is required by law under the local laws in that jurisdiction, is applicable to users from that jurisdiction, and is consistent with generally accepted international standards.

  7. Company may disclose analyzed data in the form of purchasing trends or statistical data. No Personally Identifiable Information will be attached to this disclosure.

8. Business or Asset Transfer or Sale

Company may be sold, sell or buy businesses or assets of businesses, or merge with another business. In such transactions, Personal Information generally is one of the transferred business assets. Also, in the event that Company, a line of business of Company, or substantially all the assets of Company are transferred, Personal Information may well be one of the transferred assets. Company will make a reasonable effort to provide notice on the Site, and to notify you via e-mail to the most recent e-mail address that you have provided of any such change in ownership or control of your personal information.

9. Miscellaneous

  1. Privacy of Children


    Protecting children’s privacy is especially important to Company. Company does not knowingly collect Personal Information from children under 13, but because some information is collected electronically, it can appear to be the Personal Information of someone over the age of 13, and will be treated as such by this Policy. If a child under 13 submits Personal Information and Company learns that Personal Information pertains to a child under 13, it will attempt to delete the information as soon as possible. It is Company’s policy to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 and all other applicable laws. Therefore, Company restricts the Site and all other provided services to persons 18 years or older.

  2. Agreement with Policy and Continued Use of Site

    Unless stated otherwise, Company’s current Policy applies to all information that Company has about you, your account, and access to the Site. By using the Site, you consent to this Policy and having your Personal Information and data transferred and processed as described.

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