RIP, Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012)
I am very sad to report that the eminent British historian has passed away at 95. He lived an amazing life, as recounted in the Guardian‘s lengthy obituary today. Here is a snippet:
If Eric Hobsbawm had died 25 years ago, the obituaries would have described him as Britain’s most distinguished Marxist historian and would have left it more or less there. Yet by the time of his death at the age of 95, Hobsbawm had a achieved a unique position in the country’s intellectual life. In his later years Hobsbawm became arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind, recognised if not endorsed on the right as well as the left, and one of a tiny handful of historians of any era to enjoy genuine national and world renown.
Unlike some others, Hobsbawm achieved this wider recognition without in any major way revolting against either Marxism or Marx. In his 94th year he published How to Change the World, a vigorous defence of Marx’s continuing relevance in the aftermath of the banking collapse of 2008-10. What is more, he achieved his culminating reputation at a time when the socialist ideas and projects that animated so much of his writing for well over half a century were in historic disarray, and worse – as he himself was always unflinchingly aware.
In a profession notorious for microscopic preoccupations, few historians have ever commanded such a wide field in such detail or with such authority. To the last, Hobsbawm considered himself to be essentially a 19th-century historian, but his sense of that and other centuries was both unprecedentedly broad and unusually cosmopolitan.
I had the pleasure of taking European history with Hobsbawm when I was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research in the early 90s — when he was already in his 70s. He was an amazing lecturer, a very nice person, and could drink his students under the table with ease.
I’ve been planning for some time to re-read Hobsbawm’s magisterial “Age” series: The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (1962); The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (1975); The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (1987); and The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 (1994). They are phenomenal books; I can’t recommend them highly enough.
He will be missed.