Tributes to 'extraordinary' historian Hobsbawm
TRIBUTES WERE paid at the Labour Party conference in Manchester yesterday to historian Eric Hobsbawm, who has died at the age of 95.
Party leader Ed Miliband described Hobsbawm, one of Britain’s leading intellectuals and an internationally respected figure, as an “extraordinary” historian, who had brought history “out of the ivory tower” and into the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
“Eric Hobsbawm was an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family,” he said in a statement. “His historical works brought hundreds of years of British history to hundreds of thousands of people. He brought history out of the ivory tower and into people’s lives.
“But he was not simply an academic – he cared deeply about the political direction of the country.
“Indeed he was one of the first people to recognise the challenges to Labour in the late 1970s and 1980s from the changing nature of our society.
“He was also a lovely man, with whom I had some of the most stimulating and challenging conversations about politics and the world. My thoughts are with his wife, Marlene, his children and all his family.”
Hobsbawm, a prolific writer and a historian in the Marxist tradition, was famous for examining the economic and social forces underpinning history.
He is celebrated for his three-volume series on the “long 19th century” – the Age of Revolution, the Age of Capital and Age of Empire, as well as a best-selling memoir.
His book The Age of Extremes: The short 20th century, 1914 to 1991, published in 1994, was translated into 40 languages and received many international prizes.
He was made a Companion of Honour in 1998 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006.
His family said in a statement: “He will be greatly missed not only by his wife of 50 years, Marlene, and his three children, seven grandchildren and great grandchild, but also by his many thousands of readers and students around the world.”
Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1917, and was orphaned by age 14. He was adopted by his maternal aunt and paternal uncle, and they moved to London from Berlin in 1933.
He joined the Communist Party in 1936 and remained a member even after the former Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956, although he signed a public letter of protest against the invasion.
In the 1960s his views moderated and he no longer supported Soviet-style socialism.
Hobsbawm, a regular contributor to the now-defunct Marxism Today magazine, supported former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock’s efforts to move his party back into the UK political mainstream in the mid-1980s.
Some writers, including Harvard University’s Niall Ferguson, regarded him as one of the best historians of the 20th century. Others, such as David Pryce-Jones, whose books include The Hungarian Revolution in 1969, said his support of communism affected his professional judgment. – (PA, Bloomberg)