Eric Hobsbawm

(b. 1917)

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BritishMarxist historian. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Hobsbawm went to school in Vienna and Berlin before moving to London in 1933. He gained his BA and PhD from King's College, Cambridge, where he took an active role in the Communist Party and met fellow Marxist Raymond Williams. During World War II Hobsbawm served in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Education Corps. He was appointed lecturer in history at Birkbeck College, London, in 1947, and apart from visiting positions in the US at Stanford and the New School, effectively remained there for the rest of his career. A prolific author, with an engaging style, and a capacious knowledge of the arts and sciences, Hobsbawm is equally at home writing short pieces for popular magazines and newspapers or in lengthy treatments. He even did a ten-year stint between 1955 and 1965 as the New Statesman's jazz critic, writing under the pseudonym Francis Newton (these pieces were later collected and published under Hobsbawm's own name as The Jazz Scene (1989). He is best known for the tetralogy on the ‘ages of world history’, commencing with the Age of Revolution 1789–1848 (1962) and progressing from there to The Age of Capital 1848–75 (1975), and The Age of Empire 1875–1914 (1987), concluding with the controversial Age of Extremes 1914–91 (1994), which offered an incisive account of what Hobsbawm called the ‘short 20th century’. Together with Terence Ranger he edited The Invention of Tradition (1983), a collection of essays which by demonstrating that many of the so-called traditional elements of contemporary life (such as Scottish tartan) are in fact of recent origin has had an enormous influence on Cultural Studies.

Further Reading:

G. Elliott Ends in Sight: Marx, Fukuyama, Hobsbawm, Anderson (2008).E. Hobsbawm Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (2002).

Subjects: Literature.

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