ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Remembering Eric Hobsbawm

A historian who straddled the intellectual scene of 20th century social sciences, Eric Hobsbawm leaves behind a rich, layered and also contested legacy. A member of the path-breaking British Historians' Group of Marxist scholars, he stood apart both for the expansiveness of this academic output as well as his political positions. A survey of his varied contributions to academia and intellectual life presents a picture of a man, who, despite the realisation of the failure of socialism in the 20th century, kept alive the promise of the October Revolution.

Eric Hobsbawm was the kind of historian whose work, although largely on the last three centuries of European history, was relevant even to those of us who work on a different space and time. The process of historical investigation for him was not restricted to a narrow engagement with a specific subject, but with having to situate it in an extensive horizon involving many peoples and ideas. This vision and the logical inter­connections that he made were in part due to his unusual intellectual reach and in part to his creative use of Marxist analyses. These not only gave him a starting point for asking questions but also allowed him to bring his formidable intellectual perceptions of the past to bear on his historical generalisations. Historical writing was for him both an intellectual enterprise and an extension of understanding the mainsprings of ­human actions.

As an undergraduate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the mid-1950s, I was advised to attend Eric Hobs­bawm’s lectures on Political Theory at Birkbeck College in the University of London. The first few lectures were on Utopian and Scientific Socialism. They were stunning in their lucidity and sparked off connections that made me think beyond the boundaries of a single discipline. I was too awestruck to start a conversation with him. Gradually this changed when some of us joined in with students who gathered around him for coffee in the Birkbeck cafeteria.

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