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article imageReaction to historian Eric Hobsbawm's death

By Tim Sandle     Oct 1, 2012 in Arts
Eric Hobsbawm, a historian noted for his chronicles of social history since the Industrial Revolution up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, has died at 95.
As the Digital Journal reported earlier, Hobsbawm passed away on October 1, following complications from pneumonia.
In summarising his early years, the BBC recounts that Eric Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, Egypt on June 9, 1917. He spent most of his youth in Vienna and later Berlin. Following the rise of the Nazi Party he fled to London and became a professor of history at Birkbeck College in London. Hobsbawm became a friend of the Marxist historian Ralph Milliband, father of the current leader of the British Labour Party Ed Milliband.
The Labour leader said of Hobsbawm's passing that he was "an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family".
Although Hobsbawm wrote many books, it is arguably his 1994 book "The Age of Extremes", which viewed events of the 20th century as being linked to the rise (and mostly fall) of the ideologies of communism, fascism, capitalism and nationalism.
His methodological approach always remained centered on the economic, drawing upon Marxist principles. The Guardian notes that "Hobsbawm's lifelong commitment to Marxist principles made him a controversial figure". However, the paper also notes that Hobsbawm's volumes analysing the 19th and 20th centuries are "acknowledged as among the defining works on the period".
Not all tributes to Hobsbawm have been glowing. Conservative historian Michael Burleigh, writing in The Daily Telegraph, criticises Hobsbawm's leftism and his support of Soviet communism ("a dogmatic refusal to accept that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a murderous failure"). Hobsbawm, however, renounced the Soviet approach in an article penned for The Guardian in 2009.
However he is viewed over subsequent years, Hobsbawm's writings on modern history will undoubtedly continue to be read and studied. He remained a strong believer in the lessons of history, stating in one interview for The Observer that "History is being invented in vast quantities … it's more important to have historians, especially skeptical historians, than ever before."
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