Eric Hobsbawm’s death at the age of 95 brings to a close the life of a truly modern historian. Living as we do in an age when historians are constantly asked to justify their work by giving it a contemporary relevance, Hobsbawm was ahead of his time.
His seminal works, The Age of Revolution (1962), The Age of Capital (1975), The Age of Empire (1987) and The Age of Extremes (1994) showed a keen appreciation of how past social and economic movements had come to affect the present day.
In coining the terms “the long nineteenth century” – to describe the period between the French Revolution and World War One, and “the short twentieth century” – for the period between World War One and the fall of the Soviet Union – Hobsbawm emphasised the interconnection of events that helped create the social, political and intellectual living conditions of modern times.
Whether one is partial to his determined Marxist standpoint (which I am not), Hobsbawm’s ability to critique modern society and its associated ideological currents by skillfully examining historical processes is to be admired.
He will be sorely missed.