Eric Hobsbawm: A ‘national treasure’ whose politics provoked endless bitterness

David Kynaston in the Times Literary Supplement:

A NEW SORT OF HISTORY: NOT A THREAD BUT A WEB” confidently hailed the headline for an article on trends in historical writing included in the TLS’s special issue in October 1961 on “European Exchanges”, itself marking in the paper’s eyes the end of Britain’s long cultural isolation. The unidentified author – anonymity still the house rule – was the forty-four-year-old Eric Hobsbawm, a Marxist historian of growing reputation but far from a household name. Noting with satisfaction that “the established if unofficial orthodoxies of academic conservatism” were “increasingly on the defensive”, he accused those orthodoxies of having “confined the field of general history to the chronological narrative, supplemented here and there with ad hoc explanations, of the upper ranges of politics, diplomacy, war and to some extent cultural life”. Instead, he looked forward to the flourishing of a radically different approach, one forged on the terrain “where history, economics and sociology meet” – and where “ideologies have replaced nations as the chief disturbers of scholarly equanimity”. He did not promise it would be easy. For the historian, “to explain the changing texture of a web is technically much harder than to trace a thread”; while for readers, the new history was likely to be “a very much more difficult subject” than for “their fathers and grandfathers”.

More here.