Birkbeck tributes to "jazzy, snazzy, complete historian" Hobsbawm

A celebration of the life and influence of legendary historian Eric Hobsbawm, who died last October at the age of 95, brought out family, friends and fellow scholars in force at Birkbeck, University of London this week.

April 28, 2013

In a speech of welcome, David Latchman, master of Birkbeck – which Professor Hobsbawm joined as a lecturer in 1947 and where he served as president from 2002 until his death – said he was someone who had “clearly made a difference to people’s lives”.

At graduation ceremonies, Professor Latchman recalled of Professor Hobsbawm, “the production line would be slowed down by people saying: ‘You influenced me! You are the reason I am here! You are the reason why I graduated!’ A proportion of them would be so excited at meeting their hero that they walked off the stage without remembering to shake hands with me.”

Roy Foster, Carroll Builders professor of Irish history at the University of Oxford, described the vastly learned Professor Hobsbawm as “a worldwide web in himself”, while Roderick Floud, provost of Gresham College, claimed he had “reinvented labour history” and “electrified social history”.

Leslie Bethell, a British historian of Latin America now based in Brazil, noted Professor Hobsbawm’s extraordinary fame in that country. Even in his 80s, when he attended a literary festival there, he was “greeted like a visiting rock star with girls in the street shouting out: Eric, Eric, give me a kiss!’”

Daughter Julia Hobsbawm spoke of her father as an inspiring but “deeply impractical” man who “once sat next to me on the bus for 10 minutes before he realised I was there”.

Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today, where Professor Hobsbawm was for many years their “most important and influential writer” discovered in him “the exact antithesis of the dull predictability often found on the left. You never knew quite what he was going to say, but you waited on his every word.”

Simon Schama, university professor of history and art history at ColumbiaUniversity, recalled standing in a bookshop “bug-eyed with silent illumination” when he first came across Professor Hobsbawm’s work as he was about to apply for university. Later acquaintance had only deepened his admiration for “bandit-hunting Eric, jazzy, snazzy Eric” as a “complete historian who defied all the little games of side-choosing” and “simply couldn’t get enough of the exhilarating peculiarity of the human condition”.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

Door peephole painted as bomb ready to explode

It’s time to use technology to detect potential threats and worry less about outdated ideas of privacy, says Ron Iphofen