This post was contributed by Guy Collender, Communications Manager at Birkbeck.

Professor Mark Mazower, of Columbia University, and Marlene Hobsbawm, Eric Hobsbawm's widow, at the reception following Mazower's lecture at the History after Hobsbawm conference.

Professor Mark Mazower, of Columbia University, and Marlene Hobsbawm, Eric Hobsbawm’s widow, at the reception following Mazower’s lecture at the History after Hobsbawm conference.

If evidence were needed of Eric Hobsbawm’s widespread and profound impact upon the study of history, the speakers assembled at the History after Hobsbawm conference provided cast-iron proof.

The gathering of such high-profile historians was testament to Hobsbawm’s influence upon the discipline, particularly his emphasis on the importance of social and economic history. It reiterated his ability to broaden horizons, inspire individuals, and, in some cases, generate dissent.

Familiar to students and scholars because of their seminal works, high-profile speakers at the three-day event included :

Mazower – one of Hobsbawm’s former colleagues at Birkbeck – delivered the opening lecture at the conference organised by Birkbeck in association with Past & Present. He described Hobsbawm (1917-2012) as an “inspirational figure” who “loved” Birkbeck  – an institution committed to adult education without the class snobbery that retarded the development of social history elsewhere.

Transforming history

Mazower charted the progression of Hobsbawm’s career and the simultaneous, and often related, transformation of the discipline of history. He explained how Hobsbawm was one of only four historians when he joined Birkbeck’s History Department in 1947, decades before the discipline became the professionalised and globalised profession it is today.

The audience on 29 April at Senate House heard how Hobsbawm’s participation in the International Congress of Historical Sciences in Paris in 1950 led to long-standing ties with French intellectuals, and subsequent cooperation between two prominent social history journals: Annales, and Past & Present. (Hobsbawm was one of the founder members of Past & Present in 1952). Mazower quoted the leader of the Annales School, Fernand Braudel, writing about Hobsbawm in 1968: “In my opinion he is one of the most important historians in the present world.”

Hobsbawm’s emphasis on social and economic history, and his internationalism were mirrored by the expansion of History departments, the increase in social history, and the emergence of world history and area studies in the 1970s and 1980s. Mazower added: “Hobsbawm was, in many ways, at the very centre of some of the critical intellectual and institutional developments of the discipline for several decades.”

The future of history

Professor John Arnold, Head of Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, encouraged the audience to think about current trends in the study of History, and, in Hobsbawm’s words, “dream forward.” He referred to “Eric’s extraordinary impact on the study of history” and encouraged argument, discussion and debate over the next two days of the conference. The conference speakers and delegates certainly rose to the challenge. Read more about the conference online on the History after Hobsbawm blog:


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