Monday, October 1, 2012

E J HOBSBAWM: A TRIBUTE TO A HISTORIAN

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books Writing History is not easy and to write the histories that endure is one of the most difficult intellectual tasks and E J Hobsbawm who dies in England yesterday epitomised this truth to the fullest extent. Along with Rodney Hilton, Christopher Hill and a handful of young activists of the British Communist Party, E J Hobsnawm was the founder of the Past&Present Society, a historical forum which pioneered the use of Marxist and Marxian method to the study of the past. EJ Howsbawm was also a rigorous advocate of the theoretical mode of apprehending the past which rejected the naive narrative of political and military events as the backbone of Historiography. The rise of the Nation State in the nineteenth century made it necessary for the newly emerged nations to seek legitimacy for their existence in the past and following the German historian Ranke, the professional historians rallied around the war cry of nationalism. The Marxist historians avoided the allure of nationalism, but fell to the seductive charms of the Communist World Revolution. E J Hobsbawm was an early adherent of this ideological label as he himself says in his extremely lucid autobiography. Hobsbawm can be called a social historian in the most complete sense of the term because he believed that events in history can only be explained when they are placed in the context of society in which the events are rooted. He is however not a blind follower of the economic deterministic model for explaining the past. Individuals act out of choice not necessity,but their choice is largely structured by circumstances transmitted through time. His best work in which this method of social history is worked out is his study of Bandits. This elegant work along with its companion volume, Primitive Rebels tries to explain social banditry in terms of a society which was transforming itself from an agrarian or peasant society to one in which commerce and industry were becoming increasingly salient. In Labouring Men, Hobsbawm tried to unravel the culture of the English working class as it was changing from an artisanal class to a work force in the newly industriaslizing parts of England even as it was reeling from the after effects of the enclosure movement. Hobsbawm historiography was rooted in the joyous optimism which as he is not tired of pointing out was inherited from his Jewish mother. There is a purpose to human existence and it is the historian's sacred duty to document the richness and clour inherent of man's struggle for survival. This meaning which the study of history imparts has been virtually thrown away by a whole generation oh historians who marched under the banner of post colonialism and literary perspectives. By diminishing history and making Historiography a variant of "discourse" and a discourse inflected with power in the Saidian sense, history stood impoverished and it was left to E J Hobsbawm to soldier on tirelessly against the demons of deconstruction and relativism. The death of E J Hobsbawm is a tragic loss to the world of History and this blogger not a Marxist but a historian, pay my tribute to a great historian whose work will continue to inspire generations of men and women who believe that human life has meaning and History is the only means available to record it,

1 comment:

city said...

thanks for sharing..