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Renowned British historian, Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), was in kinship care as a teenager. 

Eric John Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Englishman Leopold Percy Hobsbaum and Austrian, Neely Grn. A clerk misspelled the child’s name, giving Eric Hobsbawm instead of Hobsbaum.  

After WWI, the family settled in Vienna where they struggled financially. In 1929, Leopold died. Less than three years later, Nelly also died, and Eric was sent to stay with relatives in Berlin. His uncle had a job with Universal Films. In 1933, aged sixteen, Eric (and his sister) moved to London to stay with other relatives. 

In London, Eric won a scholarship to Cambridge University, graduating in 1939 and going on to earn a Masters in 1942 and PhD in 1951. He served in the British Army from 1939 to 1946 and then began teaching at Birkbeck College, University of London in 1947. He retired in 1982 but continued to work as a visiting professor at various American and British universities. 

Hobsbawm had joined the Community Party in 1936 and with colleagues co-founded the historical journal, Past and Present in 1952.

Eric Hobsbawm became a noted historian of labor movements and nationalism, and a devoted Marxist until the end, “the last living Communist” some say. Others suggest that he has been responsible for disseminating Marxist thought internationally.

Author of numerous books, Hobsbawm is particularly well known for his trilogy – The Age of Revolution (1962), The Age of Capital (1975) and The Age of Empire (1987).  

His cosmopolitan orientation and his global reach squared well with his profile as a central and western European. He did not only study and interpret history, he became a historical figure himself: a unique individual, but thoroughly interconnected with the major developments of his time (Koca). 

Hobsbawm was the recipient of many awards, including being made an Honorary citizen of Vienna in 2008 and in the same year receiving honorary doctorates from the University of Vienna and Charles University in Prague. 


Elliot, Gregory. Hobsbawm: History and Politics. Pluto Press, 2010. 

Grimes, William. “Eric J. Hobsbawm, Marxist historian, dies at 95”. The New York Times, 2 October, 2012. 

Koca, Jurgen. “Eric J. Hobsbawm (1917-2012)”. International Review of Social History, vol. 58, no. 1 (2013): 1-8. 

“The last Marxist; Eric Hobsbawm”. The Economist, vol. 405, no.8805, p. 110. 

Image available here.