On History

Eric Hobsbawm

Abacus 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001 https://dannyreviews.com/
On History brings together essays and talks, from the last thirty years, in which Hobsbawm looks at history's connections to politics, society, and other disciplines and at trends within history itself. He says in his preface that "in most of them the limits of what can be said in a fifty-minute lecture show through", but while they are almost all aimed at a broader audience, most of them should also interest historians. Some themes recur and some general points are repeated, but even when treating similar subjects Hobsbawm manages to find something distinctive and original in each presentation. On History will be a treasure-trove for anyone interested in historiography: even those who have major disagreements with Hobsbawm should find him usefully thought-provoking.

Some twenty pieces are included, spanning a broad range of topics. "Outside and Inside History", delivered to students in Budapest in 1993, focuses on nationalism and the place of historians in society. "The Sense of the Past" looks at perception of the past and at "social uses of the past". "Partisanship" considers both the dangers of partisan history and its advantages as a mechanism "for bringing new ideas, new questions, new challenges into the sciences from outside". "What Do Historians Owe to Karl Marx?" and "Marx and History" (and many of the other pieces) describe Hobsbawm's personal debt to Marx and that of the discipline more generally. "Can We Write the History of the Russian Revolution?" considers the use of counterfactuals in history and the problems of achieving any kind of consensus on contested topics. Other pieces include a piece on "grassroots history", a review of Eric Wolf's Europe and the Peoples without History, a two-part survey of the relationship between historians and economists from 1980 that is still interesting, a survey of the development of social history up to 1970, a piece "On the Revival of Narrative", and an Amnesty Lecture "Barbarism: A User's Guide".

November 2001

External links:
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Related reviews:
- books by Eric Hobsbawm
- more historiography
%T On History
%A Hobsbawm, Eric
%I Abacus
%D 1998
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0349110506
%P xii,403pp