Eric Hobsbaum's Contributions to Modern Historical Practice

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The 20th century was an era that was defined by the emergence of rapid inventions, phenomenal authors, intriguing philosophers, and puzzling innovations, in a bid to better the modern day world. It was during the period that influential characters such as Karl Marx, Terence Ranger, Eric Hobsbawm, and Ernest Gellner emerged. The following essay expounds on Eric Hobsbawm who was famed to be among the leading historians that emerged during the given century. Eric was prominent particularly because of his influence, which was associated with him being a great political thinker, and historian, elements that transcended most of his allegiances. It is vital to note that most of the contributions proposed by Hobsbawm were Marxist’s based, and aimed at elaborating on different constructs of the society such as social history, European history, and new labor[1]. An analysis of Hobsbawm’s publications, “the age of empire”, “history of the modern world”, “the age of industry” and “Age of Revolution,” will reveal how the prominent historian contributed to the aspect of culture, and social stratification, elements that exist in today’s society.

Hobsbawm Overview

Eric Hobsbawm was born in Egypt during the era of World War One, and subsequently after left to Austria, where he spent a better part of his primary and secondary life[2]. While still in school he moved to Germany, although his stay was short-lived as a result of the prevalent wars, Culminating in him moving to England where he spent a better part of his life[3]. His passion for history compelled him to spend a significant part of his life in learning centers, where he predominantly acted as a teacher.

When tracing his growth, Hobsbawm was absorbed by the Marxist ideology while he was still in Secondary school, an aspect that he demotes emerged after he had read the communist manifesto[4]. It is interesting to note that his passion in history grew and developed after he joined Cambridge, where he pursued modern language or English History, topics that had a rich background in history[5]. It was from that point that he decided to concentrate on learning about History, a context that appeared to be worthwhile according to his compelling interest.

After finishing his studies, Hobsbawm began to actively engage in matters associated with history, an aspect that he was able to acomp0lish through the publication of several books namely; the age of empire”, “history of the modern world”, “the age of industry” and “Age of Revolution,” among many more. It was through the publications that Eric was able to stand out against most of his continental intellectuals who were active at the time[6]. Most of his works were characterized with a remarkable depth in knowledge and breadth. In addition to this, Hobsbawm works were also defined by an element of clarity, empathy, and analysis, aspects that resonated with the readers[7]. Cumulatively, it was based on his publications that humans celebrate the social and economic changes that exist mostly in the modern day. Conclusively, his works are still practical in today’s era, for they serve as a reminder of how civilization can be realized in the context of historical practice and application.

Hobsbawm Significance in Modern Historical Practice

Contribution to Expansion of Economy Revolution

One of Hobsbawm’s greatest impact in relation to modern historical practice is that he nurtured the expansion of class and economy from an academic perspective, elements that are still taught today within learning centers.  Thanks to his involvement in the communist party historians groups, Eric was able to attain an in-depth knowledge of how social systems function, an aspect that enabled him articulate on the issue in relation to past historical structures and comprehensive accounts.[8] In his publication, “the age of industry” and “Age of Revolution,” Hobsbawm expounded on the ideology of societal economic revolution by basing his argument on the French Revolution, as well as the Soviet Union’s collapse[9]. Additionally, the publications were effective in building up the ideologies of his influencer Marx, one of the prominent theorists whose teachings still hold immense value in Today’s world[10]. From a socialist’s perspective, thanks to the works of Hobsbawm, modern day man was able to get a clear account of the past, as well as a comprehensive perception of the lost voices that were at one particular point in time placed at the center stage. As an American scholar, he popularized the ideology of Marxism, by strengthening it, and promoting it, elements that attracted a wider following of Marx’s ideologies and relegated the profound impact of class materialists[11]. 

Contribution to the Cultural Revolution

Interestingly, Hobsbawm was also fascinated by the element of Cultural Revolution, a phenomenon that he clearly captured in his four-volume publication, the history of the modern world. In his elucidation of culture in the periodical, Eric briefly departed from Marxist’s attitudes, to primarily concentrate on the cultural influence of the ideology. According to him, modernist art, and cinema were powerful cultural forces that enhanced the nation’s value, without impacting economic determinants[12]. Thanks to his insight, modern day man is able to appreciate the revolutionary era of art that was defined by the presence of influential actors such as Matisse, Cezanne, and Picasso, an aspect that was nurtured by the Hobsbawm consistent adoration and embrace for the ingenuity that was embedded in the era’s masterpieces.     

In his publication, “the age of empire,” Eric expounded in the sense of power in the culture, an aspect that up to date has been applied by numerous historians who have attempted or are focused on rethinking social politics. At the time, Hobsbawm asserted that the Labor movement he vouched for had been masked with conservational practices, and lost contact with the modern culture which encompassed elements of feminism, masculinity, cultural constructs, among other postmodern ways of life[13]. Although, at the time, the author did not understand the impact of his insight, he was at the time setting the tone for the growth of cultural constructs in man’s way of life, given that in the present day feminism, masculinity, and sexual perception have emerged to be key factors of the cultural revolution.   

Contribution to Modern-day Governance Systems

In today’s era, realism represents one of the aged intellectual traditions that were crafted with the intention of fostering the need for international relations[14]. Although when the ideology is traced back into historical time, it is frequently associated with the intervention of individuals such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Thucy dides, Kenneth Waltz, and Thomas Hobbes, it is vital to note that Eric Hobsbawm played a significant role in advancing the ideology. As a construct realism was crafted to represent a multidimensional aspect of leadership, an element that nurtured the ideology’s fragmentation into three main strands of thought namely; neoclassical realism, classical realism, and neorealism[15].    

Eric Hobsbawm, who is commonly known as one of the supporters of Marxist ideologies, and a fanatic of neorealism, in his outstanding works “the age of empire”, “history of the modern worlds vividly elaborated on the general motives of national conduct, asserting “that the absence of a higher authority that states can turn to in a crisis, coupled with their interest of survival, leaves states little choice but to compete with each other for power[16]”. Evidently, Hobsbawm, in most of the identified influential works demonstrated on how the domestic political system varies from the international platform, by asserting that the latter was defined by an anarchical and decentralized structure with all of its parts equally, while the later was defined by a centralized platform with most of its parts unequal[17]: “None is entitled to command; none is required to obey”. Furthermore, Eric asserted that the units that make up the decentralized system are similar in functioning capacity, hence distinguished by their inherent capacity to perform the varied functions. Cumulatively, Eric Hobsbawm dismissed the elements that are associated with platforms such as state regime, reaffirming the importance of distributing the abilities of self-help system, in a bid to nurture the development of each unit, an aspect that embodies, “the means of protecting itself against others[18]”.

Accordingly, Hobsbawm asserted that “in any independent, and self-sustaining system, most of the units contemplate about their survival and the concern conditions around their existence”. When basing the argument of the famous balance of power ideology, it becomes crucial to grasp the anticipated results of a nation’s behavior, as the primary mandate of each unitary actor is to secure its survival, with the intention of reaching global domination[19]. In a bid to realize this aspect, Hobsbawm asserted that involved nations can choose between two alternatives. Either to pursue their internal efforts with the intention of improving military and capabilities, as well as elaborate on smarter strategies; or utilize external efforts that are focused on weakening the adversary’s already established alliance[20]. Cumulatively, the burden associated with the international system, provokes each state to pursue more effective strategies, authority, and influence all in a bid to achieve equilibrium of power that is present in the system.

Contribution to Market Systems Development

Hobsbawm’s publications, “the age of empire”, and “the age of industry” Structuralism was built on the need to elaborate on modern-day market structures with a majority of the quoted inspiration being founded on unique models including neo-Marxist theories[21]. The views represented by his approach were at the time, not common in the modern world as a result of harsh critique by several personalities[22]. Nevertheless, in Hobsbawm’s publication, “the age of empire” he asserted that the rampant fragmentation of economic systems was as a result of reliance on capitalist markets.  The argument under his approach laid blame on capitalism structure as the cause for unemployment[23], and suggested industrialization caused capital concentration increasing opportunities for collusion and as a result, high-profit margins were attained[24]. The demeaning factor is that prices of commodities in these industrialized countries would tend to rise more quickly than the less developed. Primary products are more relied on in the third world than manufactured goods and they possess minimal value compared to the manufactured goods if the third world were to attain economic development threshold they would have to export more and hence further sink into further poverty[25]. Cumulatively, it is evident according to Hobsbawm insight, that the emergence of new trends relating to globalized production relations has driven governments to focus on enhancing economic efficiency and consequently abandonment of a commitment to the welfare system. Unfortunately, the welfare systems have ‘rolled-back’ and are characterized by ineffective structures.

How Should Hobsbawm Contribution Be Regarded?

The content of Hobsbawm publications is precise, customized and resonates with Today’s society for it is written by a professional in the historical field, one who possesses diverse knowledge in cultural, economic, and governance structures[26]. As a reader, the publications are the fundamental importance of the realization of various systems at play in today’s society. Additionally, the periodicals also aim to offer insights that are crucial for the professionals in the respective field. It is essential to note that Hobsbawm publications are insightful and are presented based on a unique stylistic standpoint[27]. A significant difference between Hobsbawm publications and most of his colleagues is the structure and viewpoint presented by the writer behind the content[28]. Apart from differentiating in the overall layout, and depth, Hobsbawm publications are transcendently making them applicable even to the modern day’s context.

In conclusion, the insight represented by Hobsbawm, is one that cut across numerous generations for it was based on building upon communist limitations, cultural influence, government structures, and economic systems, all in a bid to elaborate on a functional society. The protruding need to manage the then current issues within the historical context, provoked Eric to craft numerous and diverse publications that have a profound effect up to date on social political and economic contexts.   As a reader, and a represented party in Eric’s publication, I would aim to use new means to address current challenges previous highlighted, by the historian as a suitable incentive to nurture a better future generation. Cumulatively, the contribution of most editorials produced by Eric establish an interlinking factor with current issues since most of the issues gradually advanced over time from simple past forms.


Beckert, Sven, Alfred Chandler, Lizabeth Cohen, Eric Hobsbawm, Jonathan Levy, and Bethany Moreton. "History of Capitalism." Journal of American History 101, no. 2 (2014): 503-36.

Evans, Eric J. The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-c. 1870. New York City: Routledge, 2018.

Hill, Christopher. The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714. New York City: Routledge, 2014.

Hobsbawm, Eric J. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Hobsbawm, Eric J. Workers: Worlds of Labor. New York City: Pantheon, 1984.

Hobsbawm, Eric J., and Chris Wrigley. Industry and Empire: from 1750 to the Present Day. New York City: The New Press, 1999.

Hobsbawm, Eric. "Some Reflections on 'The Break-up of Britain'." New Left Review 105 (1977): 3.

Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Extremes: A History of the World. New York City: Pantheon, 1994.

Hobsbawm, Eric. Age of Capital: 1848-1875. London: Hachette UK, 2010.

Hobsbawm, Eric. Age of Revolution: 1789-1848. London: Hachette UK, 2010.

Hobsbawm, Eric. How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Hobsbawm, Eric. On History. London: Hachette UK, 2011.

Lawrence, Paul. Nationalism: History and Theory. New York City: Routledge, 2016.

Panayi, Panikos. An ethnic History of Europe since 1945: Nations, States and Minorities. New York City: Routledge, 2018.

Robins, Kevin, Stuart Hall, Anthony D. Smith, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Philip Dodd, Patrick Wright, Robert Hewison et al. Representing the Nation: A Reader: Histories, Heritage and Museums. London: Psychology Press, 1999.


Panikos Panayi, An Ethnic History of Europe since 1945: Nations, States and Minorities

(New York City: Routledge, 2018), 12.

[2] Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution: 1609

(New York City: Routledge, 2014).

[3] Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-c. 1870 (New York City: Routledge, 2018).

[4] Evans 23.

[5] Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World (New York: Pantheon, 1994), 34.

[6] Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Revolution: 1789-1848

(London: Hachette UK, 2010), 20.

[7] Hill 1617.

[8] Sven Beckert, Alfred Chandler, Lizabeth Cohen, Eric Hobsbawm, Jonathan Levy, and Bethany Moreton, "History of Capitalism." Journal of American History 101, no. 2 (2014): 503.

[9] Eric Hobsbawm, On History

(London: Hachette UK, 2011), 29.

[10] Hill 1617.

[11] Evans 32.

[12] Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (London: Hachette UK, 2010), 48.

[13] Beckert et al. 506.


Eric Hobsbawm, "Some Reflections on 'The Break-up of Britain'." New Left Review 105 (1977): 3


Evans 34.

[16] Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p, 18.

[17] Eric J. Hobsbawm and Chris Wrigley, Industry and Empire: from 1750 to the Present Day (New York City: The New Press, 1999), 34.

[18] Hill 1635.

[19] Evans 48.

[20] Paul Lawrence, Nationalism: History and theory (New York City: Routledge, 2016), 35.

[21] Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 49.

[22] Beckert et al. 512.

[23] Eric J. Hobsbawm, Workers: Worlds of labor (New York City: Pantheon, 1984), 15.

[24] Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, 23.

[25] Beckert et al. 519.

[26] Kevin Robins, Stuart Hall, Anthony D. Smith, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Philip Dodd, Patrick Wright, Robert Hewison et al., Representing the Nation: A Reader: Histories, Heritage and Museums (New York City: Psychology Press, 1999).

[27] Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, 42.

[28] Beckert et al. 523.

November 13, 2023


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