Eric Hobsbawm Memorial

On October 25th, 2013, Jonathan gave remarks at a memorial event held for world-renowned historian, Eric Hobsbawm. The afternoon of tributes was staged in the Tishman Auditorium at the New School for Social Research. Other speakers included Ira Katznelson, Eric Foner, and Amartya Sen. Click here to view video of this event.

Eric Hobsbawm

October 25, 2013

I first encountered Eric Hobsbawm as an undergraduate at Yale when I read The Age of Revolution. It captured my imagination as no other work had and played a role in my decision to become a historian.

I first met Eric at my inauguration as President of the New School in fall 1982.  I wanted the occasion to celebrate the rich mosaic of the New School and asked each division to recommend a person for an honorary degree who represented its values, traditions, and aspirations.  The Graduate Faculty selected Eric Hobsbawm.

As I conferred the degree on November 16, 1982, the year he became an Emeritus Professor at Birkbeck College of the University of London, I read the following citation:

Historian, teacher, England’s chronicler of our collective dreams and achievements.  You inspire scholars everywhere with your uncompromising attention to truth and fidelity to the human condition.  Your monumental work reflects a mastery of the social sciences. You elucidate the shape of modern capitalism and the meaning of class and culture.  Your knowledge spans Western Europe’s centers and peripheries, as well as the dynamisms of peasantries throughout the world.  You combine deep understanding of the aspirations and limitation of social movements with acute perception of the reasons and consequences of protest.  We celebrate these extraordinary contributions by conferring upon you the degree of Doctor of Human Letters, honoris causa.

Some months later Dean Ira Katznelson proposed we appoint Eric as a university professor.

The Graduate Faculty was having hard times having lost its authority to grant PhD’s in Political Science, Sociology and Philosophy.  Its very future was in question. We had begun to recruit a cohort of new faculty, including Ary and Vera Zolberg, Charles and Louise Tilly, appointments which signaled our commitment to rebuild.  And when Eric agreed to come, that was a powerful reaffirmation of the Graduate Faculty’s ties to Europe and a tradition of placing the social sciences in historical perspective.

Eric played a major role in founding the Committee on Historical Studies which gave shape to the intellectual character of the next chapter of the University in Exile.

Eric became a full member of our community interested in the whole university.  When the New School was considering the creation of a Jazz and Contemporary Music program, I turned to Eric for advice as I did on other challenges the university faced.

In all matters, he always gave me his best judgment and honest opinion, directly, sometimes tartly.  I listened to his private and public critiques with great regard because I knew they were always motivated by care for this university.  I appreciated his desire to make it better, admired his intellectual integrity, and trusted his sense of fairness.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to make common cause with Eric Hobsbawm as he searched for a more just, humane, and peaceful world.

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