Benjamin Schwarz: A Tragic Sense of Life: Remembering Two Great Historians
Benjamin Schwarz is The Atlantic’s literary editor and national editor.
Within five days of each other, the English speaking world's two greatest historians to have emerged from the Marxist tradition have died: Eugene Genovese, on September 26, and Eric Hobsbawm, the man whom Genovese described as "the strongest influence on my work," on October 1.
Genovese's subject was the masters and slaves of the antebellum South. The subjects of Hobsbawm books ranged from Latin American bandits to jazz (we shared a great affection for the now-closed jazz club Bradley's, on University Place in New York; I introduced him to Smalls, a tiny club in a basement on Tenth Street that kept extremely late hours), but his most lasting masterpiece is his magisterial multi-volume history of the "long nineteenth century" (1789-1914) -- The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, and The Age of Empire - -that the London Observer famously described as "part of the mental furniture of educated Englishmen."
Both men were guided by a cold-eyed astringency, along with a tragic sense of life; both were intellectually -- and physically -- fearless; both rigorously separated their politics from their scholarship. I knew them -- Hobsbawm casually, though we talked about jazz with some intensity and responded to each other's work on international political economy at some length; Genovese somewhat more than casually -- and admired them deeply, though not without reservations. I always found Genovese deeply charming and warmly wise, but I knew him to be someone not to cross....
comments powered by Disqus
- Revised AP U.S. History Standards Will Emphasize American Exceptionalism
- In a county that tried to amend U.S. history course, a lesson in politics
- Overhauling La Guardia, an Airport With a Historical Name but a Tarnished Image
- Now it can be told: The weakening of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the crowning achievement of GOP partisans who detested the law
- Japanese textbooks may sanitize history, but comic art books don't
- Historians Against the War gathering signatures for new resolution to AHA on alleged violations of academic freedom in Israel
- Academic Seeks Death Certificate for Outlaw Billy the Kid
- Murderer of historian of Czech Jewry goes on trial
- Election results are in for the American Historical Association
- Nial Ferguson warns Obama’s bet on Iran has low odds of success