Eric Hobsbawm (1917 – 2012)
Eric Hobsbawm is a renowned and respected British historian, social theorist and author.
In 2008, aged 91, he was interviewed by the Guardian for their Writers Rooms series.
I work in what used to be our son Andy’s room on the top floor of a Hampstead semi. The room has changed dramatically since it went from teen-age to old-age use, except insofar as it still looks chaotic, though in a different way. Indeed, much of it is: piles of research notes, print-outs, writings, unanswered letters, money stuff and newly arrived books, all retrieved chiefly by a no-longer-reliable memory. Because I am a historian who works surrounded by multiple papers, they tend to accumulate on the surface of my two desks round the lap-top without which I could no longer function, having been shamed into the computer-era in the late 1980s by my students in New York. The carrying case hangs on the door.
There’s little to distract me from work in this room. Apart from looking up references, I do my reading elsewhere. There are no comfortable armchairs. A picture of Billie Holiday (visible) and a red-black painting of Brazil (out of sight) are on the only wall not covered with bookshelves. That’s about it. There is a radio/record player, but I hardly ever listen. Music imposes itself too much. I like this light room, coloured by the books, spilling over from other parts of the house, but never socialise in it.
Some of the shelves visible on the picture behind the two desks contain books on subjects I still work on: nationalism, the history of banditry. Most of them, however, are filled with the foreign editions of my books. Their numbers amaze and please me and they still keep coming as new titles are translated and some fresh vernacular markets – Hindi, Vietnamese – open up. As I can’t read most of them, they serve no purpose other than as a bibliographic record and, in moments of discouragement, as a reminder that an old cosmopolitan has not entirely failed in 50 years of trying to communicate history to the world’s readers. And as an encouragement to go on while I still can.
Happy trails until we meet again …