‘We Still Have Much to Learn from the Seventeenth Century’

Following as it does from that of Rodney Hilton last June, the recent death of Christopher Hill at the age of 91 marks the passing of another important member of that remarkable levy of twentieth-century British Marxist Historians (prominent in whose ranks stand, amongst others, Maurice Dobb, Eric Hobsbawm, Victor Kiernan, George Rudé, Dorothy Thompson, E P Thompson, Raphael Samuel, John Saville and Raymond Williams). Hill, however, uniquely among this pantheon, was able to win an unprecedented hearing and an acceptance within mainstream academe on his own terms as a serious historian in his own right; unlike, for example, E P Thompson, who shunned the pursuit of academic glory, preferring in its place a lifelong commitment to active politics (for which he deservedly won the respect of generations of footsoldiers of the left), or Hobsbawm, whose florescent reputation these days is rather more of the Sunday-supplement variety. In fact, such was Hill’s mainstream prestige within British – or rather English – academia that his interpretation on his speciality subject – seventeenth-century England, or, to put it another away, the English Revolution and civil war – although not nowadays accepted as the near orthodoxy it once was, is still for many entering the fray of debate around this period a necessary starting point, even if a starting point from which to develop a critique. Thus any assessment that is drawn up of Hill’s intellectual career must take account of both of the elements that make up the double-handed adjective ‘Marxist historian’: how did Marxist theory affect Hill’s work, and to what degree was he as a historian successful in developing a Marxist account of English-British history within a non-Marxist, if not actively anti-Marxist, academic milieu?

More (pdf: 91KB): We Still Have Much to Learn from the Seventeenth Century

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