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Eric John Hobsbawm was born to a Jewish couple of English-Polish-Austrian background living in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was a merchant. After World War I, his family moved to Austria. Both his parents died by the time he was 13 years old, and an aunt and uncle in Berlin became his guardians. Hobsbawm was a gifted student and became a passionate Communist. After Hitler came to power, Hobsbawm was sent to London to live with another set of relatives. He won a scholarship to Cambridge University, where he was elected to the semi-secret society known as The Apostles and edited the student weekly, Granta. He graduated with highest honors and then obtained a doctoral degree in 1951 with a dissertation on the Fabian Society. In 1947 he began teaching at Birkbeck College of the University of London. Hobsbawm joined E. P. and Dorothy Thompson, Christopher Hill, and others to form the Communist Party Historians' Group and its journal, Past and Present. Unlike most of his circle, however, Hobsbawm remained a committed member of the Communist Party until his death. His first book, Primitive Rebels, was published in 1959. As The New York Times noted in his obituary, Hobsbawm "helped recast the traditional understanding of history as a series of great events orchestrated by great men. Instead, he focused on labor movements in the 19th century and what he called the pre-political resistance of bandits, millenarians and urban rioters in early capitalist societies." He was a visiting professor at Stanford in the 1960s, and in 1970, he was appointed professor. He became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1978, and was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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