Christopher Hill Remembered

John Morrill remembers and assesses the Marxist historian of the English Revolution, who died recently.

The extraordinary expansion of universities in the 1960s and 1970s placed a huge responsibility on the generation of graduate teachers who were training up the young scholars who would fill the legion vacancies in expanding campuses. The field of early modern British history was especially vibrant, and those who taught in the major universities of the English-speaking world had a special responsibility for the development of the subject. And they grasped it. In America, the colossi were Jack Hexter at Yale and Lawrence Stone at Princeton; in Cambridge Geoffrey Elton and Jack Plumb; in London John Neale and Joel Hurstfield; and in Oxford Hugh Trevor-Roper and Christopher Hill. Now they are dead, and the one to outlive the others, in life and perhaps in reputation, was Christopher Hill. His death marks the end of an epoch.

Hill was born on February 6th, 1912, and died on  February 24th, 2003. He was born into comfortable circumstances, the son of a York solicitor who was also a stern Methodist. This combination of material prosperity and intellectual non-conformity was, transmuted, to be the key to his life. He always seemed at ease combining the creatures comforts of college life, of homes in leafy North Oxford and ‘unspoiled’ Périgord, with intellectual Marxism and an admiration for Stalin’s Russia that outlived Stalin himself. He traded his parents’ religious radicalism for a secular variety and lived with the contradictions.

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