Christopher Hill (historian)
Hill was born on 6 February 1912, Bishopthorpe Road, York, to Edward Harold Hill and Janet Augusta (née Dickinson). His father was a solicitor and the family were devout Methodists. He attended St Peter's School, York. At the age of 16, he sat his entrance examination at Balliol College, University of Oxford. The two history tutors who marked his papers, recognised his ability and offered him a place to forestall any chance he might go to the University of Cambridge. In 1931, Hill had a prolonged holiday in Freiburg, Germany, where he witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party; he later said it contributed significantly to the radicalisation of his politics.
He matriculated into Balliol College in 1931. In 1932, he won the Lothian Prize. He graduated with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in modern history in 1934. Whilst at Balliol, Hill became a committed Marxist and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the year he graduated.
Early academic career and war service
After graduating, he became a fellow of All Souls College. In 1935, he undertook a ten-month trip to Moscow, Soviet Union. There he became fluent in Russian and studied Soviet historical scholarship, particularly that relating to Britain. After returning to England in 1936, he accepted a teaching position as an assistant lecturer at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. During his time at Cardiff, Hill attempted to join the International Brigade and fight in the Spanish Civil War, but was rejected. Instead, he was active in helping Basque refugees, displaced by the war. After two years at Cardiff, he returned to Balliol College in 1938 as a fellow and tutor of history.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the British Army, initially as a Private in the Field Security Police. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 2 November 1940 with the service number 156590. That same year, he took part in a debate among many Marxist historians. At around this time, Hill started to publish his articles and reviews about 17th century English history. On 19 October 1941, he transferred to the Intelligence Corps. He was seconded to the Foreign Office from 1943 until the war ended.
Later academic career and politics
Hill returned to Oxford University after the war to continue his academic work. In 1946, Hill and many other Marxist historians formed the Communist Party Historians Group. In 1949, he applied to be the Chair of History at the newly created Keele University, but was turned down because of his Communist Party affiliations. He helped create the journal Past and Present in 1952, that focused on Social history.
Hill was becoming discontented with the lack of democracy in the Communist Party. However, he stayed in the party, unlike many other intellectuals, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. He finally left the party in the spring of 1957 when one of his reports to the party congress was rejected.
After 1956, Hill's career ascended to new heights. His studies on 17th century English history were widely acknowledged and recognised. It was also the year of the publication of his first academic book; Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament. These were based on the study of printed sources accessible in the Bodleian Library and on the secondary works produced by other academic historians rather than on research in the surviving archives. In 1965, Hill was elected the Master of Balliol College. He held the post from 1965 to 1978, when he retired (he was replaced by Anthony Kenny). Among those of his students at Balliol was Brian Manning, who went on to develop understanding of the English Revolution.
Many of Hill's most notable studies focused on 17th century English history. His books include Puritanism and Revolution (1958), Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (1965 and revised in 1996), The Century of Revolution (1961), AntiChrist in 17th-century England (1971), The World Turned Upside Down (1972) and many others.
However, the intellectual tide later turned in favour of the so-called revisionism, which rejected the analyses of Marxist and socialist historians of Hill's generation and advocated, as an alternative to them, more detailed study of the constitutional and political, cultural and intellectual history of the early to mid-17th centuries. Hill's later works showed that he continued to work within the parameters of his earlier preoccupations and consequently lost influence upon younger historians. Even so, he was prolific in his publications until the mid-1990s even if he no longer occupied the intellectual centre-stage.
Hill married Inez Waugh (née Bartlett) on 17 January 1944. The 23 year old was the ex-wife of Ian Anthony Waugh and daughter of an army officer, Gordon Bartlett. Together they had a daughter, Fanny, who drowned while holidaying in Spain in 1986. Their marriage broke down after ten years.
His second wife was Bridget Irene Mason (née Sutton), the ex-wife of Stephen Mason, and a fellow communist and historian. They married on 2 January 1956. Their first daughter Kate died in a car accident in 1957.They had two other children; Andrew (born 1958) and Dinah (born 1960).
- The English Revolution, 1640 (1940, 3rd ed. 1955), ISBN 0-85315-044-3 (1987 reprint) (On-line text at Marxists.org)
- Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1947), ISBN 0-14-013535-9 (1993 reprint)
- Economic Problems of the Church: From Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (1956), ISBN 0-586-03528-1 (1971 reprint)
- Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century (1958), ISBN 0-7126-6722-9 (2001 reprint)
- The Century of Revolution, 1603–1714 (1961, 2nd. ed. 1980), ISBN 0-17-712002-9
- Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (1964), ISBN 0-7126-6816-0 (2003 reprint)
- Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (1965, rev. 1997), ISBN 0-19-820668-2
- Reformation to Industrial Revolution: A Social and Economic History of Britain, 1530–1780 (1967, rev. ed. 1969), ISBN 0-14-020897-6
- God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (1970), ISBN 0-297-00043-8
- Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (1971, rev. ed. 1990), ISBN 0-86091-997-8
- The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (1972), ISBN 0-85117-025-0
- Change and Continuity in Seventheenth-Century England (1974, rev. ed. 1991), ISBN 0-300-05044-5
- Milton and the English Revolution (1977), ISBN 0-571-10198-4
- The World of the Muggletonians (1983), ISBN 0-85117-226-1
- The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries (1984), ISBN 0-571-13237-5
- The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill (3 vols.)
- A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628–1688 (1988), ISBN 0-19-812818-5 -- published in the United States as A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1688 (1989), ISBN 0-394-57242-4
- A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England (1990), ISBN 0-415-04833-8
- The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (1992), ISBN 0-7139-9078-3
- Liberty Against The Law: Some Seventeenth-Century Controversies (1996), ISBN 0-14-024033-0
- Adamo, Pietro "Christopher Hill e la rivoluzione inglese: itinerario di uno storico" pages 129–158 from Societá e Storia, Volume 13, 1990.
- Clark, J. C. D. Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
- Davis, J. C. Myth and History: the Ranters and the Historians, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
- Eley, Geoff and Hunt, William (editors) Reviving the English Revolution: Reflections and Elaborations on the Work of Christopher Hill, London: Verso, 1988.
- Fulbrook, Mary "The English Revolution and the Revisionist Revolt" pp. 249–264 from Social History, Volume 7, 1982.
- Hexter, J. H. "The Burden of Proof", Times Literary Supplement, October 24, 1975.
- Hobsbawm, Eric "'The Historians Group' of the Communist Party" from Rebels and Their Causes: Essays in Honor of A. L. Morton, edited by Maurice Cornforth, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1978.
- Kaye, Harvey J. The British Marxist Historians: an introductory analysis, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984.
- Morrill, John "Christopher Hill" pp. 28–29 from History Today Volume 53, Issue # 6, June 2003.
- Pennington, D. H. & Thomas, Keith (editors) Puritans and Revolutionaries: essays in seventeenth-century history presented to Christopher Hill, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.
- Pennington, Donald. "John Edward Christopher Hill", in British Academy, Proceedings of the British Academy: Volume 130: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, IV Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 23–49.
- Richardson, R. C. The Debate on the English Revolution Revisited, London: Methuen, 1977.
- Samuel, Raphael "British Marxist Historians, 1880–1980" pp. 21–96 from New Left Review, Volume 120, March–April 1980.
- Schwarz, Bill "'The People' in History: the Communist Party Historians' Group, 1946–56" from Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics, edited by Richard Johnson, London: Hutchinson, 1982.
- Underdown, David "Radicals in Defeat", New York Review of Books, March 28, 1985.
- "Hill, (John Edward) Christopher (1912–2003)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. January 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Obituary: Christopher Hill". The Guardian. 26 February 2003. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 15 November 1940. Retrieved 2012-06-29.
- The London Gazette: . 25 November 1941. Retrieved 2012-06-29.
- "Hill [née Sutton], Bridget Irene (1922–2002)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. January 2006. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
- Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution – In Honor of Christopher Hill 1912–2003
- "Christopher Hill: Obituary at The Times, February 26, 2003.
- Hunt, Tristram. "Back when it mattered", The Guardian, March 5, 2003.
- Linebaugh, Peter. "An American Tribute to Christopher Hill" at the CounterPunch, May 17, 2003.
- Manning, Brian. The legacy of Christopher Hill, International Socialism (2003)
David Lindsay Keir
|Master of Balliol College, Oxford