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Thomas Lionel Hodgkin was born in 1910 and came from a distinguished Quaker academic background; his father was a history don at Queen’s college, Oxford university, and his mother was a daughter of A L Smith, Master of Balliol. Thomas had a privileged education at the Oxford Dragon school, Winchester, and Balliol, where he gained a first in Greats in 1931.
He joined the Colonial Service and was posted to Palestine. His experiences there turned him into a socialist and opponent of colonialism; he resigned from the service in 1936 just as the Arab revolt was beginning. He was impressed by the way Muslims, Christians and Jews worked together in the Palestine Communist Party. On returning to Britain, Thomas joined the Holborn branch of the Party and took part in the East End resistance to the fascists, notably at the battle of Cable Street.
Thomas went into adult education and in 1945 was appointed secretary of the Oxford University Delegacy for Extra-Mural Studies. He was particularly concerned with working class education in North Staffordshire. In 1946 he wrote a report for the Communist Party’s Education Subcommittee, but in 1949 he left the Party because he feared that anti-communist prejudice was interfering with his professional work.
He remained a Marxist and devoted himself to the study of African nationalism. He travelled all over Africa using local lorries, buses and trains, and met many of the leaders of the national liberation movements. His publications include `Nationalism in Colonial Africa’ (1956) and `African Political Parties’ (1961). According to The Times, Hodgkin did more than anybody to establish the serious study of African history. He made an outstanding contribution to the decolonisation of African history. After the military coup against Nkrumah in 1966, he had a letter in The Times defending Ghana ’s progress.
In 1976 Thomas rejoined the Communist Party. At his memorial service, when he died in 1982, Christopher Hill said that Balliol college and the Communist Party were the only two institutions Hodgkin had loved. He was married to Dorothy, the Nobel prize winning biochemist and member of the Pugwash group of scientists for peace.
See Michael Wolfers: Thomas Hodgkin, wandering scholar