Papers of John Atkinson Hobson

Scope and Content

The collection includes copies of 21 of Hobson's published works, an indexed volume of relevant press cuttings (1894-1914), a letter from Herbert Spencer, twelve typescripts of articles by Hobson, and some obituaries.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Atkinson Hobson was born in July 1858 in Derby, the second son of William Hobson, a prosperous printer who was twice Mayor of Derby. He attended Derby School and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied Classics and Modern Greats. He became a classics teacher, but soon turned his attention to economics. He challenged conventional theory, particularly with his critique of Say's Law in the 'Physiology of industry' (1889), written with AF Mummery. Unable to secure an academic post in his chosen field, he turned to journalism. HIs politics became increasingly radical and in 1890 he joined the South Place Ethical Society. His 'Evolution of modern capitalism' (1894) was probably his most successful book. Hobson, Ramsay MacDonald, Herbert Samuel and others founded the 'Rainbow Circle' in 1894 which issued the shortlived 'Progressive Review' (1895-98), though the Circle itself lasted 30 years. Hobson also became a follower of John Ruskin's economic and social theory and wrote 'John Ruskin: social reformer' (1898). His gradual shift towards socialism and the labour movement was shown in numerous articles on industrial and labour issues in the late 1890s and 'The problem of the unemployed' (1896). In 1899 he was sent by the Manchester Guardian as special commissioner to South Africa where he was able to study economic imperialism at first hand. He returned to Britain to campaign against the Boer War, by means of a speaking tour and several books, culminating in 'Imperialism' (1902). Over the next few years he made frequent speaking trips to the United States and Canada and was also a strong supporter of free trade. He wrote for all the liberal journals of the time, including lead articles for the Manchester Guardian. Books continued to appear, including 'The social problem' (1901) and 'The industrial system' (1909). In the field of politics he was chairman of the New Reform Club, a member of the Secular Education League and of the National Campaign for the Abolition of the Poor Law. He was also involved in the peace movement, and was a leading member of the International Arbitration League. During the First World War he was an important member of the Union of Democratic Control, remaining a member of its Executive for nearly 25 years. His membership of the UDC took him even closer to the Labour Party, especially after the Liberal split of 1916. In 1918 he contested, but narrowly lost, the Combined Universities seat as an Independent. He then joined the Independent Labour Party. Recognition of his status as an economist came in 1924 when he became a member of the influential Living Wage Committee of the ILP. He was offered, but refused, a peerage by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. His greatest economic success came in 1936 when JM Keynes recognised his importance in his 'General theory of employment, interest and money'. He died of old age in April 1940.


U DHN/1 - 21 Printed works, circa 1895 - 1938

U DHN/22 - 28 Miscellaneous, 1894 - 1958

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Modern political papers subject guide

Custodial History

Received in 1971