Raphael Samuel

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Raphael Samuel
Born(1934-12-26)26 December 1934
Died9 December 1996(1996-12-09) (aged 61)
Spouse(s)Alison Light

Raphael Elkan Samuel (26 December 1934 – 9 December 1996) was a British Marxist historian, described by Stuart Hall as "one of the most outstanding, original intellectuals of his generation".[1] He was professor of history at the University of East London at the time of his death and also taught at Ruskin College from 1962 until his death.[2]


Samuel was born into a Jewish family in London. His father, Barnett Samuel, was a solicitor and his mother, Minna Nerenstein, was at various times composer and partner in Jewish publishers Shapiro, Valentine.[3] Samuel joined the Communist Party of Great Britain when a teenager and left following the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956.[4]

Samuel was awarded a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford where he became a member of the Communist Party Historians Group, alongside Christopher Hill, E. P. Thompson and others. He co-founded the journal Past and Present in 1952, and pioneered the study of working-class history. He founded the Partisan Coffee House in 1956 in Soho, London, as a meeting place for the British New Left.[5]

He founded the History Workshop movement at trade union connected Ruskin College, Oxford. Samuel and the History Workshop movement powerfully influenced the development of the approach to historical research and writing commonly called "history from below".[6]

In 1987 Samuel married the writer and critic Alison Light. Samuel's archive is held at Bishopsgate Library.

After Samuel's death in 1996, the East London History Centre of the University of East London was renamed the Raphael Samuel History Centre,[7] in honour of his role in creating it. The Centre was established to investigate and document the history of London since the eighteenth century. Consistent with Samuel's belief that historical studies should extend outside the academy, the Centre encourages research in the community, and the publication of materials ranging from monographs by established scholars to student dissertations and "Notes and Queries" features in the local press.[8] Since September 2009 the Raphael Samuel Centre has been a partnership between the University of East London, Birkbeck College and the Bishopsgate Institute.[8]

In an obituary in the journal Radical Philosophy, Carolyn Steedman describes Samuel's work:

Like Raymond Williams and Edward Thompson, he produced his historical work in interaction with working-class adult returners to education.... The standard charge against the history Samuel inspired was of a fanatical empiricism and a romantic merging of historians and their subjects in crowded narratives, in which each hard-won detail of working lives, wrenched from the cold indifference of posterity, is piled upon another, in a relentless rescue of the past. When he was himself subject to these charges, it was presumably his fine – and immensely detailed – accounts of the labour process that critics had in mind. But it was meaning rather than minutiae that he cared about.[9]

Raphael Samuel was interred at Highgate Cemetery.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Village Life and Labour (1975)
  • Miners, Quarrymen and Saltworkers (1977)
  • People's History and Socialist Theory (1981)
  • East End Underworld (1981)
  • Culture, Ideology and Politics (1983)
  • Theatres of the Left: 1880–1935 (1985)
  • The Lost World of Communism (1986)
  • The Enemy Within: The Miners' Strike of 1984 (1987)
  • Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity (1989)
  • Patriotism (Volume 2): Minorities and Outsiders (1989)
  • The Myths We Live By (1990)
  • Theatres of Memory: Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture (1994)
  • Theatres of Memory: Volume 2: Island Stories: Unravelling Britain (1997)
  • The Lost World of British Communism (2006)


  1. ^ Hall, Stuart (January–February 1997). "Raphael Samuel: 1934-96". New Left Review. New Left Review. I (221). Available online.
  2. ^ Stedman Jones, Gareth (1996). "Raphael Samuel". The Independent. Independent Print Ltd.
  3. ^ Abramsky, Chimen (17 January 1997). "Raphael Samuel". Jewish Chronicle. Kessler Foundation (UK).
  4. ^ Howkins, Alun (February 1997). "The People's Historian". Red Pepper.
  5. ^ Jones, Mervyn (11 December 1996). "Raphael Samuel". The Times. News UK.
  6. ^ Flett, Keith (January 1997). "Artisan of History". Socialist Review. British Socialist Workers Party (204).
  7. ^ "Raphael Samuel History Centre". uel.ac.uk. University of East London. Archived from the original on 9 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b "About the Centre". raphaelsamuel.org.uk. Raphael Samuel History Centre. Archived from the original on 10 January 2004.
  9. ^ Steedman, Carolyn (March–April 1997). "Raphael Samuel, 1934–1996". Radical Philosophy. 082. Available online.


  • McWilliam, Rohan "Samuel, Raphael" pages 1047–1048 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing Volume 2, edited by Kelly Boyd, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999, ISBN 1-884964-33-8.
  • Thompson, Paul "Raphael Samuel, 1934–96: An Appreciation" pages 30–37 from Oral History, Volume 25, 1997.

External links[edit]