Raphael Samuel
Raphael Elkan Samuel

(1934-12-26)26 December 1934
London, England
Died9 December 1996(1996-12-09) (aged 61)
London, England
(m. 1987)

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]


Grave of Raphael Samuel in Highgate Cemetery

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 a member of the Communist Party Historians Group from a young age, alongside E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and others, and would later study at Balliol College, Oxford under fellow member Christopher Hill. In 1957, he co-founded the magazine Universities and Left Review with Gabriel Pearson, Charles Taylor, and Stuart Hall, which would become, following its merger with The New Reasoner, the New Left Review in 1960. He also founded the Partisan Coffee House in 1958 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 on the eastern side of Highgate Cemetery.

Selected bibliography

Edited Collections


  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.
  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.