Raph Samuel

Raphael ‘Raph’ Elkan Samuel, born in 1934, was a pioneering social historian, radical thinker, writer and teacher who taught at Ruskin from 1962, founding the History Workshop movement.

Born into a Jewish socialist family in London, his father was a solicitor and his mother was a composer and partner in Jewish publishers Shapiro, Valentine & Co. Raph joined the Communist Party of Great Britain as a teenager and left after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956. He was awarded a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford where he became a member of the Communist Party Historians Group. Raph co-founded the journal Past and Present in 1952 and also co-founded the Partisan Coffee House in Soho in 1956 to create a meeting place for the British New Left. He married Alison Light, a writer and critic, in 1987.

Raph taught at Ruskin from 1962, and was a major influence, founding the History Workshop movement, which powerfully influenced the development of the approach to historical research and writing which is commonly called ‘history from below’. When he joined Ruskin he was appointed Tutor in Sociology and rather than subjecting his students to textbooks and vocational learning he felt there was an importance for them to tell their history, allowing them to become historians of their own past.

Raph pioneered the study of working-class history and brought to the writing and popularisation of history a huge amount of energy and creativity. He was an inspired teacher and the author of books and essays which expanded beyond recognition the intellectual and imaginative ranges both of English history and of the writing of history itself. Raph launched a series of national workshops on topics which were then unheard of – but are now mainstream – such as women’s history, the history of childhood, empire and patriotism, the changing definition of nations and the cultural diversity of Britain. He preached and practised a new vision of a popular history: a democratic history which put the everyday lives of ordinary people at its heart. He was described by Stuart Hall as “one of the most outstanding original intellectuals of his generation”.

Raph died in 1996.

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