From The Jewish Chronicle
(A shortened version was published on 17 January 1997)
Raphael Elkan Samuel, a distinguished social historian of England, and a wonderful
man, died from cancer in London on December 9 at the age of nearly sixty-two.
He left a profound mark on a whole group of ultra modern social historians in
Britain, and his influence began to be felt also in America. Apart from many contributions
in articles and books, which he edited, he inspired many ventures, especially
among intellectuals of the Left. Two years ago he published a monumental volume
Theatres of Memory, which was acclaimed as a masterpiece by the leading scholars
from the academic world, irrespective of Left or Right.
He was born in London on 26 December 1934. His father, Barnett Samuel, a traditional
and conservative Jew, a solicitor, came from a well- known family in Cardiff.
His mother, Minna Nierenstein (later after her second marriage, Minna Keal), a
gifted composer, was one of three partners of the well-known Jewish publishing
house and bookshop in the East End of London, Shapiro, Valentine.
Raphael was a very precocious child, more of an adult in children's clothing.
His parents marriage was an unhappy one, and after his father came out of the
army, they divorced. His mother brought him up, and after attending various unconventional
schools, he went to the progressive King Alfred's School.
As a result of the rise of fascism in Europe and the Second World War many Jews
joined the communist movement. This had a major influence on the young Raphael.
He absorbed many communist ideas on equality. As a youngster he took part in demonstrations
and helped to distribute leaflets.
In 1952, at the age of 17, he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where
his chief tutor was the eminent left-wing historian of the 17th century, Christopher
Hill, later Master of Balliol, and subsequently a close friend of Raphael. As
an undergraduate his erudition was already formidable, and he received a starred
After the famous secret speech of Khrushchev denouncing Stalin in February 1956,
and then the bloody suppression of the Hungarian uprising by the Soviet army,
the Communist Party went through a major crisis, and many people left. A large
number of Jews left because of the revelations concerning violent anti-Semitism
against Jewish cultural workers and writers. Raphael and his mother left also.
Raphael threw himself in great fervour to launch a Left movement outside the Communist
Party. He and the sociologist, Stuart Hall, founded the journal New Left Review,
and also founded a meeting place, a cafe, The Partisan where left-wing intellectuals
met, debated and argued about the future and present of the left. At the same
time he received a fellowship in the Institute of Community Studies, founded by
Michael Young, later Lord Young. From there he went to Ruskin College, Oxford,
the Trade Union College, to teach sociology, and later switched to social history.
In Ruskin College, Raphael found his proper métier, working with mature students
from the working class. He launched the History Workshop, which attracted hundreds
of people to attend sessions on Chartism, on the role of women in history, and
on local histories. It was a genuine populist movement, to try to understand history
in its many manifestations. The journal History Workshop became the harbinger
of many new ideas in history. Its emphasis was that people, ordinary folk, are
the creators of history rather than the politicians or leaders; the bricklayer
is as important as the architect. For Raphael, belief