Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Archive of Historian Raphael Samuel 1934-1996.

This will be the first posting of what will be a diary of my research at the Bishopsgate Institute Library’s Raphael Samuel Archive.

I came across the Raphael Samuel archive while doing some research at the Marx Memorial Library. Dr John Callow Director of Archives at the Marx Memorial Library told me of the archive held at the Bishopgate Institute Library. The archive was given to the Institute 1998. The collection contains close to 700 boxes which are details of the life and work of a major historian of the Communist Party Historians Group. The purpose of my research will be to concentrate of Samuels work in the nineteenth century group. Some of Samuels work involved looking at nineteenth century attitudes towards Oliver Cromwell. Contained in the oral recordings is an interview Samuels did with fellow historian Christopher Hill.

Even a cursory examination of his papers showed a strange but organised research method and working practices. Some of his notes for future work were written on napkins or cardboard boxes. His lecture style reflected his research method Gareth Stedman Jones describes this “As in all memorable theatrical performance, power of delivery was inseparable from risk.

 A precise sense of time and timing was essential, if audience and speaker were to share the suspense of locating the right quotation from the jumble of manuscripts—a suspense which could easily turn into impatience or exasperation if the hunt went on too long. This happened spectacularly in Oxford on the occasion of a special Ford lecture which Samuel delivered on ‘The conservative view of history’ in 1994. There, nervous and perhaps exhilarated by being honoured by Oxford, for which he felt long-standing affection, he spent so much time on preliminaries and paper-sorting, that he barely reached the substance of the lecture at all”.

The archive includes:
1.    Working papers on the heritage of East London.
2.    Doctoral notes on the Victorian Poor.
3.    Papers regarding Samuel's contribution to Michael Young's sociological research on family and  Kinship in Bethnal Green.
4.    Records, oral history recordings and correspondence gathered whilst compiling East End Underworld, the life story of East End criminal and Barnardos boy Arthur Harding.
5.    Printed and manuscript material, including notes, correspondence, publication drafts, photographs, slides, pamphlets, annotated newspaper and journal extracts gathered
6.    Research for all of Samuel's major publications, including Theatres of Memory and Island Stories, along with contributions to many edited volumes.

Emma Cresswell, the Raphael Samuel Project Archivist, has posted a series of updates on the progress of the project every six months highlighting interesting finds in Samuel's files. The project will be completed in 2013 and the full catalogue will be made available via the Library's online public access catalogue. The archive can be found