Obituary: Professor George Rude

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The Independent Online
George Frederick Elliott Rude, historian, born Oslo 8 February 1910, Senior Lecturer in History University of Adelaide 1960-64, Professor of History 1964-67, Professor of History Flinders University 1968-70, Concordia University Montreal 1970-87 (Emeritus 1988-93), married 1940 Doreen De la Hoyde, died Rye East Sussex 8 January 1993.

GEORGE RUDE always said that his interest in history was kindled by his readings of Marx and Engels - from whom he acquired the directive to 'study all history afresh'.

The son of a Norwegian father and an English mother, George Rude was born in Oslo in 1910. In 1919 the family moved to England and George attended public school at Shrewsbury on a scholarship. He later went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1931 completed a degree in modern languages.

Rude's upbringing and political education were decidedly conservative. However, upon completing university, he travelled with friends to the Soviet Union returning a 'committed Communist and anti-Fascist'. (He joined the British Communist Party in 1935 and remained a member until 1959.) During the 1930s he held teaching posts at Stowe, where he came to know the writer TH White, and then at St Paul's School in London. During the war years Rude worked with the London fire service and pursued a part-time degree in History at London University.

Following the war he took up research on urban insurrections in the French Revolution which led to a Ph D (London) in 1960. He loved Paris and was fascinated by the French and their Revolution; but so too did he love London and, thus, his work was always comparative; in 1956 he was awarded the Royal Historical Society's Alexander Prize for his article 'The Gordon Riots: a study of the rioters and their victims'.

Rude's active involvement in the Communist Party Historians' Group from 1946 to 1956 was, as it was for so many of its members, a crucial experience in the development of his ideas and scholarship. In this 'school', along with such other outstanding Marxist historians as Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Eric Hobsbawm, Victor Kiernan, John Seville, and EP Thompson, Rude pioneered the writing of 'history from below' and the recovery of the experience and struggles of the 'common people' in the making of modern England. Recalling the individual and collective labours of the group, Hobsbawm has written of how naturally attractive the 17th and 19th centuries were to Marxist historians since they were the times of the English and Industrial revolutions, respectively; but, Hobsbawm notes, it was Rude who 'ventured forth alone' to open up the study of the 18th century beginning with a reconsideration of John Wilkes and the London crowd. Passionate about the past, Rude was in these same years one of Georges Lefebvre's 'three musketeers', exploring the Paris archives and rewriting the Revolution of 1789 'from the bottom up' along with Richard Cobb and Albert Soboul (a life-long friend until his death in 1982).

Rude was the author of 15 important books and the editor of several others. His greatest contribution was radically to transform the study of the crowd in history (past and present) through works such as The Crowd in the French Revolution (1959), Wilkes and Liberty (1962), The Crowd in History (1964), and Captain Swing (1969, with EJ Hobsbawm), and his articles collected in Paris and London in the 18th Century (1970) and The Face of the Crowd. Against conservative and liberal historians alike, Rude's project was to answer the long-ignored questions of identity and ideology, that is, 'Who actually composed the so-called 'mobs' of the age of revolution and what had compelled or inspired them to action?'

Rude was a celebrated lecturer and beloved teacher. Frozen out of British universities by the climate of the Cold War, he and Doreen departed for Australia in 1960 (when George was 50) to take up professorships at the universities of Adelaide and Flinders - leading Professor Paul Preston to refer to him as the 'exiled doyen of our social historians'. In 1970 Rude moved to Canada to teach at Concordia (formerly Sir George Williams) University until his retirement in 1987. In Montreal, he founded the Inter-University Centre for European Studies/Centre Interuniversitaire d'Etudes Europeenes to foster exchanges between the English and French branches of Canadian scholarship.

He also held visiting professorships at the University of Tokyo and at Columbia University in New York and the College of William and Mary in Virginia. In honour of his many contributions, his former Australian students established the George Rude Seminar which meets every two years.

Along with his monographs, Rude authored a series of extremely popular and important texts including Revolutionary Europe (1964, it remains an historical bestseller), Robespierre (1967), Debate on Europe 1815-1850 (1972), Europe in the Eighteenth Century (1972), Ideology and Popular Protest (1980), and, his final book, published for the Bicentennial, The French Revolution after 200 years (1988). Had illness not intervened, Rude's plan was to prepare a book on terrorism in historical perspective.

Though he was unable to write for the last few years, the twinkle in his bright blue eyes never dimmed nor did his capacity to engage one's imagination with reflections personal and historical. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Doreen, and by his many students and colleagues around the world who will continue to follow his guidance by asking who and why and studying all history afresh.

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