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Rudé, George Frederick (1910–1993)

by Eric Richards

This article was published online in 2017

George Frederick Elliot Rudé (1910–1993), historian, was born on 8 February 1910 in Oslo, second son of Jens Essendrop Rude, a Norwegian engineer, and his wife Amy Geraldine, née Elliot, daughter of an English banker. George’s first language was Norwegian until the family moved to England in 1919. A scholarship winner, he was educated at Shrewsbury School (1924–28) and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with honours in French and German (BA, 1931).

Becoming a schoolmaster, Rude taught at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire, from 1932, before being appointed to teach foreign languages at St Paul’s School, London, in 1936. He spent six weeks in the Soviet Union in 1932, a visit ‘that changed his life’ (Stretton 1985, 45), after which he became an ardent anti-fascist and a committed communist, increasingly steeped in Marxist writings. For ten years he was active in the Communist Party while teaching at St Paul’s. During an anti-fascist demonstration (the ‘Battle of Cable Street’) in London’s East End in 1936 he was arrested and fined five pounds for obstruction. On 16 March 1940 he married Irish-born Dorothy (Doreen) Frances Claire Therese Willis (née de la Hoyde), a divorcee, at the Catholic Church of St Lawrence of Canterbury, Sidcup, Kent.

Rude served full time in the fire service during World War II. Apparently bored with teaching languages, he enrolled for a history degree at the University of London (BA, 1948; PhD, 1950). His political activities led to his departure from St Paul’s in mid-1949, but small grants enabled him to continue his studies. During a year of archival research in Paris, he focused on wage-earners during the French revolution, the subject of his PhD thesis, and he became a friend of Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul. Annales historians became a significant influence in his work. Returning to London, he taught history at Sir Walter St John’s School and then at a comprehensive school in Holloway. As a member of the British Communist Party Historians’ Group (1946–56), he worked with distinguished historians including Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, and E.P. Thompson.

In the 1950s (having added an accent to his surname) Rudé published several studies; he won the Alexander prize of the Royal Historical Society, and wrote the book which launched his international reputation, The Crowd in the French Revolution (1959). He extended his work to cover popular protest in England during industrialisation and, most famously, rural protest associated with ‘Captain Swing’ (1830–31), which produced an influential book co-authored with Hobsbawm.

Rudé’s efforts to enter the academic profession were unsuccessful, until in 1959 the University of Adelaide (influenced by the then professor of history Hugh Stretton) offered him a senior lectureship, overcoming qualms about his communist affiliations and fears that he might ‘let his own personal politics intrude’ in his teaching (NAA A6119). Adelaide provided a fertile environment for Rudé’s research; he was appointed to a professorship in 1964 and was awarded a DLitt (1967). He widened his researches to the social and political protesters among convicts transported to Australia in the early nineteenth century, and channelled his energies into a remarkable series of publications.

Possessing precise and prolific writing habits, Rudé was extremely well organised, and urgent to make up for lost time as a late starter in academic life. An effective, popular, and stylish teacher and an enthusiastic speaker, he accepted engagements around Australia, North America, and Japan. Although his membership of the Communist Party had lapsed, he was still monitored by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. For Doreen, who had grown up in Adelaide after her family migrated to Australia when she was an infant, the move to Australia was also fruitful. Not only did she become well known for her radio broadcasts on cooking, she and George made a formidable team, a ‘triumph of complementarity rather than similarity’ (Stretton 1985, 44).

In 1967 Rudé moved to Scotland as foundation professor of history at the University of Stirling, but soon returned to Adelaide, to a chair at Flinders University. In December 1970 he took up a position at Sir George Williams University, Montréal, Canada, remaining there until his retirement to East Sussex in 1985. He frequently returned to Australia, and was a visiting scholar at the University of Adelaide, the Australian National University, Canberra, and Latrobe University, Melbourne.

An eloquent pioneer and advocate of ‘history from below,’ Rudé sought to retrieve ‘the nameless and faceless people in history’ (Rudé 1967, 349), and he was a fine synthesiser of historical knowledge. He wrote on revolutionary Europe and the history of London with focus on riots and crime to expose the psychology of protest, the structures of crowds, their purposes and intentions, and their changing patterns of behaviour over time.  Most of all, he was an archival historian, a true empiricist, confirmed but not constricted by his attachment to Marxist theory. Authoring twelve books and editing three others, his work was influential, widely read, and translated into at least ten languages.

A man of ‘impeccable courtesy,’ Rudé was ‘mild-mannered ... in a very English way’ (Munro 2014, 151). Seminars named in his honour and two festschrifts reflected his eminence as a historian. Survived by his wife, he died of pneumonia on 8 January 1993 at Battle, Sussex, and was cremated.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Friguglietti, James. ‘The Making of an Historian: The Parentage and Politics of George Rudé.’ In Revolution, Nation and Memory: Papers from The George Rudé Seminar in French History, Hobart, July 2002. Hobart: University of Tasmania, 2004, 13–25
  • Friguglietti, James. ‘A Scholar "In Exile": George Rudé as an Historian of Australia.’ French History and Civilization: Papers from the George Rude Seminar, 2005, 3–12
  • Munro, Doug. ‘The Strange Career of George Rudé – Marxist Historian.’ Journal of Historical Biography, 16 (Autumn 2014), 118–169
  • National Archives of Australia. A6119, 2489
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Rudé, George. ‘The Mass Portrait Gallery.’ Spectator, 16 March 1967, 349–52
  • Stretton, Hugh. ‘George Rudé.’ In History from Below: Studies in Popular Protest and Popular Ideology in Honour of George Rudé, edited by Frederick Krantz, 43–54. Montréal: Concordia University, 1985.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Rudé, George Frederick (1910–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rude-george-frederick-17844/text29432, published online 2017, accessed online 20 July 2019.

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