Samuel Finer Papers: Collection-level Description

Scope and Content

Papers of the polotical scientist Samuel Finer. The collection comprises research notes, cuttings, index cards, background material and drafts for Professor Finer's monumental The History of Government from the Earliest Times (Oxford University Press, 1997); and typescript and manuscript drafts of this work. There are notes of earlier publications; lecture notes on public administration and comparative government; files of research notes and articles on various aspects of the history of government; correspondence files with other academics, publishers, students, and universities and organisations Finer was involved with. and offprints and copies of articles and papers by Finer and others. Notes on students supervised. The collection is highly significant for studies of the history of government and historiography.

Administrative / Biographical History

Samuel Finer was born on 22 September 1915, the third son of poor Romanian Jewish immigrants, who ran a greengrocer's stall at Chapel Street market, Islington. His brother, Herman, was also a distinguished political scientist, who emigrated to the USA, and Finer claimed his meritocratic example was an early inspiration. Finer was educated at Holloway School, where he won a scholarship to study at Trinity College, Oxford. He took a double first in modern history and Modern Greats, after which he began research on the Benthamite civil servant, Sir Edwin Chadwick. During the War, he served in the Royal Signals where he rose to the rank of captain. From 1946-1950, Finer taught politics at Balliol College, where he acquired a reputation as an impressive teacher and lecturer. In 1950, he was appointed Professor of Political Institutions at the new University of North Staffordshire (Keele), serving in this post until 1966. In the same year, he transferred to head the department of government at Manchester University, where he successfully contributed to the building up its reputation. In 1974, he was made Gladstone Professor of Government and Administration at the University of Oxford, retiring from this post in 1982.

Finer had a reputation as an innovative political scientist and a pioneer in the academic study of political institutions in the UK. His first book, The Life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick , (1952) was a product of his postgraduate research. This was followed by Anonymous Empire , (1958), a pathbreaking study of pressure groups and lobbying in the UK . A Primer of Public Administration , followed in 1959, and in 1962, he produced a short but highly original study of the role of the military in politics, The Man on Horseback . He also published an edition of the writings of the Italian sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, Pareto: Sociological Writings , (1966), a very successful textbook, Comparative Government , (1970), and Britain's Changing Party System , (1980). In retirement, Finer worked on his magnum opus,The History of Government from the Earliest Times , which was unfinished on his death, and was published posthumously.

Samuel Finer was one of the most important figures in the development of political studies as an academic subject in the UK. He was a very effective academic administrator, as well as being a charismatic teacher and lecturer. Finer believed the academic study of politics as a subject required a firm grounding in historical knowledge; he was sceptical of any attempt to present the subject as a 'science', disliking the deterministic frameworks imposed by Marxism and behaviourism alike.

In a professional capacity, Finer served as chairman of the Political Studies Association of UK from 1965-69 and was a vice-president of the International Political Science Association. In politics, Finer was a passionate zionist and a supporter of electoral reform. Finer was twice married and had two sons. He died on 9 June 1993, aged 77.


As an uncatalogued collection, the Finer papers have not yet been formally arranged into series.

Access Information

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to JRUL by Finer's widow, Mrs Catherine Finer, in 1996.

Other Finding Aids

accession list.

Separated Material

Finer's papers relating to transport policy, 1945-1955, are held at Essex University Library.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.