Seeley was made Regius Professor of Modern History in 1869Wikimedia Commons

A group of students have set up a campaign to rename the Seeley Library.

The Library was named after Sir John Seeley, a historian and political essayist, known for his contributions to justifying the British Empire.

The group has launched an open letter to the Faculty of History, calling on them to change the name of the library to the History Faculty Library.

The letter states that by naming the library after Seeley, “the University is associating itself with his career and beliefs” which “reflects the University’s historic and ongoing justification and support of colonialism.”

As an undergraduate, John Seeley studied Classics at Christ’s College, where he went on to become a Fellow and Tutor. He was made Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in 1869.

He was active in pushing for the admission of women to ancient universities.

His most famous work, The Expansion of England, written in 1883, defended the British Empire, and argued that British rule was beneficial for India.

Nuvpreet Kalra, a founding member of the group, told Varsity that she came across Seeley’s writings when reading for an essay on Empire and British political thought.

“Whilst he isn’t known very well anymore, his text Expansion of England had a huge impact on discussions of Empire,” she said.

Although Seeley was critical of the way that Britain captured and colonised India, and became more critical of political violence over the course of his life, he felt that Britain had a moral duty to remain in India. Like many other Liberal historians at the time, he believed that India would descend into chaos without British rule.

After his death in 1895, a memorial fund was established to commemorate his services to the British Empire and the University. Most of this fund went towards the building of the history library, which was named the Seeley Library after him in 1897.

Nuvpreet said that she “could not believe” that a memorial fund had been set up and that “nobody had discussed it sooner.”

“It’s frightening how we can memorialize and commemorate figures so blindly...his imperialist legacy has been so easily neutralized and his name is discussed so frequently.”

As well as sending the open letter to the History Faculty, the group are “in the process of getting in touch with groups across Cambridge and beyond.”

“We plan to mobilise across the university and engage in discussions with the History Faculty and senior management. Ultimately, we want the name changed and will do whatever needs to be done in order to do that.”


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Nuvpreet added that the group plans on getting in touch with members of staff, and hopes that they will support the campaign.

The open letter points out that the name of the history society at Christ’s college has already been renamed, from the Seeley History Society to Christ’s College History Society.

It states that changing the name would be “a symbolic act” that shows the University’s “commitment to decolonisation.”

The University’s BME Campaign voiced its support for the open letter in a Facebook post today (7/11), stating that “if the university is serious in looking to its legacies of empire and colonialism, it cannot continue to celebrate Seeley”.

The History Faculty has been contacted for comment.