Cambridge students demand Seeley Library be renamed

Students have written an open letter to remove the library’s “imperial” name

CN: Mentions of racism, colonialism, and imperialism

Students across the University of Cambridge are rallying to change the name of the Seeley Historical Library to move Cambridge forward and away from its “imperialist” past.

The Seeley Historical Library is one of the largest libraries on Sidgwick Site, containing over 95,000 volumes. It houses material for the Faculty of History, the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), and the Centre of Latin American Studies.

The open letter notes that the Seeley Historical Library is named after John Robert Seeley, a historian at Christ’s College in the 19th century whose legacy has recently come under contention. His published works are thought to espouse imperialism, most notably “The Expansion of England,” a treatise described as “the single influence which did most to develop the imperialist idea.”

The campaign is active on Facebook and Instagram.

“The library’s naming and association,” writes the letter, “is representative of Cambridge’s lack of desire to confront its legacies of colonialism.”

Therefore, the letter demands that the Seeley Historical Library change its name to be more neutral and non-colonial (the History Faculty Library, for instance) in the hopes that the name change would push the university to commit to decolonisation.

However, the campaign does not seek to completely erase Seeley from memory. It suggested that the library rename a section of texts on imperialist history after Seeley to “make … clear what [his] legacy represents.”

Many universities and student communities across the UK have begun efforts to decolonise their curricula and “make amends” for their imperialist past.

In 2018, the University of Glasgow announced a programme of “reparative justice” to educate students about imperial history after an internal inquiry revealed that it had historically earned up to £198m in profits from 17th and 18th century colonial slavery.

An active #RhodesMustFall campaign at Oxford has been calling for the removal of a statue at Oriel College of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian explorer dubbed the “father of apartheid”, since 2015.

The Seeley Historical Library has been contacted for comment.

Feature image credits: Poppy Robinson