Summer Book Club: Seeley’s The Expansion of England

You are asked to think over English history as a whole and consider if you cannot find some meaning, some method in it, if you cannot state some conclusion to which it leads.  Hitherto perhaps you have learned names and dates, lists of kings, lists of battles and wars.  The time comes now when you are to ask yourselves, To what end?  For what practical purpose are these facts collected and committed to memory?  If they lead to no great truths having at the same time scientific generality and momentous practical bearings, then history is but an amusement and will scarcely hold its own in the conflict of studies…. No one can long study history without being haunted by the idea of development, of progress.

J.R. Seeley wrote these words as part of a series of lectures he gave at the University of Cambridge in 1881 and 1882, published as The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures in 1883.  Seeley was a professor of modern history at Cambridge from 1869 to 1895.

NPG Ax17824; Sir John Robert Seeley by Philip Crellin Jr

John Robert Seeley – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Seeley examined modern British history with the goal of answering the question of what direction the world was headed.  His answer? Toward liberty, democracy, and the advancement of “greater” Britain. Continue reading