John Robert Seeley

Although a bit basic, I’d like to use this blog post as an opportunity to more deeply delve into one of the most important parts of The Expansion of England, it’s author John Robert Seeley. It is clear that Seeley, and the works that he produced, had a lasting effect on the English Empire. In its moments of vast imperialism, Seeley’s lectures on national identity, expansion, and travel propagated a unique sense of ownership across a growing imperial globe.

First, I would like to compare the entries found on Seeley for Wikipedia and within an encyclopedia. Wikipedia focuses exclusively on the ‘Life’ and ‘Works’ of Seeley, noting his interest for history, religion, tutoring, and presence at Cambridge. It also documents his most famous works-

Ecce Homo: An evaluation of Christ and religion.
Natural Religion: A promotion of science in religion.
The Expansion of England: A defensive series of essays in favor of the British Empire (specific to England)
The Growth of British Policy: Documents the expansion of Britain.

These four titles are cited by Wikipedia as Seeley’s most crucial. I think it important to note that two conclusions can be drawn from this series. First, all four texts have an impressional effect on their readers. Whether covering religion or empire, each is plagued with a strong opinion and persuasive approach. And second, there is a general shift from religious to secular topics. Although this is probably just reflective of the environment that Seeley was writing in, I am curious to explore further how such a shift might have affected his later writing. Are there any significant influences of religion on imperialism?

In comparison to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia entry was much harder to find. I started my search with Encyclopedia Britannica, which has no account of Seeley. I found much of the same while skimming through other popular encyclopedias. It was only when I went to The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature that I encountered an entry. Although this is probably where I should have started in the first place, the struggle to find this entry in a more academic setting has provided me with guidance for the rest of my research. It seems that Seeley has a place in history, however, that place is exclusive to British history. As I continue my research it seems that I need to stick to British sources (although that might not be a fair generalization with the limited research I have already done).

Anyway, The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature details Seeley across a five page entry. Like Wikipedia, this encyclopedia stresses Seeley’s strong feelings about religion and the empire, noting the same texts. However, it also extends past this evolution of ‘work’ and explores the impressions that Seeley had as an academic and author. Importantly, the entry stresses the range and impact of his teaching, which seem to align with Seeley’s own personal views on widespread education regardless of gender. According to the encyclopedia, it feels like Seeley was an academic far ahead of his time.

So what have these two sources taught me? Arguably very little. However, I think this process has been insightful as I move forward. I now feel I know better where to find informative sources, at least when I am looking for academic ones. This process of elimination is valuable. I also think that learning more about the scope of Seeley’s influence is helpful. It is clear that his works were influential, and I am excited by the prospect of correlation therein. Happy researching!


Works Cited

“John Robert Seeley.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.

Kastan, David Scott. “John Robert Seeley.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.


3 thoughts on “John Robert Seeley

  1. I like how you took the time to compare two different sources. I’m glad that the biggest takeaway from the exercise was simply where to go in the future in order to find information!

  2. I think the specialized encyclopedia is a great starting point for further research! It can certainly provide some clues about his life and work and connections, so you can begin to trace the influence of his work!

    Empire and religion are certainly connected: think “missionaries”!

  3. The comparison between Wikipedia and a printed Encyclopedia is very interesting; I think of the comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, where the actual “errors” of Wikipedia ended up being about equivalent to those of the much more reputable source! It’s interesting that instead of focusing on quality of the data presented in each source, you instead focus on the actual content. Regarding your question about religion and Empire: wow… that’s a huge category, but nonetheless fascinating. Happy researching!

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