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A likely story : conjecturalism in the historical writings of John Millar Takahashi, Stephen David

Abstract

John Millar's historical works have not, since the era of their original publication, been viewed as such by their principal commentators. Though Millar's Discourse on the Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1771) has received acclaim for its perceived sociological value, his intended masterwork, An Historical View of the English Constitution (1803) has been almost completely neglected by contemporary scholarship. The intent of this paper is threefold: first, by viewing Millar in the historiographical context of late Enlightenment Britain, Millar's texts become recognizable as they were when they were first read, that is, as works of history. Restoring Millar to this context, a time when sophisticated new modes of historical writing were being developed to explain the modern world, also reveals the origins and nature of Millar's characteristic "conjectural" or "philosophical" approach to the study of the past. Secondly, a methodological analysis of Millar's major works and his unpublished "Lectures on Government" will provide insight into how Millar's conjecturalism was reconfigured to fit different subjects, purposes, and generic norms. Third, a survey of Millar's reception in the early nineteenth century will illustrate how rapidly and how profoundly the perceptions of Millar's historiographical approach changed from laudatory to dismissive. Millar is thus revealed not only as a historical writer, but one who was dedicated to a sophisticated, systematic program of historical inquiry.

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