Noble past, decadent present: Writing the history of spanish America In the scottish enlightenment

Nicholas Miller


This article explores the engagement of Scottish Enlightenment historical writers with Spanish America as a cultural region, including the conquest of America and the emergence of a colonial social order in its wake. The contributions of William Robertson in his History of America to these subjects is situated in his broader context, including reflections by Adam Smith, James Dunbar, John Millar, James Beattie and Henry Home, Lord Kames. Attention is granted in particular to these thinkers’ attempt at global and comparative histories consistent with Hume’s call for a ‘science of man,’ which sought to derive political lessons from the collected experience of different world societies. Finding it difficult to assimilate the complexity of historical evidence into world-historical explanatory schemes, these thinkers tended towards deploying rhetorical simplification at odds with their ambitions at objective history, with the outcome of the marginalization of the cultural specificity of Spanish America.

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