Perry G. E. Miller (February 25, 1905 – December 9, 1963) was an American intellectual historian and Harvard University professor. He was an authority on American Puritanism, and a founder of the field of American Studies. Alfred Kazin referred to him as "the master of American intellectual history". In his most famous book, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939), Miller adopted a cultural approach to illuminate the worldview of the Puritans, unlike previous historians who employed psychological and economic explanations of their beliefs and behavior.
Miller was born in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Chicago and taught at Harvard beginning in 1931. In 1942 Miller resigned his post at Harvard to join the U.S. Army; he was stationed in Great Britain for the duration of the war, where he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. Miller may have been instrumental in creating the Psychological Warfare Branch of the O.S.S.; certainly he worked for the PWB for the duration of the war. After 1945 Miller returned to teaching at Harvard.
Miller wrote book reviews and articles in The Nation and American Scholar. In his long-awaited biography of Jonathan Edwards, published in 1949, Miller argues that Edwards was actually an artist working in the only medium available to him in the 18th century American frontier, namely that of religion and theology. His posthumously published The Life of the Mind in America, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, was only the first installment of a projected ten-volume series.
Miller spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey on a Guggenheim Fellowship and also taught in Japan for a year. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His death was a loss to America's intellectual landscape. Felix Frankfurter wrote a moving obituary for Miller which was published in The New York Herald Tribune after his death.
Hollinger (1968) explores the philosophical basis of Miller's historiography, arguing that Miller's formulation of problems was controlled by tensions between 'conscious' and 'mechanical' and between 'understanding' and 'mystery.' For Miller, the mechanical world was devoid of morality and purpose, and was incompatible with conscious beauty and ethics. By contrast, within the 'conscious' realm the drive for knowledge about an intelligible universe controlled by laws vied with the opposite religious faith in an unknowable universe controlled by God. Miller's history was further deepened by his emphasis on development: he sees history as proceeding in a continuing series of interactions between traditional cultural forms and immediate environmental circumstances. For Miller, culture is never merely the product of the environment, but an active agent in the interaction. The search for 'historical knowledge' itself proceeds on the terms of this interaction. Miller rejected both positivism and the relativism of Carl Becker for the harder relativism later developed by Thomas Kuhn. That is, for Miller 'forms' are neither wholly arbitrary nor entirely discovered in 'the facts,' but are instead the inheritance and creation of the historian, altered and confirmed by his experience.
Miller's attempts to discover and to reveal the religious feelings and the religious ideas set a new standard for intellectual historiography. Historians report that Miller's work has influenced the work of later historians on topics ranging from Puritan studies to discussions of narrative theory.
- At Harvard, he directed numerous PhD dissertations. His most notable students were Bernard Bailyn and Edmund Morgan.
- Margaret Atwood dedicated her famous book The Handmaid's Tale to Perry Miller. He had been a mentor to her at Harvard.
- 1933. Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630-1650
- 1939. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century online edition
- 1949. Jonathan Edwards
- 1953. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province
- 1954. Religion and Freedom of Thought
- 1953. Roger Williams: His Contribution to the American Tradition
- 1956. Errand into the Wilderness
- 1956. The American Puritans (editor) online edition
- 1957. The American Transcendentalists, their Prose and Poetry
- 1957. The Raven and the Whale: Poe, Melville and the New York Literary Scene
- 1958. Consciousness in Concord: The Text of Thoreau’s Hitherto “Lost Journal”
- 1961. The Legal Mind in America: from Independence to the Civil War
- 1965. Life of the Mind in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War online edition
- 1967. Nature's Nation
- Murray G. Murphey, "Perry Miller and American Studies," American Studies Summer 2001, Vol. 42 Issue 2, pp 5-18
- Vicki Luker and Brij Lal, Telling Pacific lives: prisms of process (2008) p 14
- Robert Middlekauff, "Perry Miller," in Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks, eds., Pastmasters pp 167-90
- Middlekauff, "Perry Miller," pp 168-9
- Kelly Boyd, Encyclopedia of historians and historical writing: Volume 2 (1999) p. 818
- Alan Heimert, "Perry Miller: An Appreciation," Harvard Review, II, no. 2 (Winter-Spring 1964), 30-48
- David A. Hollinger, "Perry Miller and Philosophical History," History and Theory, May 1968, Vol. 7 Issue 2, pp 189-202
- Stanford J. Searl Jr., "Perry Miller As Artist: Piety and Imagination in the New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century," Early American Literature, Dec 1977, Vol. 12 Issue 3, pp 221-33
- Perry Miller, Errand into the wilderness (1956) Page ix
- Butts, Francis T. "The Myth of Perry Miller," American Historical Review, June 1982, Vol. 87 Issue 3, pp 665–94; Seeks to rehabilitate Miller's interpretation of Puritanism
- Fuller, Randall. "Errand into the Wilderness: Perry Miller as American Scholar," American Literary History, Spring 2006, Vol. 18 Issue 1, pp 102–128
- Guyatt, Nicholas. "'An Instrument of National Policy': Perry Miller and the Cold War," Journal of American Studies, April 2002, Vol. 36 Issue 1, pp 107–49
- Heimert, Alan. "Perry Miller: An Appreciation," Harvard Review, II, no. 2 (Winter-Spring 1964), 30-48
- Middlekauff, Robert. "Perry Miller," in Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks, eds., Pastmasters (1969) pp 167–90
- Reinitz, Richard. "Perry Miller and Recent American Historiography," Bulletin of the British Association of American Studies, 8 (June 1964), 27-35
- Searl Jr., Stanford J. "Perry Miller As Artist: Piety and Imagination in the New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century," Early American Literature, Dec 1977, Vol. 12 Issue 3, pp 221–33
- Tucker, Bruce. "Early American Intellectual History after Perry Miller," Canadian Review of American Studies, 1982, Vol. 13 Issue 2, pp 145–157