Research Travels in Scotland

Danielle Charette

Thanks to the generous support of the Orin Williams Fund, I was able to conduct two months of dissertation research in Scotland this autumn quarter. The first four weeks of my trip allowed me to investigate the Istvan Hont archive at the St Andrews Institute for Intellectual History. I initially became interested in Hont because my dissertation aims to answer why David Hume engages with Niccolò Machiavelli as much as he does. Although Hont’s Jealousy of Trade is centered in the eighteenth-century, his book occasionally draws connections between Hume and the broadly “Machiavellian” history that undergirds “reason of state theory” and the development of modern commercial competition. I suspected that Hont might have elaborated on this connection in his unpublished work, and this turned out to be the case. Hont’s archive records scattered but pregnant remarks along these lines, particularly in unpublished papers such as, “David Hume and the Paradox of Scottish Improvement” and “Hume’s Knaves and the Shadow of Machiavellianism,” I am confident that Hont’s comments will aid the framing of my own dissertation project, as I seek to explain why and how Hume continued to draw on Italian historiographical models while working within the liberal contexts of eighteenth-century commercialism. 


The second half of my research trip took me to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. There, I was able to examine Hume’s “early memoranda,” which are a somewhat mysterious set of notes that Hume made in the 1740s and which happen to record two entries on Machiavelli—along with a number of other fascinating remarks on Livy, political economy, and natural philosophy. The dating of the memoranda is disputed among Hume scholars, and the chance to actually handle the manuscript helped me sort out my own belief that Hume probably composed these notes in the late 1740s. This winds up being important for how my dissertation approaches Hume’s political writings of the 1740s and 50s. Furthermore, I had the chance to practice reading Hume’s handwriting (which is significantly tidier than Adam Smith’s penmanship but not as precise as Rousseau’s…). I prepared a transcription of Hume unpublished essay, “On the Poems of Ossian” and am currently planning a stand-alone essay on Hume and the so-called Ossian Affair. Hume’s reaction to this literary sensation sheds important light on his attitude toward historiographical evidence and claims of Scottish nationalism. Finally, my time at the NLS provided me with access to letters that Hume received from thinkers like William Robertson, Hugh Blair, and Adam Ferguson. These offer key evidence for how the dissertation deals with questions of republicanism and nationalism in the Scottish Enlightenment.


I am grateful for this opportunity to connect with leading Hume scholars in Scotland. My travels to St Andrews and Edinburgh help bolster my dissertation with archival evidence that spans from Hume’s letters of the 1730s to a conference paper that Hont delivered in 2010.


Danielle Charette is a doctoral candidate in the Nef Committee on Social Thought