Carnegie Mellon University
October 25, 2019

Obituary: David William Miller Was an Acclaimed Scholar of Irish and Religious History

By Abby Simmons

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094

David William Miller, an internationally recognized scholar of Irish and religious history at Carnegie Mellon University, died Sunday, Oct. 20. He was 79.

A professor emeritus in the Department of History, Miller joined CMU's faculty in 1967. His dissertation, completed at the University of Chicago, became an important book, "Church, State, and Nation in Ireland, 1898-1921" (Gill and Macmillan, 1973). Miller spent a significant amount of time in Belfast over the three decades that marked the Irish Troubles. He took an interest in in Ulster loyalism and wrote the book "Queen's Rebels: Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective" (Gill and Macmillan, 1978). Reflecting its enduring importance, University College Dublin published a second edition in its Classics of Irish History series in 2007.

Miller is recognized as one of the few Irish history scholars who conducted sophisticated, quantitative research on topics ranging from Irish Catholic Mass attendance to social inequality. He contributed to the leading journals in Irish history, but also to journals such as the Journal of Social History, Past and Present, Social Science History, and the Journal of Interdisciplinary History.

Current History Department Head Donna Harsch recollects engaging conversations with Miller about how growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, shaped his resistance to segregation. His longstanding service to CMU also helped to inform the department's growth and governance.

"David was the informal historian of the History Department," Harsch said. "When faculty considered whether and how to change departmental rules, only David could remember the origins of and motivation for the procedure."

Joel Tarr, the Caliguiri University Professor of History and Policy, joined CMU's History Department the same year as Miller.

"From the beginning, David's deep interest in history and his creativity stood out. His prime interest was in the complicated history of Northern Island, but I was especially impressed by his attempt to relate to the new developments in computer science at the university. Here his work with the Great American History Machine, an interactive atlas of 19th and 20th century United States social and political history, stood out as a complement to his outstanding work on the history of Northern Ireland," Tarr said. "We were lucky to have a scholar of his talent and range of interest in the department for so many years."

Miller developed the Great American History Machine in the late 1980s. The software was a powerful tool for interactively accessing and exploring county-level census and election data through a map interface. Professors nationwide used the Great American History Machine to help students approach historical problems empirically and analytically.

Miller was a dedicated teacher and mentor. His international reputation attracted graduate students from Ireland and the U.S. to study at CMU. His graduate students include Peter Gilmore, author of "Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1830" (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018); Cian T. McMahon, author of "The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity: Race, Nation, and the Popular Press, 1840-1880" (University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Breandán Mac Suibhne, author of "The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland" (Oxford University Press, 2017); and Jay Roszman, who is completing a book titled "Outrage in the Age of Reform: Irish Agrarian Violence, Imperial Insecurity, and British Governing Policy, 1830-1845."

"His wisdom has shaped my research — challenging me to ask more thoughtful questions, engage with new historical source material and produce the best scholarship I can," Roszman said during an interview for a CMU story in 2011. "The personal relationship and rapport was also amazing. We met weekly one-on-one discussing books we've read, offering critiques, and finding ways that the work of other scholars could offer insights into my own research and writing."

Miller is survived by his wife Margaret Miller, daughter Roberta Miller, and granddaughter Abigail Miller-Peterson.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26, at Sixth Presbyterian Church, 1688 Murray Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217. Contributions may be made to either Habitat for Humanity or the Lazarus Fund through Sixth Presbyterian Church.