At a time when historical biogeography appears to be again expanding its scope after a period of focusing primarily on discerning area relationships using cladograms, new inference methods are needed to bring more kinds of data to bear on questions about the geographic history of lineages. Here we describe a likelihood framework for inferring the evolution of geographic range on phylogenies that models lineage dispersal and local extinction in a set of discrete areas as stochastic events in continuous time. Unlike existing methods for estimating ancestral areas, such as dispersal-vicariance analysis, this approach incorporates information on the timing of both lineage divergences and the availability of connections between areas (dispersal routes). Monte Carlo methods are used to estimate branch-specific transition probabilities for geographic ranges, enabling the likelihood of the data (observed species distributions) to be evaluated for a given phylogeny and parameterized paleogeographic model. We demonstrate how the method can be used to address two biogeographic questions: What were the ancestral geographic ranges on a phylogenetic tree? How were those ancestral ranges affected by speciation and inherited by the daughter lineages at cladogenesis events? For illustration we use hypothetical examples and an analysis of a Northern Hemisphere plant clade (Cercis), comparing and contrasting inferences to those obtained from dispersal-vicariance analysis. Although the particular model we implement is somewhat simplistic, the framework itself is flexible and could readily be modified to incorporate additional sources of information and also be extended to address other aspects of historical biogeography.