Dublin, the place to be in June

Exciting things are happening in Dublin in June.  First the annual Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing will be held at Trinity College Dublin from the 26-29th of June.  This year’s theme is the ‘The Battle for Books’ and more details, registration, and a full program are available through the society’s webpage.

Trinity College Dublin

While this conference promises to be very exciting, several other organizations will be making the most of this opportunity by scheduling related events in the days and weeks surrounding the SHARP conference.  For those of us interested in book history, that means that the end of June will be a very exciting time in Dublin, and a great chance to hit several events all in one go.

Monday the 25th of June Trinity College will also be hosting a one-day event ‘BUILDING COLLECTIONS: 300 years of the Old Library’ to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Long Room.  This will include speakers one the history of the library, its collections and buildings.  A volume has also been announced, which will be available later this year.  In the fine tradition of eighteenth century publishing, those interested in a copy can subscribe in advance to receive a discount and their name published in the volume.

In the week before, TCD will be hosting the annual Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society Conference from the 22-24th of June.  While not specifically focusing on book history topics, this conference generally features a few panels on literature and publishing in the eighteenth century, and does feature plenary lectures on Jonathan Swift by Moyra Hasslet (QUB) and Maria Edgeworth by James Chandler (UChicago).

With these events all scheduled together, there are several good reasons to be in Dublin at the end of June.  I for one will certainly be here.  I am sure there are also other events scheduled to take advantage of this convergence, so if you know of any please post them to the comments section.


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Why reading feeds our brain

A recent New York Times article entitled, ‘Your Brain on Fiction’ by Annie Murphy Paul highlighted emerging research into the neuroscience of reading.  This article brought up several points which seem to be extremely relevant to scholars studying historical reading.  It also prompted me to ask why is there such disconnect between the fields of educational neuroscience and educational theory, and the study of historical reading?

Paul’s article cited several new studies which map various types of brain activity while individuals perform reading tasks.  What is emerging, is compelling new evidence about the power of reading to simulate real-life experience.  Researchers have found that reading words like ‘cinnamon’ that have a strong smell association activates parts of the brain used in olfactory processing.  Similarly reading descriptions of actions like ‘kicking a ball’ stimulate not only the parts of the brain used for decoding language but also parts of the brain associated with physical movement of the legs.  Paul concluded ‘The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life.’

Reading feeds our brains, in similar ways to real-life experience.  We can even improve our social skills and interpersonal empathy by immersing ourselves in the emotional life of fictional characters.  This is powerful corroborative evidence to anecdotal claims for the power of reading.  Eighteenth-century debates over the ‘usefulness’ of various types of literature, the impact of novels on impressionable readers, and the ability of texts to serve as vicarious experience take on a whole new dimension.  What could a study of the impact of eighteenth-century travel literature reveal if it was underpinned by this type of neuroscience?  Or what possibilities exist for explaining the rash of suicides which followed the reading of The Sorrows of Young Werther?  With so much potential why haven’t more book history scholars called on educational neuroscience in their research?

Well, it only took a small amount of digging to discover some partial explanations.  A 2011 review of neuroscience research on reading in the Reading Research Quarterly by George G. Hruby et al, provided a much more detailed analysis of resent research than Paul’s brief article.  The first hurdle for book history scholars is the technical nature of this research, which at times required detailed knowledge of brain functions in order to be usefully applied.  However even non-experts can begin to understand some of the implications of this research, and book history scholars could usefully apply many of these findings to historical theories of reading and educational practice.  In some cases this may justify a more serious look at historical concerns around reading practice.

A second hurdle, and one glossed over by Paul, is the conditional nature of many of these neurological findings.  Many of the techniques now available for brain imaging can only give us a rough estimate of where things are happening in the brain, and are still very conditional.  So while the brain may treat reading about kicking a ball in a similar way to actually kicking a ball, is the same true for experiences, smells, or emotions that have never been encountered in real-life?

Although there are difficulties with interpreting and making use of educational neuroscience research, there are also immense rewards waiting for the brave book historian willing to engage with them, and I for one would like to see more interdisciplinary work of this type.  This research also confirms the benefits of reading, not only for the content it can convey, but also for the ways in which it enlarges our lives and our brains.


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Spottee the Wonder Horse comes to Baltimore; or how I learned to love reading the newspaper

Baltimore Evening Post, 15 September 1807


Frequently in the course of my research people ask me what sort of sources I use when studying provincial print culture.  Most historians love a good primary source.  There is a secret thrill at discovering something, long buried in a dusty archive, which will change the way people understand an individual or event.  The discovery of a new set of sources can make a historian’s career and open up new fields of exploration.  Less glamorously, amazing historical knowledge can be gained by examining existing sources in new ways, and mining tiny pockets of information from scattered and diverse source material.

One of the problems of studying provincial print culture is that source material is often difficult to find.  Most of the surviving publisher’s archives come from the largest and most long-lived publishers: think John Murray, or Mathew Carey, or Longman and Co.  (Though these larger archives can contain an amazing amount of material relevant to provincial print culture.)  Very rarely do we find surviving archives for small printers and publishers in provincial towns. This is partially why so few have studied provincial print culture, and why so many are curious about my source material.

Simply put, provincial newspapers are one of my favorite, and most useful sources.  Provincial papers are multidimensional sources.  They can be used in a variety of ways and they provide information through their text, paratext, and materiality.  Newspapers carry a wealth of details about their printers and editors.  They can tell you about distribution routes, prices and subscribers as well as the political affiliations and business associations of their owners.  Readers can learn about the capital available to the printers, and the quality of their type and paper supply.  For scholars of print culture the importance of local newspapers extends beyond the information they convey on their pages.  Their simple existence tells a story about the local demand for print, making them one of the most valuable sources for the study of provincial print culture.

For scholars of any area, sitting down and reading longer runs of local papers can give unparalleled access to the life of a community.   The advertisements provide details of available goods and services.  Editorials highlight local concerns.  Even the foreign news can hint at the larger communication networks available to local readers.  Taken together these things begin to reveal the rhythm of local life.

Amidst the mundane details of everyday life, small gems can rekindle our fascination with history and keep us eagerly reading.  One of my favorite gems is the above advertisement.  Though of little direct significance, Spottee the horse reminds me of the joys of reading the newspaper, and how much it can tell us about provincial communities.

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The benefits of being a pirate, part II

Part I of this post briefly laid out a few of the benefits which arose from pirate publishing in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.  Smaller formats and cheaper prices helped increase the distribution of printed material and the ideas within, and allowed readers to begin consuming greater quantities of texts.  These benefits were apparent to many contemporary individuals familiar with publishing practices, and are being verified by scholars like myself.  However, debates about publishing piracy took on new dimensions in America during the American Revolution.

Freedom of information became a critical issue during the American Revolution.  As Joe Adelman described, the fight for freedom of information took on revolutionary tones during the 1760s.  Not only was the circulation of information considered vital to the American war effort, but it was also seen as crucial to the development of a republican citizenry.  In order to be a virtuous citizen of the new republic, individuals needed to be informed.  This basic premise underpinned American understanding of the role of copyright.  Yes, American authors should be rewarded, but it was equally important to prevent information, i.e. publications, from being monopolized by copyright holders.  American authors were to be rewarded and nurtured with copyright protection, but citizens must have information, so copyright periods were kept short and all foreign texts were fair game for reprinters in America.  In practice, during the eighteenth century, American copyright was applied to only a small percentage of texts, even among those produced by American authors.  The economies of the book trades ensured that publishers were often better-off to risk being pirated than to spend the money to have a work copyrighted.

The American example emphasizes two important issues.  First, America’s founding father’s recognized that copyright had the potential to produce monopolies of information that were inimical to republican citizenship.  Secondly they recognized that copyright, at least in a limited form, was important for the encouragement of authors, and that some compromise was needed in both directions.  The United States was very late to join with other nations to extend copyright protections internationally, because that extension conflicted with the American beliefs (and established business practices).

So what lessons can we take from this example?  First, I think it is important to be aware that even the American government has not always seen piracy as an evil.  American beliefs about the necessity of an informed citizenry came with a price, namely ensuring that all citizens had access to the important information, even if that meant limiting the rights of copyright holders.  Secondly, seeing the benefits our eighteenth-century ancestors took from publishing piracy should prompt us to re-evaluate our current intellectual property system.  Even if we choose to continue enforcing copyright protection, we should also be looking for ways to increase access and distribution of ideas for the benefit of everyone.

Hopefully this little jaunt through eighteenth century piracy has provided some additional perspectives to the contemporary issues facing the world and has raised awareness of the long history of debates over piracy.

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The benefits of being a pirate, part I

A Copyright Will Protect You From Pirates - by Ioan Sameli - http://bit.ly/lJrePv. Licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa 2.0 license

A Copyright Will Protect You From Pirates – by Ioan Sameli – http://bit.ly/lJrePv. Licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa 2.0 license


It is not every day that the issues that are so central to my work on eighteenth century publishing are such flashpoints of contemporary debate. However this is exactly what is happening with the controversy over internet piracy and the pending SOPA legislation in the US. Here we have a timely opportunity to learn from the past. (Yeah for History!)  In the eighteenth century, piracy was the scourge of corporate entities and copyright holders, but many individuals and governments acknowledged that it also had benefits. Hopefully this activity will provide some food-for-thought and a bit of balance for these polarizing and high-stakes questions. I plan on focusing on piracy in the eighteenth century, but for a great road map to trace these developments over time, see Adrian Johns’ book Piracy: the intellectual property wars from Gutenberg to Gates.

First, we need a bit of definition of what publishing piracy was in the eighteenth century. In Britain copyright and trade courtesies protected texts.  Any unauthorized reprints were piracies. However in Ireland and America it was perfectly legal to reprint British texts, even if they were protected by copyright. It was only if these reprints were then imported into Britain that they became piracies.  In America, texts could be registered for copyright, first by state and later nationally, but this only protected American authors from American pirates. Copyright was a very local concept. This parallels current issues of internet piracy, where discrepancies between national copyright law and practices of use create opportunities for pirates to flourish.

Ireland was a unique case, not because they reprinted texts copyrighted elsewhere, most nations did this to some degree, but because even within Ireland there was no copyright regime for Irish texts. The Irish publishing industry became experts in producing quick and cheap reprints of British texts, both for their own market and for exporting to places like America.  In the eighteenth century Ireland stands as the premier example of pirate publishing.  Though these publications were legal in Ireland, these products were often transformed into piracies as they traveled around the Atlantic.

There were several benefits to these ‘pirate’ editions.  Richard Sher, in the Enlightenment and the Book, asserts that the Enlightenment traveled across the Atlantic on a wave of Irish reprints.   Without Irish pirates, the ideas of Scottish authors like Adam Smith would not have had the impacted that they did.  Pirate editions spread ideas by increasing distribution of books.  These editions created greater competition within the publishing world, and opened new markets for print.  Even the monopolistic London publishers were forced to change their practices to compete with Irish reprints for the American export market.  The greater availability and lower prices of books changed people’s reading habits.  Reading became more casual and commonplace, even before the great increases in literacy in the nineteenth century.

It could be argued that pirate publishers benefited everyone in the English-speaking Atlantic world, except possibly copyright holders (and there may even be an argument for them).

Despite the fact that eighteenth century Ireland was often touted as the ideal ‘Pirate Kingdom’, in the words of Adrian Johns, it should not be forgotten that it was in many ways dependent on the local characteristics of copyright for these advantages.  Without Britain and its copyright system, the Irish reprint industry would have had less incentive and advantage to provide the public with cheaper alternatives.

However price was not the only benefit of pirate publications.  Part II of this post will focus on America, and how piracy not only benefited readers, but was an intrinsic republican value central to the building of a new nation.



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A day at the National Print museum

A recent post by Lisa Griffith on the Irish History Blog Pue’s Occurrences has caught my eye.  Lias has a job working at the National Print Museum in Dublin and the post shares 5 things she has learned there.  Lisa’s post, which reminded me about all the really interesting machines in the National Print museum, also helped to remind me how important it is as scholars dealing with printed matter to understand the physical process of printing.

I was very fortunate, early in my research, to have Dr. Charles Benson insist that if someone was going to study eighteenth century printing they should know the basics of how to operate a hand press.  He took a few of us down to Trinity College’s printing house, where a few hand presses are kept for producing Christmas cards, and gave us an opportunity to set some type, ink some paper, and pull the press.  This exercise, while extremely fun, also gave us an appreciation for the physical strength and dexterity needed to man (or woman) a hand press all day long in a busy print shop, and a greater understanding of the physical limitations of eighteenth century printers.

However, in case you don’t happen to know the man with the keys to Trinity’s printing house, Dublin’s National Print Museum also offers groups a similar chance to play around with a hand press.  The museum, unlike Trinity also contains a very wide range of presses, which really allow visitors to get a sense of the development of this technology over the last several hundred years.  Many other institutions offer tours, summer schools, or master classes which teach individuals the ins and outs of hand printing.

If you are serious about studying any aspect of book history during the hand press period, I would advise that you take advantage of one of these opportunities.  Understanding the production process ggives us a much better appreciation for the materiality of printed objects, and the best way to understand that process is by doing it, even if it is only once.


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The Worlds of Mathew Carey- Part 2

The much-anticipated second half of the transatlantic conference ‘Ireland, America and the Worlds of Mathew Carey’ is now over.  The second part of this conference, held in Trinity College Dublin on 17-19 November filled in many of the gaps left by the first three days of papers in Philadelphia, while continuing many of the conversations begun on the other side of the Atlantic.

Like the Philadelphia conference, full versions of the papers from Dublin have been made available online on a private wiki.  (Contact Johanna Archbold at TCD for access.)  Meanwhile the papers from Philadelphia will be maintained online by the McNeil Center for the foreseeable future.  So anyone unable to attend, one or both parts of the conference, should still be able to view the papers.

The Dublin conference began with an excellent keynote lecture by Richard B. Sher of the New Jersey Institute of Technology titled ‘Piracy of Patriotic Publishing? Conflicting visions of the reprint trade in late eighteenth-century Britain, Ireland, and America’.  Sher described the ‘baggage’ Mathew Carey brought with him from Dublin to Philadelphia.  In this instance it was the Irish tradition of patriotic and heroic reprinting which he had learned from the members of the Dublin book trades.  Here Sher echoed what was an important theme throughout both halves of the conference – the importance of Carey’s early life in Dublin to his later American career.

Sher’s talk, along with the first panel of papers on Friday morning gave the Dublin conference more of a book history focus.  Papers by Molly O’Hagan Hardy, Carl Keyes, and myself (Sarah Crider Arndt) discussed aspects of Carey’s printing publishing business in the US.  Here the question of Carey’s position on race was again raised by Hardy’s paper.  Later James Kelly spoke on Carey’s Dublin paper the Volunteer’s Journal, and Andrew Fagal spoke on the reception of Carey’s Navel History by members of Congress and the Republican party.  This focus on Carey’s printing and publishing career addressed a slight gap in the Philadelphia program, although it is important to note that Carey’s role as a publisher of American literature was not covered by any of the papers at either half of the Conference.  It is interesting to note that one of the big questions which came out of the Philadelphia conference was whether Carey was an innovator or simply an aggregator.  While many of the papers on political economy came down on the side of aggregator, both Carl Keyes and myself noted that Carey was often quite innovative in terms of his printing and publishing business, taking advantage of new markets, advertising strategies, and business models.

One area where the Dublin conference addressed a noticeable gap in the Philadelphia program, was in terms of the other members of Carey’s family.  A highlight from Friday’s program was the panel titled ‘House of Carey’ which included a paper by James N. Green on Mathew Carey’s relationship to Benjamin Franklin, and papers by Niall Gillespie on William Paulet Carey and Anne Markey on John Carey.  Together these papers painted a picture of a very prickly collection of brothers, often at odds with each other and the world around them.  One very noticeable absence was the mention of any female member of the Carey family.  Only Karen Kauffman’s paper on Carey’s philanthropic activities among the working poor, given in Philadelphia, significantly addressed Carey’s relationship to anyone of the female persuasion.  Although Padhraig Higgins, in his closing talk in Dublin did discuss the way in which Carey was effected by the very gendered political climate in Dublin.

Political economy continued to be an important topic of discussion in Dublin.  Eoin Magennis did an excellent job of describing Carey’s Irish milieu and the range of opinions regarding free trade which Carey absorbed in Dublin.  Daniel Peart meanwhile demonstrated how Carey later acted on these views in his campaign to influence the US tariff policy.  Finally, a paper submitted by Marc-William Palen, who was unfortunately unable to present the material himself, outlined Frederik List’s influence on the political economic theories of Henry Charles Carey.

In the last panel session on Saturday, Michael Brown gave a very interesting paper placing Carey within a world he described as the ‘Green Atlantic’.  As part of this world Carey was steeped in the eighteenth century culture of social enlightenment.  His paper, offered up several new lenses for gaining insight into Carey’s identity.

Several other papers asked the question of how singular a figure was Mathew Carey, by putting his life in contrast to other Irish radicals.  While these papers were a bit mixed, they did help to place Carey within the context of the ‘Green Atlantic’ as described by Brown, and within a broader wave of Irish emigrants.

During the final wrap-up session Dan Richter of the McNeil Center acknowledged that as a result of these conference we now know much more about the man Mathew Carey, but he posed the question of what these conferences can tell us about the worlds of Mathew Carey?  David Dickson responded by pointing out that Carey can serve as an early precursor to later politically active Irish-Catholic immigrants.  Carey’s life also highlights the importance of personal networks to individuals within the Atlantic world.  Studying Carey’s experience may open new questions on the Irish diaspora.  Michael Brown added that this conference has shown how Mathew Carey, like many other radicals of his day, read America as the model of how Ireland should be.  While these are both good answers, they display an understandable bias towards issues of concern in Irish history.  It would be very interesting indeed if this question could have been posed to the audience of the Philadelphia conference as well.  What different answers and concerns might have been highlighted there?

Overall, both halves of the ‘Worlds of Mathew Carey’ conference have proven to be very exciting.  They have brought scholars together from across the Atlantic and across disciplinary lines, and they have gone some way towards integrating the many faces of Mathew Carey.  Further scholarship stemming from this conference should prove to be useful to both Carey scholars and to those interested in the wider Atlantic world of his time.

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The Worlds of Mathew Carey- Part 1

The first half of the transatlantic conference ‘Ireland, America and the Worlds of Mathew Carey’ took place this past weekend in Philadelphia.  This was an exciting opening, for what promises to be a truly unique collection of papers dealing with the life and times of Mathew Carey.  Since the full papers are (temporarily) available online on the Philadelphia conference website, I don’t plan on providing a full blow-by-blow account of the first three days.  Instead I would just like to focus on a few key questions which were raised in Philadelphia, and which hopefully will receive some further attention in Dublin.

James Green of the Library Company, and one of the acknowledged experts on Mathew Carey, started things off on Thursday night.  Green explained why there has not yet been a definitive biography written on Carey.  This is partly a result of the lack of private papers, despite the huge amount of correspondence which has survived.  However it is also the result of the contradictory and complex nature of Carey himself.  In Green’s words, Carey represents too many things to too many people.  He was an immigrant, printer, publishers, patriot, political economist, and philanthropist.  He was also a paradox – a man of competition and cooperation.

Over the following two days many speakers introduced us to new and different ‘Mathew Careys’.  However one of the key concepts which kept appearing was the debt which Carey owed to his early days in Ireland, and the continuity with which he maintained his beliefs for the rest of his life.  Cathy Matson’s paper titled “Mathew Carey’s Learning Experience: Commerce, Manufacturing, and the Panic of 1819” made both of these points as did Michael Carter’s paper “Mathew Carey: The Mind of an Enlightenment Catholic.”

At the same time as these concepts kept re-appearing over the weekend, so too did several questions.  One of these, raised very early on by Maurice Bric and Andrew Shankman, dealt with Carey’s stance on race.  Was Mathew Carey a racist, or simply a man of his age?  A second question asked whether Mathew Carey was an innovator or an aggregator?  Martin Burke summarized this debate nicely in his concluding remarks by stating that Carey was perhaps an aggregator who made novel interventions in various debates.

Burke’s concluding remarks, (and probably his opening remarks in a few weeks in Dublin) emphasized the relevance of Mathew Carey to so many areas of study.  These include, but are not limited to, Political Economy, History of the Book, Eighteenth Century Ireland, Irish American History, and Catholic Historiography.

It will be interesting to see where the second half of the conference, at Trinity College Dublin 17-19 November, takes these debates.  A sizable group of individuals, including myself, will attend both parts of the conference, adding to the transatlantic nature of the event, and hopefully allowing for greater continuity between the sessions.  For anyone who is planning on attending the Dublin event further details of the program and information on registration can be found on the Dublin conference website.  If you are unable to attend the second part, the papers should be available online in the next few weeks, or you can contact the organizers for access.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of this review in a few weeks time.




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Books as History: A Review

In the last few months David Pearson has come out with a revised edition of his 2008 book Books as history: the importance of books beyond their texts.  This book, published by Oak Knoll Press and the British Library discusses the ways in which books, as objects, beyond the text they carry, should be studied as historical  artifacts.

Book Cover

In the book, Pearson explains the evolution of books as objects.  He traces developments in paper technology, binding, illustration, and printing to show how each of these processes contributed to the final product.  Particular emphasis is put on the uniqueness of individual books before the advent of mass production.  This is used as one of the primary reasons for the preservation of ‘old books’ rather than the adoption of digital surrogates which simply re-create the text.

One of the reasons for this new revised edition, is to address many of the developments in digital books and surrogates which have rapidly expanded over the last few years.  The first chapter of this book discusses new technology like the Amazon Kindle.  Though this chapter is freshly revised, and recently published its perspective on the ever quickening pace of technological innovation seems dated already.  (Highlighting one of the problems with printed books).  Pearson believes that the time when books will no longer be the primary means of transmitting ideas is in the forseeable future (if not already here), and that in light of that we need to reconsider our relationship to books and libraries.  In these chapters, Pearson is at his most successful, provoking thought and encouraging mindfulness in our interactions with books.

Since this text focuses on the appearance and physical aspects of books, it should be no surprise that it is beautiful in and of itself.  Perhaps resembling a coffee table book more than your average academic tome, it sports glossy images on nearly every page.  These visual examples are perhaps the most valuable part of the book.  Because of these images, Pearson’s work would make an excellent introductory textbook for bibliographical studies or the history of the book.  For institutions that lack rare books collections, or historical libraries, Pearson’s book provides and excellent opportunity to view the physical characteristics of the objects he discusses.  This is further enhanced by a concise list of further reading and a visual case study at the end of the book.

I have two slight criticisms to offer.  The first, which has been noted before, would be that the images in the book are often separated from the text in which they are discussed making for awkward flipping between pages.  The second, is that the book has a very heavily English bias.  While this is understandable given the author’s position as the Director of Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery at the City of London, this may make it less-relateable to readers who are not familiar with English history and literature.

Overall, this book is well worth a read for anyone interested in book history.  The relatively inexpensive price, at less than twenty pounds, makes it a worthy investment as an introduction to the bibliographic arts for students or enthusiasts.



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Ireland, America and the Worlds of Mathew Carey

Just a quick update on the Dublin leg of the Carey conference.  The conferece website, with all the official information is up and running at www.tcd.ie/ciss/worldofprint.php You can register on the website, and access the official program.

The conference promises to be very exciting, and should cover a diverse range of topics, so if anyone is interested in 18th or 19th Century print culture, politics, economy, or the Irish diaspora please check it out.


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