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.