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.