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 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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Ireland, America and the Worlds of Mathew Carey

This conference is the second-leg of a transatlantic conference on the subject of Mathew Carey, to be held at Trinity College Dublin, 17-19 November 2011.  The first leg of which will be held in Philadelphia at the end of October and is sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia.  The website for the first leg is available here.  As promised here is a tentative program for the three days.  Further information, and registration can be done by contacting Dr. Johanna Archbold at TCD.

This looks to be an extremely exciting event, which will allow scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to engage is some sociability and debate.  Hope to see you there!




Thursday, 17 November, 2011

National Library of Ireland

6pm     Keynote Lecture

Richard B. Sher, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Piracy or Patriotic
Publishing? Conflicting Visions of the Reprint Trade in Late Eighteenth-Century
Britain, Ireland and America

Followed by Reception in the National Library of Ireland


Friday, 18 November 2011

Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin 

Martin Burke (CUNY), Mathew Carey – Philadelphia Conference Review

Maurice Bric (UCD), Mathew Carey – Dublin Conference Preview

Session 1:

Molly O’Hagan Hardy (Southwestern) “If that be in my power”: Transatlantic Copyright and Local Citizenship in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia

Carl Keyes (Assumption College) “A New Spring to the Business” Mathew Carey and Innovations in Consumer Advertising in Eighteenth-Century America

Sarah Crider Arndt (Trinity College Dublin), Mathew Carey Baltimore Bookseller

Session 2:

James Kelly (St Patrick’s College) Carey and the Volunteers Journal 

Andrew Fagal (State University of New York) War, memory, politics and Mathew Carey’s Naval History

Brendan MacSuibhne (New Jersey?) title TBC

Session 3:

James N. Green (Library Company of Philadelphia), “I was always dispos’d to be serviceable to you”: Benjamin Franklin’s relationship with Mathew Carey

Niall Gillespie (Trinity College Dublin) William Paulet Carey: Literary Journalism in Associational Dublin

Anne Markey (Trinity College Dublin) John Carey and the Politicisation of Children’s Fiction


Saturday 19 November 2011

Session 4:

Eoin Magennis (Intertrade Ireland) Mathew Carey and the meanings of ‘free trade’ in Ireland in the 1770s and 1780s

Daniel Peart (Queen
Mary, University of London) “The vital interests of a great nation are too valuable to be offered a sacrifice to any man or any party”: Mathew  Carey and the making of US tariff policy

Marc-William Palen (University of Sydney) An old controversy laid to rest: The ideological origins of Henry Charles Carey

Session 5:

Kenneth Ferguson, Philadelphia and the divergent destinies of Carey and Tone

David Barnwell (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) Mathias O’Conway & Mathew Carey: Two Irish Catholics, Two Different Stories

Session 6:

Michael Brown (University of Aberdeen) The Politicisation of Mathew Carey

Johathan Wright (Trinity College Dublin) “A man of the mob”: Peter Finnerty and the Irish contribution to English radicalism, c. 1799-1822

Tim Murtagh (Trinity College Dublin) Mathew & William Paulet Carey: contrasting attitudes towards plebeian radicalism


Talk by Padhraig Higgins (Mercer Community College) on women and gendered language from his recently published work A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland (History of Ireland & the Irish Diaspora) University of Wisconsin Press (2010).


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Apocalypse not yet

It has been a tough week here at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  On Tuesday, just after beginning my work in Historical Society of PennsylvaniaI shaken out of my scholarly concentration by what I, at the time, assumed was a very loud subway train.  It turns out that it was an earthquake.  I only wish that I had realized what was happening at the time, instead I blithely continued working without realizing the mild danger that I was in.  It wasn’t until the security guard made us evacuate the building that realization dawned.  Fortunately, it only took about fifteen minutes for the staff to give the all-clear, and let us back into the library.  (We were all just huddled on the sidewalk out front chomping at the bit to be allowed to do research)  Researchers in Washington D.C., closer to the epicenter, were stranded outside the library of Congress and National Archives for up to seven hours while their belongings were held hostage in the coat check.

Where the magic happens.

Now hurricane Irene has done her best to disrupt work over the weekend.  Friday was interrupted by extensive preparations for the coming storm.  Provision needed to stocked (water, flashlights, peanut butter and wine), and keys secured.  All of the residents here at the Library Company prepared for a weekend without power, or the internet.  We discussed early American entertainment and pioneer resourcefulness.  However as it turned out, there wasn’t really much of a storm here in Philadelphia, and work continued with little actual interruption.

While nature has been doing her best to de-rail my research over the week, it has actually been a very productive week in the archives.  The primary purpose of this trip was to read Mathew Carey’s correspondence at the HSP.  Several very interesting letters between Carey and Patrick Byrne a Dublin bookseller could possibly shed new light on the importation of Irish books into America as well as Byrne’s later American career.  Vincent Kinane quote some of these letters extensively in his work on Irish book exports, which have been recycled by other scholars.  The most notorious section of which, describes the ‘vile’ books circulated in Ireland and the more refined American reading tastes.  However the full letter puts these statements in more perspective.

From the Mathew Carey Letterbooks

On 22 October 1788 Carey wrote to Byrne that:

“The book business in this country is much altered of late.  As the conclusion of the war, there were few books, and money in great abundance.  In consequence any trash went off well. Now, the  very reverse is the case.  We are deluged with books from England and Ireland, and money is very scarce. Therefore even the best books sell slowly, and at low rates.  ….What demand we have, is for books, which easily command cash with you.  Bibles, law books, delphini classics, dictionaries, etc. etc. are called for, and purchased.  Novels will by no means answer.”*

Though Carey did describe certain books in Ireland as vile, he was by no means categorizing all Irish publications.  It is little tidbits like this, that make these research trips exciting, even without natural disasters.

*Mathew Carey to Patrick Byrne, 22 October 1788, Mathew Carey Letterbook, vol. 1, pp 75-76, Lea and Febiger Collection 227b, HSP.

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Should the gardener know how to read?

Lately I have been wrestling with a question.  Was literacy a valuable commodity in early Baltimore’s labor market?  Basically was it economically worthwhile for a poor or working class individual to learn to read?

Hilary Moss in her book Schooling citizensmakes the point that newspaper advertisements seeking ‘colored’ boys who could read and write for unskilled jobs is evidence that employers in early nineteenth century Baltimore valued literacy even for positions that did not require it.  She argues that white employers were trying to reap the rewards of black literacy.  And presumably if they were willing to exploit black worker’s literacy they would be even more eager to exploit that of white laborers?

Baltimore Patriot 11 December 1820

In trying to verify Moss’ argument I went looking for some of these advertisements, but was only able to find one for the period before 1825.  This was in the Baltimore Patriot on 11 December 1820.  While this certainly proves that one person wanted to hire a literate black boy, the advertisement is not necessarily for an unskilled position, since ‘errands and light services’ could mean a range of activities.

This is consistent with a theory that states that education was seen as valuable by employers not because it was necessary for job performance, but for its civilizing value.  Educated workers were believed to be easier to control, less likely to drink, and more responsible.

There was certainly a lot of rhetoric floating around at the time which linked education and literacy to moral improvement and social respectability.  Education has always been linked to the American ideal of social mobility.  Certainly religious groups felt that working class individuals could be improved through Biblical reading.

However this doesn’t actually prove that an education was economically beneficial to poor and working class men and women.  In fact, an old study by Michael Sanderson on nineteenth century Lancaster  in England could not find any correlation between literacy and increased pay among industrial textile workers.  His study did show that literacy increased social mobility for those lucky enough to obtain it during childhood, but for workers performing various types of manual labor, even highly skilled, literacy was of secondary importance.

Work by Peter Watkinson on apprentices in Petersburg, Virginia shows that  even though education was supposed to be a mandatory part of their apprenticeships, many were very indifferent about attending school.  He suggests that older examples of non-literate individuals who had found success in life, served to down-play the importance young apprentices placed on literacy within their own economic futures.

Ultimately I don’t have enough information to answer my own question.  Some hard statistical data from the 1840 census, which includes basic information on occupation and literacy, would go some way towards providing an answer.  However, the point is still worth considering.  Would you as an employer care if your gardener could read?  Would you use literacy to differentiate between candidates despite the fact that it had no bearing on their ability to perform the job in question?  As a poor worker in urban Baltimore struggling to survive, would you see an education as an economic asset or a waste of valuable time when you could be earning a wage?


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Conference Season

Summer is always a busy time of year, for while courses are over and seminars are generally suspended, it is conference season.  I generally really like attending conferences and presenting my work.  They provide me with motivation to finish various bits of work, as well as useful forums for trying out new material, and of course great opportunities to learn a load of new information and meet new people in relatively short time frame.

During July, I presented two papers on print related topics.  The first was a paper for the Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society anual conference on the business model of the Northern Star newspaper.  More information to come in a later post.

More recently, I returned from ‘Europe, Empire and Public Opinion: Debate and Consensus in the Three Kingdoms 1660-1763’ a conference put on by the gentlemen at Hertford College in Oxford.  This was an intimate conference, but was packed with heavy hitters like Allan MacInnes (University of Strathclyde), Steve Pincus (University of Yale) and Phil Withington (University of Cambridge).  Like most great conferences the discussion built over the course of the event, focusing on imperial policy and politics in England, but with a good dose of Ireland and the Caribbean thrown in as well.

While the conference in general was very politically focused (Whigs and Tories featured in nearly every paper), Dr. Benjamin Bankhurst (King’s College, London) and I managed to bring reading into the picture with our panel entitled ‘Reading America’.  My own contribution was a case study on the early education and reading of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.  Here I used Carroll’s correspondence and his reading to trace the evolution of his opinions regarding Britain and her empire.

While the paper itself was well-received, there is certainly much room for further work to be done on the subject.  Hopefully, I will be able to take some of the comments and further develop the paper as an article.  Stay tuned for further updates and discussion on the reading habits of Mr. Carroll.

While the summer is nearly over, there are always more conferences.  The next major conference on my calendar is the transatlantic ‘Ireland, America and the Worlds of Mathew Carey’ which will be a two-part conference started in October in Philadelphia and finished in November in Dublin.  This should be particularly exciting because it will bring together scholars from both across the Atlantic working on a range of subjects, each of which relates in some way to Mathew Carey or the worlds that he inhabited.  As a committee member for the Dublin leg of the conference, I am privileged to attend both ends of the conference, despite only presenting here in Dublin.  Look out for updates on this subject in the coming months.

For now, I am off to start answering the new calls for papers which are already out for next year’s conferences.


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