Monday, December 5, 2011

Carey Conference Part Two at Trinity College

The Dublin half of the two-part “Ireland, America, and the Worlds of Mathew Carey” conference co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Program in Early American Economy and Society, and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries kicked off last month at the National Library of Ireland. In his plenary address, Rutgers Distinguished Professor of History Richard Sher asked if Carey’s publishing practices were best understood as “Piracy or Patriotic Publishing?" Outlining the central debate about competitive reprinting as one between inferior quality of production versus affordable consumption, Sher posited a theory of “heroic reprinting,” in which Carey’s influences include “rich traditions of Scottish and Irish justifications of reprinting on the basis of appeals to public utility rather than to law or needs of the trade.” A lively discussion about Carey’s understanding of copyright ensued.

In the two days that followed at Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub, a number of papers focused on Carey’s milieu in Dublin, showing that the trajectory of Carey’s life was not unique, though the particularities certainly were. Papers examined other Irish radicals of the period, including George Douglas, Matthias O’Conway, and Peter Finnerty.

Despite spending less than a third of his life in Ireland, Carey was influenced by what he experienced there, from his defense of protectionism and staunch patriotism to his magazine formats and his “heroic reprinting” practices. Many papers examined his first newspaper, Volunteers Journal, including James Kelly’s close reading of it and Tim Murtagh’s comparison of it to Mathew’s brother William Paulet Carey’s own radical newspaper. William Paulet Carey received more than a little attention, as Niall Gillespie also gave a paper on him in the “House of Carey” panel. At that same panel, Library Company Librarian Jim Green explained why Carey and Benjamin Franklin were more at odds than we might imagine. Participants also considered how Carey’s perspectives morphed when he crossed the Atlantic: an ardent separatist in Ireland, he would staunchly defend the union of his newfound nation in the Nullification Crisis of 1832.

Following the spirit of Sher’s plenary address, the conference examined Carey’s experiences as a printer and publisher. Sarah Arndt looked at the motivations behind Carey’s bookshop in Baltimore, which Carey called his “Bible Warehouse.” Carl Keyes looked at innovations in Carey’s advertising practices in his newspapers and magazines, and I showed how Carey, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones used copyright claims to stake authority during 1793 yellow fever debates.

The idea of a Carey biography kept coming up at the conference, but it seems that despite the firmament of eighteenth-century specialists in attendance in Philadelphia and Dublin, no one feels qualified to write his life. The fact that a biography of Carey has not been written speaks volumes about him. The multiple disciplinary specialists at the conference and the dual locations of the conference are indeed representative of the many worlds that Mathew Carey has left us. 

See a report on the Philadelphia half of the conference from November 8 on "Beyond the Reading Room."

Molly Hardy, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Writing Fellow at Southwestern University, and 2010-2011 Library Company o Philadelphia/American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Fellow.

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