The Institute of English Studies recently hosted a two-day conference marking the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. In this article, Dr Conor Wyer gives a snapshot of the event, which he says was a ‘conference of excellence, relevance and engagement’.

Organised by Dr Joseph Brooker of Birkbeck College, this celebration of Joyce’s first published prose work included scholars from Japan, Brazil, USA, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sheffield, Oxford and south London. But celebrating the publication of Dubliners in 2014 might never have been. A number of near starts in the publication history of the book, and an ongoing battle with his publisher, that Joyce so entertainingly recalls in his broadside Gas From A Burner, might have meant Dubliners was a horse of a very different colour.  Indeed these centenary celebrations might not have had as ‘Deadian’ a sense of hospitality as they did.

It was not surprising therefore that a number of papers presented the publication history of Dubliners.  Steven Morrison launched proceedings with an excellent and insightful study of the first appearance of Joyce’s stories in Æ’s The Irish Homestead. He indeed raised the question of why Joyce first published these stories in what Stephen Dedalus would think of in Ulysses as ‘the pigs’ paper’. Lise Jaillant presented a most interesting and thorough paper on the publication of Dubliners in the Modern Library and Travellers’ Library series of cheap editions. This, she argued, allowed Joyce’s stories to be more accessible and widely available due to their relatively low cost.

Accessibility was the theme of Joseph Nugent’s presentation about a student-led project he co-ordinates at Boston College. In a project produced ‘by students for students’, Digital Dubliners: A Multimedia Edition is an edition with video and audio content, notes and images in an ebook format produced entirely with Apple’s iBook Author. The edition brings many of the ephemera, annotations and contextual material available only in research libraries into a more public and open domain.

In a similar spirit, we were reminded that Joyce Studies has been engaged with the public since its origins. Katherine Ebury playfully pointed out that the first recorded celebration of Bloomsday in 1954, was typical public engagement in which Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Anthony Cronin, John Ryan and Tom Joyce traipsed around Dublin from The Martello Tower, To the Cabby’s Shelter’. She spoke too of her experience with a number of public engagement projects in Sheffield, in particular the Tweeting Dubliners Project, where the entire book was tweeted from January to July of this year, 140 characters at a time. The conference itself enjoyed a strong presence on Twitter throughout, with the Irish Ambassador to Great Britain, his Excellency Daniel Mulhall also taking to the twittersphere about the event.

Both plenary speakers at 100 Dubliners were University of London scholars. Claire Wills of Queen Mary presented a thought-provoking paper on the connections between Clay and the Irish navvy helping to shape London in the 1960s. Andrew Gibson spoke of the melancholic tradition of Irish literature, a tradition he argued had emerged from the end of the Bardic Tradition that occurred after the Flight of the Earls in the early 17th century.

Other University of London colleagues played an important part in the success of the conference too: Finn Fordham (RHUL), Scarlett Baron (UCL), IES staff and members of the Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar. As with all events, one of the disadvantages of a conference with parallel sessions, is missing out on other good papers and speakers. But in the end, the feeling was general all over Senate House – this was a conference of excellence, relevance and engagement and we toasted such with the compliments of the Irish Ambassador.

Dr Conor Wyer is Institute Manager of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at SAS. His research interests are James Joyce and Ireland, especially the posthumous reception of Joyce’s work and issues surrounding the ownership of literature.

Image: The Republic of Ireland’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Mulhall speaking at 100 Dubliners conference