Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

the history of the university press

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 While the Cambridge and Oxford University Presses were originally founded under royal charters permitting them to print “all manner of books,” in particular religious texts (Black 7),[5.20] the university presses in the United States were by and large founded specifically for the publication of scholarship; in this sense, as Thompson points out, “they were generally seen as an integral part of the function of the university” (Thompson 108). In fact, Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, established what is now the oldest continuously operating university press in the United States there in 1878, as a result of his sense that “publishing, along with teaching and research, was a primary obligation of a great university” (“About the Press”).[5.21] Albert Muto, in his history of the University of California Press, notes the importance of Johns Hopkins in leading the way toward the contemporary university’s functions of knowledge production and dissemination, rather than simply focusing on instruction. Publishing was a crucial mode for that dissemination of knowledge, and as such publishing had to be the responsibility of the institution itself: “To leave the publication of scholarly, highly specialized research to the workings of a commercial marketplace would be, in effect, to condemn it to languish unseen. If the aspiration of the university was to create new knowledge, the university would also have to assume the responsibility for disseminating it” (Givler, “University Press Publishing”).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 The history of the University of California Press reveals a similar impetus for its founding, and its history serves as a useful case study for the changes in university press publishing over the course of the last century. Like Johns Hopkins, the University of California was charged with the production and dissemination of new knowledge, and as such, “[f]aculty members were often required to publish, and graduate students encouraged to do so. Since there were few publishers in this country who welcomed specialized writings, it was soon seen to be the responsibility of the parent universities to publish — or at least to print — what these scholars produced” (Muto 1). It is key to note in this description, however, that these early U.S. university presses were founded not only as a means of disseminating knowledge produced by the academy, but as a means of showcasing the work done at their own institutions, only later in their development turning to a list-based model of publication. Thus the report presented in 1893 to the University of California Board of Regents, requesting funds for the establishment of a university press, did so “believing that it is often desirable to publish papers prepared by members of the Faculty” (Muto 18-19). The desirability of such publication stemmed from the belief that the university’s mission included not just the production of knowledge but its dissemination, and not just dissemination within the bounds of the institution, but also broadly throughout the culture.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The emphasis on “papers” in the report presented to the Regents, however, is not incidental. For the first forty years of the press’s life, its products were by and large monograph pamphlets; books were a rare, and in some cases “accidental” (Muto 72), form of publication. There was, in fact, little systematization of the press’s methods or products. In its early days, the university president had the most significant role in setting editorial policy. Benjamin Ide Wheeler, president of the University of California from 1899 until 1919, was particularly powerful in this regard; it was he who “decided whether authors were eligible to submit to the Press, pressured Editorial Committee members to approve manuscripts, and even submitted manuscripts on behalf of authors” (Muto 47). After his retirement, the faculty demanded a far greater degree of self-governance throughout the university, including control, via the Editorial Committee, of the press. During this period the committee established a set of rules for its operation, including rules for author eligibility and a number of subject-area boards to oversee editorial decisions that required “more expertise than any one person could provide” (Muto 52). However, during this same period, the press also hired its first professional manager, Albert Allen, who castigated the university committee in his 1915-16 report on the press’s activities, for adhering to such a limited and internally-focused publishing program:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The University of California Press is therefore not in the general publishing business. Except for a few instances it has not issued books. It is not, in fact, a “Press” in the meaning which the activities of other institutions have given the term “University Press.” Through it the University of California has served only its own purposes; it has not yet been put at the service of scholars outside of the membership of this University…. But the question will surely soon be raised whether… the University of California shall not, if and as it is able, extend the privilege of publication through its University Press to the work of others than its own members. (Muto 83)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Book publishing was not made a part of the press’s mandate for several years thereafter, however, and only in April 1929 did the Editorial Committee authorize the publication of books written by scholars other than members of the UC faculty.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Finally, in 1933, the press was reorganized as “a publisher of scholarly books distributed through ordinary trade channels” (Muto 93). This reorganization required not simply a separation between the press and the university printing office, and not only a professional managerial, editorial, and printing staff, but also a restructuring of the press’s financial model. Prior to this point, scholarly monographs had been published on a wholly noncommercial basis, being given away to educational institutions or otherwise exchanged for the products of other similar presses, and what revenues the press’s publications did produce were returned to the university’s general fund; in 1933, for the first time, the press director requested that all revenues produced by the press “be retained by the Press and used for book publishing” (Muto 109). The result was a shift in the press’s function from a “service agency” to “a mixed organization, part service agency and part business” (Muto 109). The Editorial Committee retained oversight only over series papers; the press took over control of the publication of books. This transformation of the press into a business was seen as necessary, given the heft and the import of the object it was producing: “The book publishing program needed coordination and planning. It also needed more and better books to publish. Manuscript selection had always been largely passive — consideration of faculty works that came in with the University series and occasional offers from the outside” (Muto 182). Once August Frugé took over as press director, rescued the publishing program from its prior domination by the printing and business offices, and unified the functions of the Editorial Committee and the press, the modern press was finally established.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In the case of the University of California, a direct relationship can be traced between the shift toward an emphasis on book (rather than paper) publishing, the transformation of the press in part into a business, and the distancing of the press from the work of its own faculty. The University of California provides only one example of the gradual movement away from an early relationship between the university’s press and its academic mission toward a more independent, trade-oriented press. An even more extreme version of this shift might be seen in the histories of university presses that are today for all intents and purposes fully trade publishers, such as Yale University Press, which despite being formally a department of the university is “financially and operationally autonomous” (Pranzatelli). Yale University Press’s financial success has given it rather extraordinary freedom to experiment, but it is arguable that such freedom has required an orientation that is primarily toward the market rather than the academy, and has come at the cost of a dynamic relationship with the institution’s own faculty. While transforming the press into a business would seem to support institutional aims (by promoting excellence and keeping an eye on the bottom line) such a transformation can only come at the institution’s expense; what the university gains in the press’s financial autonomy, it loses in the press’s service to the university community. Reconnecting the press with the broader university community will require undoing some of the twentieth century’s business-oriented transformations and returning to the fundamentals: if the dissemination of scholarship is a valuable part of the university’s mission, the university must take responsibility for that process, and the press, as the entity chiefly engaged in that process, must see its function as tied to the work of its own institution.

  • Note that the first press at Harvard, Cambridge Press (founded 1636; closed 1692) was similarly focused on the publication of religious and legal texts; see Givler, “University Press Publishing in the United States.”
  • See Givler, “University Press Publishing”: “Gilman’s famous dictum, ‘It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures – but far and wide,’ articulated a clear, specific role for university presses.”
  • Page 45

    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/five-the-university/the-history-of-the-university-press/