All this week the Association of American University Presses has been marking its 75th anniversary by highlighting the work of university presses and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and society. One really wonderful element of the celebration was the unveiling of “Fine Print*,” an online gallery presenting a single representative work from each of scores of American university presses. Do go have a look.
The week also featured a tour of university press blogs, with each stop along the way drawing out another element of the importance of the work we do. We were lucky to serve as the tour’s trailhead on Monday, when we heard from Anthony Grafton on the role that UPs have—and will keep—in the process of “dazzling and seducing” new generations of thinkers, scholars, and writers.
Below, we’ve collected short excerpts from just a handful of the many other terrific stops on the tour.
Over the past decades, university presses have sponsored scholarly work in areas that in many cases were discouraged or actively disparaged by university departments themselves—areas such as feminist studies, Chicano Studies, GLBT Studies, emerging areas of inquiry such as work on tourism, sports, and video games. Literary theory as a method flourished on the lists of university presses long before it had more than a toe-hold in language departments, presses focused on African-American history while vestiges of segregation still existed in universities themselves, even areas of science such as human genetics and cognitive science, once both thought of as marginal, were aided by the recognition provided by the presses at Johns Hopkins and MIT. Sometimes accused of rushing to "trendy" areas of scholarship, university presses at their best provide an alternate locus of accreditation for emerging areas of scholarship and scholarly method and, by working across institutional boundaries, help to correct for localized pockets of conservatism. As universities now address their budget crises by combining departments, shuttering interdisciplinary centers, and tightening tenure opportunities, university press imprints will be even more important to innovative and boundary-challenging scholars.
If we are living at a time of crisis, and we obviously are, a crisis that has been manufactured by the overwhelming emphasis placed in our culture on money, the economy, work and business, then this is not the time to mount an elite defense of learning, genius and expertise, nor is it a time to emphasize a canon or to dig into idealizations of the book and print culture and excoriations of the screen and digital culture. Instead, our current crisis affords an opportunity to rethink the ways in which all of our forms of cultural media—print, visual and digital—work together and are interdependent. As books go electronic and can be carried around as part of a massive archive on a hand held device, new understandings of the library, of reading and of researching emerge. Now is the time for more not less products, more not fewer ideas, more range, more depth, more clarity and higher degrees of difficulty.
Until recently, reality was understood through the model of the book, which provided a template for understanding government, politics, industry, and the academy as integrated, top-down assemblies of isolatable elements, as managerially hierarchical, conceptually compartmentalized, and stable. The model the new technical system has generated is heterogeneous and mutable institution, where meaning is continually novel, created through the interaction between an individual and the protean institution with which he or she has a fleeting relation. Under this model, standards of scholarship that were once universally endorsed (the notion of objectivity and the concomitant separation of facts and values) are abjured in favour of a more ecological conception of learning. In the midst of this transition, history has dispossessed us of the means for finding our bearings, and the resulting alarm has hardly been helpful.