The Enduring Power of University Press Publishing

In this contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 12-17), our editor, Stephen Shapiro, reflects on the enduring power of university press publishing. When considering today's theme of #TurnItUP: History, Stephen goes beyond just our history list to explore the legacy of what we do as a publisher.

By Stephen Shapiro

The theme of today’s contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour is #History. As one of three acquiring editors for history who work at University of Toronto Press, I assumed that I would write about some of the excellent history books that UTP publishes every year. Many of those books reflect the press’ mission to advance scholarly knowledge and our authors’ commitment to #TurnItUP by amplifying stories and voices from the margins, whether those are geographic, social, or temporal. Indigenous history, queer history, and migration and memory studies are only some of the areas where UTP is proud to bring important, often overlooked, issues to public attention.

However, the more I dug into the press’ backlist to write about those themes, the more I was reminded that they were just a small slice of the publishing that University of Toronto Press has done over the past 117 years. A quick look uncovered some eclectic bestsellers from the press’ past, like Frank Parker Day’s novel Rockbound, first published in 1928 and re-issued in 1973 by UTP, which became a CanLit smash hit after it won the first CBC Canada Reads competition in 2005. Or E.H. Moss’s Flora of Alberta (revised by John G. Packer in 1983), which seems to still have a devoted following in that province. Other strong sellers include the works of Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, whose papers are held at the Lonergan Research Institute at Toronto. UTP published the first volume of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan in 1988 and should complete the twenty-five volume series, with any luck, in 2020. It is only one of several major series at the press that have taken twenty or more years to complete (the eighty-nine volume Collected Works of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a truly herculean project, began in 1968 and is still ongoing here). Like many university presses, UTP has to balance obligations to stay the course with the need to encourage the latest trends in scholarship (like those fields mentioned above that barely existed in academia in 1968, when the Erasmus project began), but it’s humbling as an editor to think the manuscripts on my (virtual) desk today might still be relevant fifty-plus years from now.

Of course, no editor goes into a project thinking they are handling a future classic. But I take comfort in knowing that, smash hit or not, the books UTP publishes will be out there, making a contribution to knowledge, fifty or more years on. That’s a consequence of unsung work all across the press, from the managing editors whose XML workflow helps us “future-proof” our e-books to the production department, printing our physical copies on acid-free, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and a sales and marketing team that aims to put books not just in the hands of consumers today but also in libraries around the world. UTP’s own heritage is being preserved at the University of Toronto, where they fill 1,070 boxes spanning 450 linear metres (almost 1,500 linear feet) … so far. According to our website, right now the press has 4,898 different books either in print or forthcoming. With any luck, they’ll all still be available to #TurnItUP in another 117 years.

To continue on Day Four of the University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Blog: https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Blog
Twitter: @wlupress

University of California Press
Blog: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/
Twitter: @ucpress

University of Nebraska Press
Blog: https://unpblog.com/
Twitter: @UnivNebPress

University of Alabama Press
Blog: https://uapressblog.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @UnivofALPress

Rutgers University Press
Blog: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/category/news/
Twitter: @RutgersUPress

Boydell & Brewer
Blog: https://boydellandbrewer.com/blog/
Twitter: @boydellbrewer

Beacon Press
Blog: https://www.beaconbroadside.com
Twitter: @BeaconPressbks

University Press of Kansas
Blog: https://kansaspress.ku.edu/
Twitter: @Kansas_Press

Harvard University Press
Blog: https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/
Twitter: @Harvard_Press

University of Georgia Press
Blog: ugapress.wordpress.com
Twitter: @UGAPress

MIT Press
Blog: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog
Twitter: @mitpress