The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation—starting with our Vice-President, Michael Harrison, on how a Canadian university press ventured into textbook publishing in a serious way.
In May 2008, the University of Toronto Press broadened its well established scholarly book program to include a greater capacity for books intended for course use. As Canada’s most venerable English language university press, UTP has long been a leading presence in Canadian-based English language scholarly publishing. Although the press has often published works that enjoy considerable success in the classroom, this success has largely been tangential to the primary mission to publish the results of research excellence in the humanities and social sciences.
Those of us involved in UTP’s new “Higher Education” division are aiming for something a little different. Higher Education was founded on the acquisition of various lists from Broadview Press, amounting to over 300 titles—and the bringing over of several experienced Broadview staff members, including Anne Brackenbury and Natalie Fingerhut (Acquiring Editors), Michelle Lobkowicz and Anna Del Col (respectively, Sales and Marketing Managers) —and me. Others, including Beate Schwirtlich who manages our Production, Mat Buntin (Senior Publisher’s Representative), Kris Gies and Mike Byer (both Publisher’s Representatives), have joined us since. All of us continue to work from an office in Guelph originally opened by Broadview.
Although UTP is quite a different place than Broadview Press, Higher Education carries on an approach long taken by Broadview Press (and in my own case, before that at McClelland and Stewart). Like Broadview, Higher Education finds itself competing against far larger textbook publishers such as Pearson, Nelson, Oxford, Cambridge, Palgrave, McGraw-Hill, Routledge, Norton, etc., as well as more “scholarly” presses such as UBC Press, McGill-Queen’s—and in some ways, our colleagues in UTP Scholarly Publishing. Lacking the resources of all of these more established presses, it has been necessary to develop a competing “story.” “The Little Engine That Could” comes to mind.
Measured against older houses our story also sounds like a line from Stuart McLean—“we may not be big, but we’re small!” We publish fewer titles per year which means we can devote greater marketing attention per book—and authors are not overlooked because their market is deemed economically less important. Beyond our core subject areas—History, Politics, Anthropology, and Sociology—the titles we publish serve audiences sometimes pushed to the side by the larger text houses, taking us into communities such as Latin American Studies, North American Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, Women’s Studies, Indigenous Studies, History of Science, Ethnography, Social Work, Environmental Studies, and many more. We believe Higher Education’s list of course books, combined with the rich publishing offerings of UTP’s Scholarly Publishing Division, places the press second to none in Medieval Studies.
We take care to cover a broader curriculum, enthusiastically taking on upper level course books, as well as those intended to serve often more lucrative introductory levels. However, we prefer the notion that textbooks should make a meaningful scholarly, as well as pedagogical, contribution. A survey “textbook” and a scholarly monograph are two different things, but they should both make an intellectual contribution.
It’s easy to be jaded (“students today…”) but could it be that students have a better chance of being stimulated when encouraged to consider a challenging thesis, rather than simply a review of the agreed upon “facts” and the lists of “points on the exam”? Is it possible that a really good “textbook” presents material in a way that neither students nor their professors have considered before? Can textbook authors be allowed “authority”? And looked at another way, could it be that the results of something worth researching are also worth presenting to as wide a scholarly audience as possible, including undergraduates? Sometimes, these books actually sell pretty well!
We’re by no means alone but those of us in UTP Higher Education prefer to be inspired by publishing values like these—and to publish books by authors who are inspired by them. Some great examples that we have published in the past five years include A Short History of the Middle Ages, The Promise of Sociology, A History of Science in Society, Trickster, Wasase, The Labyrinth of North American Identities, The Shock of War, Lament for America, and many more… all available at prices that students can afford!
-Michael Harrison, Vice-President