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Writing in the Sunday New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler (“In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism”) examines the focus on the history of capitalism by a new generation of scholars. The support of university presses has been key to the new discipline’s development, as editors see innovative scholarship and exciting new topics in recent dissertations. (This is no surprise to AAUP: the work of university press editors has often been foundational to emerging disciplines, such as African-American studies, postmodernism, queer studies…the list goes on.)debtor-nation

Schuessler features a number of UP books and series, including:

And there are, of course, more such titles from these and other university presses that are helping to shape the new history of capitalism.

The study of the history of capitalism is deeply intertwined with other topics in historical scholarship, and readers will find much that is relevant in several AAUP Books for Understanding resources, including book lists on Financial Crises, Economic Inequality and Justice, Slavery and Jim Crow, and the social safety net.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


New York University Press: “Celebrating the regional pride of University Presses”
Author and New York Times editor Connie Rosenblum talks about writing and publishing local with a university press to reach a broad audience: her own book on the Bronx, essays on the city, and neighborhood real estate profiles have all been published with NYU Press.

Columbia University Press: “Sheldon Pollock on the Importance of University Presses and the Role of Universities” and “Jennifer Crewe on University Presses: Who Are We? What Do We Do? And Why Is It Important?”
Sheldon Pollock, professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia, underlines how publishing is critical to the university’s purpose as a transmitter of knowledge, and how the collaborative “South Asia Across the Disciplines” series serves as a model for the university-press relationship. In a separate post Editorial and Associate Director Jennifer Crewe discusses how university presses fill the economic gaps in publishing: publishing first-time authors, serious nonfiction, books for upper-level courses—even establishing new fields of scholarship.

University of North Carolina Press: “John Sherer on returning to university press after years in NY trade publishing”
Press Director John Sherer explains the logic behind his return to UNC Press after two years in trade: while “the metrics of advances and print runs” aren’t the same, there’s still just as much, if not more, room for risks and rewards and editorial freedoms at the smaller scale.

University of Alabama Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Author Lila Quintero Weaver voices her gratitude toward UA Press for their focus on a variety of content, from memoirs like hers to vital scholarly writing. And Jennifer Horne, former UA Press Managing Editor and the co-editor of two books on Southern culture, praises the experience, quality, and continuity of the university press publishing process to create “that wonderful package we call a book.”

University of Virginia Press: “Open for Business”
Author Catherine Allgor tells the story of her three volumes of early America scholarship: the first, published with UVA Press; the second, by a major publishing house; and the latest—back again with UVA, where “the integrity of the ideas and the commitment to making the best book we could drove every decision.”

Oregon State University Press: “University Presses: Through the Eyes of an Intern”
OSU Press intern Jessica Kibler explains how mixing words with music inspired her excitement over the digital experimentation taking place at university presses like OSU, and her relief as a lover of well-made books that digital and physical publishing “don’t have to cancel each other out,” but can build on each other in myriad ways.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


Princeton University Press: “A Conversation with the Co-owner of Labyrinth Books”
Local independent bookstore owner Dorothea Von Moltke speaks with Princeton’s Jessica Pellien on what university press books mean for her business: “our focus throughout the store and nowhere more than with university Press books is to give books a long life … they just need to still seem relevant to a deeper understanding of our past, present, or future.”

Indiana University Press: “University Presses: An Essential Cog Within Our Society’s ‘Sophistication Machine'”
Former IU Press intern Nico Perrino compares UPs’ role in scholarship to loading docks at a factory, a stage in a theater, or tables at a restaurant: a basic necessity for sharing the creative products of scholars and authors with the world. (And a special shout-out to Indiana UP for organizing this week’s blog tour!)

Fordham University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Press Director Fredric Nachbaur wrote his post in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the destruction wrought on his home city of New York and native state of New Jersey, reflecting on how the work of university presses and their authors have, in times of tragedy, helped us understand the events of the moment.

Texas A&M University Press: “The Value of a University Press”
TAMU author and Houston Chronicle business columnist tells the story of how he came to write and publish a book with the Press, a book that itself told the story of his father’s journey from an electrician with a hobby to a foundational practitioner of nautical archaeology—and the role the Press played in that story of a man and a fascinating field of knowledge.

Georgetown University Press: “We speak your language!”
Press publicist Jacqueline Beilhart was inspired by a journalist’s offhand comment to canvass AAUP members on their commitments to publishing language acquisition materials in Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs). The resulting list of languages whose learning is supported by university presses (scroll…scroll…keep scrolling…) is a clear testament to how uniquely this kind of publishing connects us across place and time.

Friday’s leg of the tour begins at New York University Press.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


The University of Chicago Press: “Scott Esposito on Wayne Booth”
To read literary critic and editor, Quarterly Conversation, Scott Esposito’s persuasive case for the enduring importance of Wayne Booth’s Modernist Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent is to know that it is the power of the ideas we publish that is  “why university presses matter.”

The University of Minnesota Press: “What Was a University Press?”
Read excerpts from Press Director Doug Armato’s recent plenary talk at the Charleston Conference, by all accounts a stimulating exchange of ideas between Doug, California Press Director Alison Mudditt, and the conference’s overflowing audience of librarians and publishers.

The University of Illinois Press: “Write for the World”
Musician and writer Stephen Wade (author of Illinois’ Fine Print* selection, The Beautiful Music All Around Us) riffs on the words of former UI Press Editor Judith McCulloh and celebrates university presses’ “commitment to humane scholarship” as embodied in such storied projects as the Music in American Life series.

The University of Nebraska Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
UNP’s Bison Books Manager Tom Swanson looks at how the Bison Books imprint embodies the regional commitments of university presses and how presses such as Nebraska give us “a voice for our place.”

Syracuse University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Laurence Hauptman (SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, SUNY New Paltz, and scholar of Native American, New York, and Civil War History) explains what university press editors and staff meant to his development as a scholar and author, and to the development of essential fields of research in Northeastern Native American history.

Thursday’s leg of the tour begins at Princeton University Press.

Back in August, we asked member presses to think about their work in a new way: geographical impact. What better way to show university press “contributions to culture, the academy, and society” in the modern, global publishing economy than to visually illustrate their reach? This was the idea behind the Mapping Our Influence project.

Using the Google Custom Maps tool, we developed an iconographic key to represent authors, subjects, and other points that might be plotted. The simplicity of the Google Maps construct allowed us to imagine a variety of maps: a season’s worth of titles, a disciplinary list, a regional focus. But of course, soon maps started rolling in—38 to date—and the virtual pushpins took on a rainbow of new meanings.

Melissa Pitts, director at University of British Columbia Press, piloted the Maps project with Valerie Nair, Assistant to the Publisher, and the press’s current work-study student. UBC Press mapped authors and subject matter from the latest season, and then got creative with adding events and awards. (Their map is here.) Clusters of pins color the Vancouver and Toronto areas, scattering thickly across Canada and down through the US, reaching west across the Pacific to Japan and New Zealand, east across the Atlantic to northern Europe and Israel.

And yet, with markers blooming like party balloons or bright speech bubbles—“we’re here! and here and here and here!”—across the globe, Pitts notes that the map is most definitely a work in progress. It currently represents 2011 and 2012 publications, which Pitts plans to continue to expand with new seasons. She’s considering integrating it into the publication process for each new book, carrying it beyond University Press Week.

Future iterations, possibly to be used in meetings with the university administration, may build off of other presses’ ideas—like that of University of New Mexico Press.

New Mexico’s map is a monochromatic blue: 367 pins representing libraries around the globe that have purchased 2012 publications. (See the map here.) Unsurprisingly, the US has transformed to a sea of blue, with outliers marking off libraries around the globe, both public and university—in Peru, South Africa, Malaysia, China…the list goes on.

“We did consider several options including maps showing the locations of our authors or the subjects of our recent books (or a combination of several metrics),” writes New Mexico director John Byram. “The problem was capturing and representing data that succinctly reflected the Press’s global footprint most dramatically. A map showing the location of libraries who purchased our new books in the last calendar year seemed to offer the best opportunity to represent the influence we have as a publishing operation both for scholars and for the general public.”

Like Pitts, Byram has plans to update the map; he’s already shared it with the press’s faculty advisory board and the university administration. Temple University Press Director Alex Holzman has done the same: “It’s become my favorite new toy in presentations to both administration and faculty. Temple’s been emphasizing its international presence in recent years and I’ve been saying that our books have a presence on every continent except possibly Antarctica. Saying it is one thing; all these pins provide a fabulous graphic showing it. I also think the map is a great acquisitions tool. What author doesn’t want to daydream about people around the world reading their work?”

Holzman is referring to the unique elements of the Temple map: the press also mapped 2012 authors and subjects, but on top of that, two more colors to denote, first, countries where local publishers have licensed rights for their particular languages, and second, every country where Temple books have been purchased. (Take a look here.) The former, language rights, pop up in Brazil, India, South Korea, and more; the latter, purchases, truly cover the globe—and from 2012 titles alone. Says publicist Gary Kramer, “we were happily amazed at the extent of what we were able to cover with just this one year of data”. And Holzman is already brainstorming new maps for the coming years: “I could think of a few—course adoptions come to mind—but I’ll let Gary and Brian [who plotted the map] take a break first!”

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


The MIT Press: “Thoughts for the Day After University Press Week”
MIT Editorial Director Gita Manaktala surveys some of the major shifts in scholarly publishing, from a university press at the leading edge of many of those transitions.

The University of California Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Rachel Lee (UC Press Library Relations Manager) looks at why university presses should matter to librarians: as a “partner engaged in work that sustains academic research.”

The University of Hawaii Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Barbara Watson Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii; Editorial Board Member, UH Press) examines the importance of university presses for smaller disciplines and developing fields of knowledge. The UH Press editorial commitment to Southeast Asian Studies, publishing both within the English-speaking world and reaching out to the local region, is a snapshot of the “global university press.”

Wilfrid Laurier University Press: “University Press Week Feature: R. Bruce Elder”
Film scholar Elder (whose latest book Harmony & Dissent is WLUP’s Fine Print* selection) discusses the urgent need for a humanistic study of technology; and holds up the university press monograph as the form best suited to support this kind of sustained intellectual endeavor.

The University Press of Florida: “Hands-on Education”
Three UPF interns—Claire Eder, Samantha Pryor, and Alia Almeida—reflect on what they brought to and what they’ve learned from their work at the Press. From falling for a book as its marketing campaign is developed, to seeking and finding greater challenges and strong mentorship, to the delights of “Death, Deformity, Disembowelment, [and] Dismemberment”, the day-to-day work of university presses is revealed through fresh eyes.

Wednesday’s leg of the tour begins at The Chicago Blog.

Fine Print* (*and digital!) is an online gallery of titles—books, journals, online collections, and reference works— from AAUP members, developed in celebration of University Press Week 2012. Presses were asked to select one title from their full catalog of publications that they felt exemplifies the work they do. Here, Johns Hopkins University Press—with 134 years of history to choose from—shares how they made that decision.

by Jack Holmes, Director of Development, Johns Hopkins University Press

It is easy to imagine that all the presses participating in the AAUP Fine Print* project had difficulty selecting just one publication to represent a legacy that might include decades of publishing, numerous subject areas, various formats, and many distinguished achievements.

Cover: A. Journal of MathematicsThat was certainly true for us at the Johns Hopkins University Press as we considered our Fine Print selection. We might reasonably have chosen the American Journal of Mathematics, which J. J. Sylvester founded in 1878 and which remains a centerpiece of our journals publishing program. We thought Project MUSE, the highly regarded online collection of journals and books, would be a compelling choice because it represents the innovation and success not just of our press but of the broader community of university presses, libraries, and scholars who collaborated to create it and work to sustain it. We could have chosen any of several discipline-changing titles, from Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology to Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, to highlight the capacity of key scholarly works to revolutionize how we think about certain subjects. We could, of course, sensibly select one of our best sellers. And it turns out that our best-selling title also gives us one of our best stories to tell.

Cover: 36-Hour DayThe 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, is indeed JHUP’s best-selling book, with more than 2.5 million copies sold in the five editions published since it first appeared in 1980. It has been called a legend, a bible, and the best of its kind. We are proud to include it as the Johns Hopkins University Press title in the AAUP’s Fine Print* collection.

How The 36-Hour Day landed on the JHU Press list, how it almost never found a publisher, and how it ties our press to esteemed friends and colleagues at Johns Hopkins also adds up to a good university-press story, one that we believe echoes the shared mission, values, and aspirations of all AAUP’s member presses.

By the late 1970s, Alzheimer Disease was becoming increasingly known but remained barely understood among the general public as the cause of dementia and memory loss in older patients. Managing the condition medically within psychiatry or geriatric departments was becoming more common, and the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the first in the nation to establish a special unit for patients with dementia. As growing awareness of the disease brought more frequent requests for advice and information, two members of the program staff at Hopkins, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, collaborated on a short booklet advising caregivers on understanding the disease, helping the person with dementia, and coping with the challenges of the caregiver’s role. The booklet was mimeographed repeatedly by the department, and requests for copies continued to increase. With the department overwhelmed by requests, Mace and Rabins explored the possibility of expanding the booklet into a book, but they were turned away by numerous commercial publishers who didn’t see a market and found the topic depressing and uncomfortable.

In the lore of our Press, JHUP author and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Paul McHugh, advised that Mace and Rabins “talk to the Press.” The 36-Hour Day found an appreciative home here, and our press embraced the mission of publishing trusted, expert medical information for general readers. Our successful series, Johns Hopkins Press Health Books, with some fifty similar books available in print and digital formats, is part of this legacy.

While the good The 36-Hour Day has done in the world is arguably beyond measure, we can point to at least some of the numbers that suggest the scale of its impact and success: five editions published since 1980, the most recent in 2011; sales in excess of 2.5 million copies, not including mass market paperbacks, which were published for three of the five editions; praise and affection generated over the years that easily matches those sales figures; massive review attention and numerous awards from both professional and advocacy organizations; strong e-book sales and an audio-book edition in production. With dozens of books about Alzheimer Disease now available for general readers, The 36-Hour Day remains the leading resource for caregivers, one of the few titles that B&N will never allow to go out of stock.

For all of us at JHUP, The 36-Hour Day and its success are a somewhat larger-than-life expression of the hope we always have when we publish a book or journal under the Johns Hopkins imprint. We want to deliver knowledge, discovery, and expertise to the people who need it. We want to publish works that have an impact, whether on a small circle of scholars in a dedicated field of study or on the hundreds of thousands of readers who are informed and comforted by a book like The 36-Hour Day.

That is our aim with 200 new books each year and with every new issue of the 80 journals we publish. But few works the Press has published match the reach and impact of The 36-Hour Day, and we salute and thank our friends and colleagues, Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, for their exceptional work and achievement.

Fine Print* slideshow There are stories behind every title in the Fine Print* gallery. Browse the slideshow and immerse yourself in the breadth and depth of university press publishing.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


Harvard University Press: “My Blue-Bound Loves”
Anthony Grafton (Professor of History, Princeton University; co-editor, The Classical Tradition) writes of being seduced by the physical and intellectual beauty of the Oxford Classical Texts. The seriousness, the courage, and the beauty of university press publishing still draw him to the stacks.

Duke University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Judith Halberstam (Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Gender Studies, University of Southern California; author, The Queer Art of Failure) advocates for university presses as supporters of radical knowledge and the cross-pollinators of culture, learning, and unlearning.

Stanford University Press: “Steve Levingston on Why University Presses Matter”
Levingston, Nonfiction Editor of the Washington Post Book World, picks out a few favorite university press titles reviewed in the Post and the Political Bookworm—memorable for the continuing fascination of  the conversations the books inspired, and illustrating what we mean when we say that university presses “contribute to an informed society.”

University of Georgia Press: “Small is Better: Why University Presses are Sustainable Presses”
Claire Bond Potter, (Tenured Radical, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement, and co-author of Doing Recent History) writes the “bottom line” of university presses: “We can help you write the book you want to write, and we get it to your readers. That’s publishing.”

University of Missouri Press: “Why Do We Need University Presses?”
The extraordinary co-organizers of the “Save the University of Missouri Press” campaign, Ned Stuckey-French (professor of English, Florida State University; author, The American Essay in the American Century) and Bruce Miller (sales representative and President, Miller Book Trade Marketing) explore what people don’t know about university presses and the works that “stay on shelves for years, get taught in our schools, and change the way we think.”

Tuesday’s leg of the tour begins at the MIT Press Blog.

by Lorri Hagman, Executive Editor, University of Washington Press
A Books That Matter Essay

Stories Old and New: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 1, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2000)
Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 2, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2007)
Stories to Awaken the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Vol. 3, compiled by Feng Menglong, translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang (University of Washington Press, 2009)

Book Cover: Stories Old and New

Stories Old and New: A Ming Dynasty Collection (ISBN: 9780295978444)

Some people spend thousands of dollars and endure hours of exhausting air travel to vacation in exotic places. But among the perks of my editorial job at the University of Washington Press in the summer of 1998 was being paid to boat down rivers and trek through mist-shrouded mountains in southeast China and to tiptoe into ancient monasteries and palaces, with eloquent and entertaining locals as my guides. This travel was, alas, only in the mind, but I relished it every day—an eight-hour minivacation in both space and time. My purported task was to copyedit the 1,270 manuscript pages of the English translation of Stories Old and New, a set of forty vernacular short stories collected in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) by the most knowledgeable connoisseur of popular Chinese literature of his time, Feng Menglong. My true mission, however, was deeper and more subversive: to undermine cultural stereotypes by providing the English-reading world with an unmediated view of Chinese culture and society.

Back then, I still was doing occasional copyediting in addition to acquiring books in Asian studies and various other fields. At its best, copyediting can be like tackling a cleverly constructed crossword puzzle, a self-contained and satisfying task—not something I care to do full-time, but an entertaining diversion. Normally, it’s preferable to have a new set of eyes for copyediting, to spot things that the author and acquiring editor no longer have the objectivity to see, but Stories Old and New required a copy editor with Chinese-language training, and I was the only such person available. So I both acquired and copyedited the manuscript.

Pausing in front of the text and multipage style sheet (one for each story, as well as a list of recurring terms) and shifting my gaze out the office window westward toward Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, I would sometimes reflect that I had just surfaced from a time in which China was already an old and marvelously complex civilization, but the city of Seattle would not be founded for another two and a half centuries. The stories were so rich, so varied, that collectively they illustrated just about everything one needed to know about late imperial China—from history to religion to family structure. When the first Chinese edition was published in 1620, compiler and editor Feng Menglong wrote in the preface of the power of fiction:

Just ask the storytellers to demonstrate in public their art of description: they will gladden you, astonish you, move you to sad tears, rouse you to song and dance; they will prompt you to draw a sword, bow in reverence, cut off a head, or donate money. The faint-hearted will be made brave, the debauched chaste, the unkind compassionate, the obtuse ashamed. One may recite the Classic of Filial Piety and the Analects of Confucius every day, yet he will not be moved so quickly nor so profoundly as by these storytellers. (p. 6)

Shuhui Yang, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Bates College, had first written to us in 1996 about the translation of Stories Old and New that he and his wife, Yunqin Yang, a simultaneous translator at the UN, were completing. I had long been familiar with Feng Menglong’s work, and in my student days had even presented a paper comparing a courtesan in one of the stories to a famous courtesan in Sanskrit literature, a paper that was eventually published in the Journal of South Asian Literature. But the Yangs didn’t know that; our collaboration on this project seemed pure serendipity.

Cover Image: Stories to Caution

Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Volume 2 (ISBN: 9780295985688)

After the publication of Stories Old and New, I was surprised but delighted to learn that the Yangs were forging on with translation of the two remaining volumes in Feng Menglong’s trilogy of collected short stories, known collectively as the Sanyan: Stories to Caution the World and Stories to Awaken the World. Like Stories Old and New, each volume contained forty stories. Translating the three volumes—a total of 120 stories in 4,300 manuscript pages—was a labor of love on their part, as neither received professional credit or pay (beyond very modest royalties) for this work. My colleagues were understandably concerned about the difficulty and expense of producing these oversize volumes, but with generous title subsidies from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and Bates College, along with creative typography and thin paper, we were able to publish all three.

Although English translations of a handful of the stories had been published in various anthologies, these were always abridged, omitting the many snippets of verse that are strewn throughout the stories, counterposed with the text, such as this one from “Chen Congshan Loses His Wife on Mei Ridge” (Stories Old and New, p. 342”):

Upon returning to his own yamen, the inspector held a banquet to celebrate the victory. With the slaying of Tiger of the Mountain, indeed,

 His fame spread throughout the Nanxiong region;
His skills in the martial arts won praise from all.

Also omitted were Feng’s interlinear and marginal notes, often deliciously irreverent, such as the following (in italic) from “The Courtesans Mourn Liu the Seventh in the Spring Breeze” (Stories Old and New, p. 219):

From that time on, he grew more dissolute in his ways and went so far as to take up residence in the courtesans’ quarters. On a tablet of the kind that was held by officials, he wrote, “Liu of Three Changes, Imperial Poet Designate.” Before he called on a courtesan, he would first send over this tablet and she would then prepare wine and dishes and bedding for the night. (What a carefree life! This is better than serving as an official.)

Even Chinese editions of the stories have omitted elements of the original, such as sexually explicit passages, which the Yangs translate in full. Their translation of the three-volume collection is the first—and probably will be the only—complete, unabridged English translation of this milestone work in world literature. An important editorial feature that is apparent only when the stories are seen in Feng’s original arrangement is their thematic pairing.

The flavor of the Yangs’ translation is captivating. Feng Menglong had collected stories hither and yon, modifying and even, perhaps, freshly composing some of them himself (much as the Grimm Brothers had done in Europe). The language of the stories is not classical but vernacular Chinese, a form that reflected the grammar and usage of common speech. Although easier for those of us who are not Confucian scholars to understand, Feng’s Ming-dynasty common speech is several centuries old. One of the things I love about the Yangs’ translation is the slightly old-fashioned cadence of the English phrasing, which reflects Feng’s language: things happen “in a trice,” or to “all and sundry” (as in the extract above). Although the Yangs’ command of English is among the best I’ve ever observed in non-native speakers, I wondered how they had been able to capture that subtly old-fashioned tone. When I asked about this, Yunqin’s response was, “Dickens, of course!”

After immersing myself so deeply in his world through the course of three volumes and 120 stories, I felt that I knew Feng Menglong personally and, curiously, that, were he to time-travel to my world as I had to his, he would not be perplexed or intimidated by twenty-first century culture. With his broad mind and deep curiosity, he would have eagerly engaged with the contemporary intellectual and social scene, recognizing new and fascinating variations on the same old stories.

Cover Image: Stories to Awaken

Stories to Awaken the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection, Volume 3 (ISBN: 9780295989037)

Helping to bring this trove of cultural gems to the English-speaking world was a privilege and a delight. Translators Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang were model “authors,” and we were assisted generously in the multivolume project by scholars such as Bob Hegel (Washington University), Wilt Idema (Harvard), and Andrew Plaks (Princeton). Bob wrote a capstone foreword for the final volume, and he also organized an Association for Asian Studies roundtable discussion in 2009 celebrating the completion of the set. The Yangs spoke on the process of translation; I contributed an editor/publisher’s perspective on the challenge of editing, producing, and financing such a large project; and several professors of Chinese literature discussed the use of the Sanyan stories in the classroom. The following year, another AAS panel focused on the content and style of the stories. Participants uniformly agreed that the rich content of these stories augment teaching on any aspect of traditional Chinese society. As rare, unofficial records of popular culture, they are priceless.

Sadly, despite its importance, literary translation is not adequately encouraged or rewarded. Academic departments do not count it toward promotion and tenure; publication subsidies and book prizes usually exclude it; and, with rare exceptions, translated literature does not sell well. Yet, I believe that, over time, books like our Ming Dynasty Collection trilogy, which enable readers to experience another culture directly, through native eyes, will matter more in advancing cultural understanding than will analytical works. Good translations allow readers to connect deeply with other times and places; to observe them first-hand; to experience amazement at both differences from and similarities to one’s own culture; to, for a moment, forget self and place and time.

While reading a chunk of the first draft of volume 3 on my commute to work one morning back in 2006, I was so mesmerized by “The Grateful Tiger” that I missed my bus stop:

But they had hardly gone a few paces when a sudden strong gust of wind blew out all the lanterns and torches. A yellow-striped tiger with bulging eyes and a white forehead was seen leaping down from midair. The crowd shrieked and ran pell-mell in all directions.

They thought their lives were in danger;
Their souls took flight in fear.

When the wind died down and the tiger was gone, everyone cried out, “Thank heaven!” They relit the lanterns and the torches, and as they were preparing to go on with their journey, the sedan-chair carriers exclaimed, “Oh no!” Of the two sedan-chairs, one was now empty. A look with a torch confirmed that the bride had disappeared. . . .

Reluctantly, I disembarked at the next stop and trudged uphill to the office, wistful for the Ming.

by Niko Pfund, Publisher, Trade & Academic, Oxford University Press (USA)
A Books That Matter Essay

Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend, by Carleton Mabee (NYU Press, 1995)
The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Jerry Lembcke (NYU Press, 2000)

Like most university press directors, I could pen an entire collection of essays on books with which I have been proud to be associated. I’ll focus here on two books that I acquired and edited at NYU Press rather than published, since an editor’s involvement is always more direct than a publisher’s. Both of these books provide a wholly original and counterintuitive perspective on a familiar topic, in both cases a subject rife with emotion, passion, and conflict.

Cover: Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (ISBN: 9780814755259)

In the early 1990s I came across the manuscript of a revisionist biography of legendary abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth by Carleton Mabee, a SUNY historian who had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his biography of Samuel F. B. Morse, and was immediately intrigued. I was especially struck by his contention that Truth never actually uttered the phrase with which she is most famously associated, “Ain’t I A Woman?,” spoken defiantly, it had long been believed, to a hostile crowd uneasy about the establishment of a direct link between women’s rights and abolitionism, at an 1851 women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.  Instead, Mabee claimed, Truth’s speech was met enthusiastically. The hisses and catcalls that purportedly rang out from the crowd were in fact the later embellishment of Frances Gage, one of the organizers of the conference, in a chronicle written years after the fact. Mabee further contended that the famous phrase was not in fact Truth’s at all, but rather of Gage’s later manufacture, basing his claim on an examination of both Truth’s and Gage’s use of language in their speeches and writings, and a review of newspaper accounts in the days immediately following the conference, which contained no mention of any such expression.

While the Akron convention may have been devoid of the specific dramas attributed to it, the publication of Mabee’s book itself made for some moments of considerable drama at the 1993 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Mabee was perhaps 30 years the senior of his fellow presenters, and was, if memory serves, the only man and the only white person on the panel. Appearing alongside a panel of Truth biographers at one of the conference’s best-attended sessions, held in the large auditorium at Vassar College, Mabee’s presentation of his findings was greeted respectfully by the other panelists.

The excitement began during the Q&A, when a member of the audience stood up, wearing a black “Silence = Death” t-shirt, and claimed that Mabee’s work was motivated solely by his desire to tear down an iconic female figure. The time has passed, she said angrily, when we should let a white man guide our interpretation of the life of a prominent African-American woman. Carleton remained impassive and a hush fell over the audience, as I sat squirming in the front row.

After a tense few moments, the Princeton historian Nell Painter, who was at the time working on her own biography of Truth and thus had every reason to feel ambivalent about Mabee’s work appearing before hers, took the microphone. Painter began by saying that it was she who had invited Mabee to the conference. His work, she continued, was important and, er, truthful, rooted in imaginative archival research and fact. Her own work would make use of his when her book (which was widely considered the definitive biography of Truth upon publication) was released. As 300 women historians sat rapt, she concluded that the time had happily passed when scholars of women’s history needed to shore up their subjects as a means of validating the field of study. Sojourner Truth, she said was a remarkable and potent historical figure, and no one should feel the need to erect—or sustain—mythical scaffolding to prop her up.

Debates over identity politics were roiling the humanities in 1993, but Painter’s remarks were met with loud, sustained applause.


Cover: The Spitting Image

The Spitting Image (ISBN: 9780814751473)

Some topics act as a canvas onto which we project our pre-existing beliefs. Rather than engaging with other perspectives to challenge and test those beliefs, too often we simply search for empirical evidence—however selectively chosen or disingenuously applied—to support our established sense of how the world *is*. And so there are few more gratifying experiences as a publisher than contributing in some small, vicarious way to changing the way we think.

The Vietnam War, as a barometer of America’s trajectory as a nation and global power, is clearly such a topic. And, of all the contested iconography that came out of that war, the image of the American soldier returning home, crisply uniformed and eagerly anticipating a family reunion, only to be met by an anti- war protestor who spits on him and calls him “baby killer” has been one of the most potent and most resilient.

Only, claimed Holy Cross sociologist Jerry Lembcke, in his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, it never happened. Not once, at least not according to any available evidence other than individual memories, which are, as oral history has shown us, notoriously changeable over time.

When I first encountered it, Lembcke’s argument struck me as overstated. Surely, I thought, this must have happened at least a few times and then been exaggerated; why else would everyone think it had? But the further I read and the more Lembcke and I discussed the project, the more persuasive I found his claim. The spectre of the hippy protestor (most often a woman, frequently wearing a flowery dress, almost always in the San Francisco airport) spitting on the returning vet was first given life, according to Lembcke, in the film Coming Home with Jon Voight and Jane Fonda, and then became culturally institutionalized in the mumbling monologues of Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo films. In fact, the only Vietnam-era episode Lembcke unearthed of someone being spat upon occurred during a rally by Vietnam Veterans Against the War when an anti-war protester was spat upon by another veteran countermarching with the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Even as I found Lembcke’s argument increasingly persuasive, I failed in my attempt to get him to address why so many returning soldiers absorbed this claim of having been spat upon into their own autobiographies, and how the obvious unease that Americans felt in welcoming home veterans of a “lost war” was translated by soldiers into feelings of having been spat upon. Here I should note that I sent a draft of this piece to Jerry, who disagreed with my recollection here: “I think I did address the question why veterans say they were spat on. The stories are a form of scapegoating, i.e., blaming the loss of the war on home front betrayal and gendering those stories with girls or young women (or male longhairs) cast as spitters. The stories also conjure the image of the spat-on `good veteran’ that displaces from public memory the real-life anti-war veteran with whom the public is uncomfortable. The book’s contribution to the study of myth-construction is some of what has given it the legs it has.”

In any event, the book was widely reviewed upon publication, including an above-the-fold feature piece in the purple “Life” section of USA Today. Every review was met with incredulous, often irate readers’ responses as well as with other letters best distilled as “finally!” Jerry was tireless in engaging with all perspectives. His work compelled precisely the sort of debate that both author and editor had hoped for.

Given what a dicey proposition it is to accuse others of having in effect embraced a false consciousness—or, put more bluntly, having made things up—about their own autobiographies, Jerry faced some challenging moments during the promotional campaign for the book. At a reading at Clark University, a group of VFW members assembled outside before the talk and then marched in, taking up most of the front row seats. Within a few minutes of Lembcke’s opening comments, they began shouting comments and questions like “Where were you during the war?” Happily, Lembcke is not a shrinking violet. He didn’t shy away from these encounters but was even animated by them and welcomed the engagement, however fierce, holding his ground and giving as good as he got.

Influential books have a long life, and so The Spitting Image has seen several revivals. The 2006 film Sir! No Sir! featured the book, giving it its biggest post-launch boost. Manohla Dargis, the New York Times critic, favorably reviewed the film, specifically mentioning the book. Seven years after the book’s publication, Sir! No Sir! served as a second launch of sorts for The Spitting Image.  More recently, the LA Times editorialized about President Obama’s 2012 Memorial Day speech and built its critique around The Spitting Image, citing the book favorably.

Jerry continues his revisionist ways, most recently publishing a book about Jane Fonda, Hanoi Jane, with the University of Massachusetts Press. He reports “a donnybrook at the Waterbury CT public library in 2010 where a group of about 20 veterans decked-out in “I’m Not Fond ’a’ Fonda” t-shirts picketed outside and then entered the auditorium where they forced an early end to my talk and then intimidated other attendees in the Q&A to the point where a police officer stepped to the front of the room to cool things down.”

I just hit my quarter-century mark in scholarly publishing. Writing this piece, and reliving the experience of publishing these two books, affirms for me yet again how much I love the work we do, how valuable that work is, and how lucky we are to be academic publishers.


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