University Press Week continues with blog tour day 4’s theme of The Importance of Regional Publishing. Today’s posts in the tour are all linked below our special feature, which comes from UNC Press editorial director Mark Simpson-Vos.
Remembering Region: A Core Value for University Presses
by Mark Simpson-Vos
At the University of North Carolina Press, we speak of regional publishing as part of our institutional DNA. As Daniel Joseph Singal narrates in his classic book, The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919-1945, UNC Press was founded in 1922 at a moment when scholars and leading intellectuals who lived and worked in the American South found their options for scholarly publishing severely limited. Southern universities like the University of North Carolina had invested significantly to strengthen their faculties, grow their student bodies, and raise their profiles generally. At UNC, leading sociologists and historians of the day—including Howard W. Odum, Arthur Raper, and later, John Hope Franklin—were producing urgently important works on African American history, lynching and other forms of racial violence, rural poverty, and other concerns that would come to dominate national conversations in the years that followed. But in the moment, the New York and New England dominance of publishing offered few outlets for such work. Into that void stepped a cadre of visionaries, including William Terry Couch (later director of the University of Chicago Press), who established a university press in Chapel Hill. At the root of the enterprise was a two-part mission that remains at the heart of UNC Press’s program today: to advance scholarship by publishing deserving works, and to serve the people of the state and region.
The oldest public university in the nation proved a pioneer once more in founding its university press, but we were soon followed by other southern stalwarts, including Louisiana State University Press (founded in 1935) and the University of Georgia Press (founded in 1938). While I don’t know their origin stories like I do my own, I’ve spoken enough with colleagues at both presses to know we think similarly about our regional publishing programs. They have been, and remain, at the heart of who we are, and the purpose we serve.
But in thinking about the editorial direction of UNC Press’s list today, as we approach our centennial in just a few short years, I have to acknowledge a certain irony in these founding stories. Our identity as a publisher with important ties to the South may have originated in a time when commercial houses and longer-established university presses took their cues from H. L. Mencken. But UNC Press author Karen Cox regularly demonstrates on her excellent “Pop South” blog, the country has caught up. And thankfully, you don’t have to watch Duck Dynasty to realize it. Southern foodways are nationally and internationally beloved. Our natural places—and plenty of unnatural ones (sorry, Orlando)—are among the most visited in the nation. Leading galleries and museums host national and traveling exhibitions of works by southern artists and craftspeople. Our writers regularly top the national best seller lists, our musicians shape global sonic landscapes, and our politics are discussed ad infinitum in major media. No one is ignoring the South. Certainly not trade publishers, who are now happy to compete for books and authors that were once too small, too local for their lists.
At the same moment, I know scholars in a number of fields that I publish, from history to American studies to Native American and Indigenous studies, are wrestling with how and whether region matters as a frame for research. Aware as we are of globalization in all its guises, the lens for scholarship seems to be panning outward, and faster all the time.
That said, for all the fascination with international, transnational, and postnational frameworks for analysis, we all live somewhere. In those places, we share foodsheds and watersheds that must be considered anew in the face of struggles for sustainability. We wrestle with the social, economic, and political implications of living and working together, mindful of the ways newcomers’ experiences differ from those who can trace their family histories back for generations in the same communities. We meet one another in neighborhoods, schools, and churches, all of which have histories deeply tied to place. We seek out stories and artists’ works that help us reflect on who we are through the perspective of where we are from.
In short, I’m convinced region matters more than ever. And indeed, we need university presses more than ever to work in concert with authors, booksellers, and reading communities to build conversations that scale from the local to the global and back again. In lighter moments, that might involve publishing the next great guide to the produce stands and community-supported agriculture farms of a state, or a book that commemorates the championship season of a local sports team. But harking back to the Howard Odums and John Hope Franklins of a previous generation, a commitment to regional publishing also makes university presses attentive to local dynamics that matter far more widely, and far more urgently. The core value of remembering region has sustained university presses for 90 years or more, and as we publish books that not only advance scholarship but also promote public understanding, it’s a foundation on which we can build well into this next century.
Mark Simpson-Vos is editorial director at UNC Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkSV.
Catch other new posts from University Press Week Blog Tour Day 4:
- Syracuse University Press: Regional author Chuck D’Imperio discusses the roots of regional writing in many of the “classics.” From oral testimonies to local guidebooks, these stories contribute to the culture and history of the region.
- Fordham University Press: Fredric Nachbaur, press director, writes about establishing the Empires State Editions imprint to better brand and market regional books, reflect the mission of the university, and co-publish books with local institutions.
- University of North Carolina Press: Editorial director Mark Simpson-Vos highlights the history and ongoing value of regional university press publishing at a time when the scale for so much of what we do emphasizes the global.
- University Press of Mississippi: UPM marketing manager and author of two books Steve Yates describes how regional publishing changed his writing and his life.
- University of Nebraska Press: UNP’s editor-in-chief Derek Krissoff defines the meaning of place in university press publishing.
- University of Alabama Press
- University Press of Kentucky: Regional editor Ashley Runyon writes on her unique editorial perspective as a born-and-bred Kentuckian as well as preserving Kentucky’s cultural heritage. They also talk about some of the fun things that make KY (and KY books) unique.
- Louisiana State University Press: It takes more than just a well-written, thoroughly researched book to succeed in depicting the nuances of Louisiana’s food, music, and art; it also requires a relationship of respect and acceptance between subject and author.
- Oregon State University Press: An introduction to the regional publishing program of OSU Press.
See links to posts from blog tour day 1.
See links to posts from blog tour day 2.
See links to posts from blog tour day 3.