Why University Presses Matter
Welcome to day 3 of the University Press Week blog tour! We are pleased to present longtime author and former series editor Laurence M. Hauptman as our guest blogger. His most recent SU Press book, Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations since 1800 was the 2012 Winner of the Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Scholarship.
In his post, he isolates three main reasons why university presses matter. The AAUP University Press Week blog tour continues tomorrow with the Princeton University Press. A complete blog tour schedule is available here.
Why University Presses Matter by Laurence M. Hauptman*
As a young assistant professor in the 1970s, I was fortunate to meet Arpena Mesrobian, the director of Syracuse University Press at a conference on New York State history. Much of what I learned about book publishing came from my conversations with this extraordinary editor who encouraged me, then an aspiring young historian. That meeting was the beginning of a working relationship with her and her fine staff for the next thirty years. This collaboration resulted in Syracuse University Press’ publication of five of my books in Native American history; it also led to my eventual appointment as the Press’ editor of the Iroquois and their Neighbors series from 1989 to 2001. My connection to this university press has been a major part of my academic career and has clearly influenced my decision to submit my subsequent research to other university presses as well. Although one of my books was published by a leading commercial press, namely the Free Press of Simon and Schuster, I have continued to submit my other manuscripts to various university presses, including the University of Oklahoma Press, the University of New Mexico Press, the University of Wisconsin Press, and SUNY Press.
In reflecting why I have repeatedly gone back to university presses to publish my books, I can isolate three major reasons. First, university presses generally work closer and spend more time collaborating with authors, especially new ones to the field, performing more of an educational role by teaching scholars the ropes of the publishing process. For me, the staff of Syracuse University Press were indeed my teachers over the years, instructing me at every stage of the publishing process—how to prepare a manuscript for submission; the need to secure images and permission letters early in the process; the way to structure a proper bibliography and organize an index; the vital role of a copyeditor and how to best proof a manuscript; the importance of working with the production and marketing staff in the selection of book titles, jacket descriptions, and cover designs; and ways to better market and promote the final product once the book is published.
Secondly, university presses are incubators for new ideas and directions in scholarship. University presses are more inclined to take risks than commercial presses. They are not part of large conglomerates whose primary function is to satisfy shareholders by maximizing profits at the cost of scholarship. When I started writing about Native Americans of the Northeast in 1971, few presses, university or commercial, had titles on their list on this subject. Those that had titles focused largely on Colonial America through the Jacksonian Indian removal era. The implication was that American Indians’ no longer existed east of the Mississippi and/or that tribal histories were no longer important except to certain anthropologists studying cultural change and decline. Consequently, 20- 25% of the Native population was being ignored by historians as well as by book publishers. Today university presses have followed the lead taken by Syracuse University Press. They have focused more of their titles on the Native Americans of the Northeast since removal. These include the two oldest presses publishing books on Native Americans, namely the University of Oklahoma Press and the University of Nebraska Press.
Finally, university presses have in-house expertise and draw from their location on campuses of higher learning. In most cases, university presses have more rigorous internal and external reviews. Their boards of editors are composed of university faculty with expertise in the particular field that is the subject of the manuscript under consideration. Moreover, outside reviewers are generally chosen with more care because often recommendations about evaluators are made by members of the board. There is another factor here. University presses can draw from other campus resources as well. They have major libraries to fact check if needed for the accuracy of points or citations in manuscripts. In my own experience with Syracuse University Press, I have had the privilege of working with an excellent cartographer who is based in the nationally recognized Syracuse University geography department. By doing so, I have insured that my maps were done as I wished and not outsourced to someone less able to meet my particular requirements. Consequently, it is little wonder that my final book-length manuscript has recently been submitted to a university press.
*LAURENCE M. HAUPTMAN is SUNY Distinguished Emeritus of History at SUNY New Paltz where he taught courses on Native American history, New York history, and Civil War history for forty years. On October 25, 2011, Dr. John B. King, the New York State Commissioner of Education, awarded Hauptman the State Archives Lifetime Achievement Award for his research and publications on the Empire State. Hauptman is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of 17 books on the Iroquois and other Native Americans. He has testified as an expert witness before committees of both houses of Congress and in the federal courts and has served as a historical consultant for the Wisconsin Oneidas, the Cayugas, the Mashantucket Pequots, and the Senecas. Over the past two decades, Professor Hauptman has been honored by the New York State Board of Regents, the Pennsylvania Historical Association, the Wisconsin Historical Society, the New York Academy of History, and Mohonk Consultations for his writings about Native Americans.