Growing from our Strengths: Penn Press Builds on Its Distinguished Traditions

Penn Press Log is a proud stop on the AAUP University Press Week 2013 Blog Tour. The theme for today's leg of the tour, "Subject Area Spotlight," was a bit of a challenge for us. Since we cover many humanities and social science disciplines, there's an overabundance of great subjects to chose from. Still, we couldn't resist the opportunity to celebrate some of our most promenant areas of scholarly publication.

The University of Pennsylvania Press now publishes upward of 150 books a year, a number that has increased steadily over the past couple of decades. “Even at our present size,” says Director Eric Halpern, “the Press cannot publish in every field and hope to do so meaningfully and effectively. We must concentrate our editorial energies and manage the development of our program in an organic way.” With that strategy in mind, Penn Press has built on its strengths in key humanities and social science fields to expand its influence in scholarly publishing.

Christian Society and the Crusades, 1198-1229 A prime source of sustainable growth stems from our list in medieval studies. “The Middle Ages Series originated in the early 1970s and is now the largest and, we are told, most distinguished, in North America,” says Halpern. The books in the Middle Ages Series include groundbreaking works by eminent scholars such as Edward Peters, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Joan Cadden. These works, now acquired by Senior Humanities Editor Jerome Singerman, form a foundation for publications in other historical and cultural disciplines. "Over the past decade and a half, I have been able to build upon the Press's traditional strengths in medieval studies to edge forward into the early modern period and back into late antiquity," says Singerman. "Our lists are now among the strongest in all these fields in North America." On the ancient side of the timeline, the Press distributes the Penn Museum books in anthropology and archaeology, and the Divinations series and many acclaimed translations of classical literature. Soon, we will also publish works acquired by Deborah Blake, Consulting Editor in ancient studies. “I was delighted to snap up Tomb Treasures of the Late Middle Kingdom: The Archaeology of Female Burials by Egyptologist Wolfram Grajetzki,” says Blake from her office in the United Kingdom. This important original contribution to scholarship is just one of Blake’s recent finds. “It is also exciting to be launching the series Archaeology and Theory.” On the early modern end, we publish works such as Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain and other books by UCLA professor Barbara Fuchs. Beyond that, our current catalogues contain titles that span almost the whole of human history, dealing with a wide variety of cultural phenomena in the so-called Old World.

A New Nation of GoodsSimilarly, in the New World, a history program that began with the Early American Studies series sponsored by Penn’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies–appropriately enough, given our home in Philadelphia–has expanded into the nineteenth century through to the present. At the other end of the chronological spectrum, our series Politics and Culture in Modern America focuses on the twentieth century. “Of particular significance is Matthew Countryman's Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia,” says Senior History Editor Robert Lockhart.  “It was the first Penn Press title to win a book award from the Organization of American Historians and received a tremendous amount of local attention outside the academy.” Many of the Press's most eye-catching titles, such as The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon, and Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, originate from its cultural history program. These American cultural and political history books dovetail into our urban studies publications, which include The City in the Twenty-First Century and Metropolitan Portraits series.

A Voice for Human RightsAnother example of growth from strength is our expansion from human rights into other political and public policy domains. For almost a quarter of a century we have published the Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights series. “With interest and research on human rights topics exploding in all directions, this is an exciting subject area to publish in, and a very challenging one as well,” says Editor-in-Chief Peter Agree. Agree is honored to have acquired books by the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, the UN Special Rapporteur in Human Rights (and the former President of Ireland), and many fine scholars in the field. Interest in this crucial aspect of global affairs led to a burgeoning list of titles in politics and international relations, ethnic conflict, and security studies. Many of these books are acquired by public policy & international relations editor Bill Finan. Finan has worked with scholars like Marc Sageman—whose books Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, helped reshape our early understanding of Al Qaeda after 9/11–as well as practitioners like former CIA deputy director of counterterrorism Philip Mudd. “Our security studies publications are theoretically informed but also policy relevant,” says Finan. “They provide guidance and context for real world issues for those both inside and outside the academy.” The newest member of the acquisitions team, Damon Linker, is adding vital components to our politics and public policy program. “Since I joined the press during the summer of 2013, I have been working to acquire books in the fields of political theory, religion and politics, and current affairs. In all of these fields, I am especially interested in books that challenge received categories and expectations, and that–ideally– have some chance of making a wider commercial splash.”

Other important, if perhaps narrower, concentrations in the humanities and social sciences, such as cultural anthropology, architecture and landscape design, the history of the book, the history of science, and Jewish studies, complement our publications in the larger fields of history, literature, and politics. In this regard, Jerome Singerman says, "It has been of crucial importance for me to forge connections with nodes of activity at the university–the Katz Center for Advance Judaic Studies and the Workshop in the History of Material Texts, for example–to shape leading programs in Jewish studies and history of the book, respectively." Penn Press also supports our books program with scholarly journals in relevant disciplines. And we are finding new ways to deliver our publications to readers around the world. The forthcoming original digital shorts/ebooks program, spearheaded by Damon Linker, is just one example of innovation here at Penn Press. Regardless of the technological format, we will continue to build on our tradition of distinguished, focused scholarly publishing.