University Press Week 2023: #SpeakUP

University Press Week: How does Penn Press #SpeakUP?

University Press Week 2023

Today’s post is a part of University Press Week 2023’s blog tour. This year, the members of the Association of University Presses (AUPresses)—an organization of 160 mission-driven publishers in the United States, Canada, and around the world—have chosen #SpeakUP as the theme for University Press Week. We’re thrilled to join our peers in the university press community to celebrate university press work that amplifies thought-provoking concepts, new points of view, and ideas that advocate for social change. Today’s post, from Editor-in-Chief Walter Biggins, responds to Thursday’s blog tour prompt: “How do university presses #SpeakUP?

We have all been watching—continuing violence and displacement (which is violence by another means) alongside the impassioned commentary on the Israel Hamas War. It’s on streaming video, news clips, podcast rants, TikTok outbursts, sound bites from news sources of varying credibility and slant.

The trauma continues to spread outward, with protests and counterprotests flaring up around the world. Here at Penn, there have been teach-ins, Zionist and anti-Zionist rallies and demonstrations, and an unfortunate and ugly spate of antisemitic graffiti. The university’s president has issued multiple PR statements directed at the Penn community at-large as well.

And as sides are taken and tensions escalate, even sustained news features and longform essay have situated this latest flare-up of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a purely contemporary moment, removing it from the long, complicated context that has led us to where we are now.

So, how do we speak up? How can we better understand that context? What sources are policy makers, public intellectuals, and scholars using to make better, more well-informed sense of the conflict? University presses have played a critical role in providing these sources. The comprehension of this complex conflict requires the work of a variety of disciplines: history, ethnography, critical geography, political science, sociology, military studies, archival recovery, and more. A number of university presses have longstanding lists in the conflict and its adjacent issues, including Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and Syracuse, among others. For decades, these publishers—fueled not by a responsibility to shareholders or commercial interests but to deep comprehension—have provided a number of things necessary to understand the roots of Israel and Palestine’s clash.

The scholarly work produced by university presses moves beyond headlines and clickbait. Collectively, this corpus doesn’t offer easy solutions—though it often suggests solutions, and ones that are more urgent, informed, and nuanced than mainstream media discourse will allow. To this end, Penn Press has, from several scholarly perspectives, published a wide range of work that informs and helps all of us speak up about this moment:

The conflict is complex, and so will be its resolution. Scholarly publishing has provided, and will continue to do so, illuminating the complications but also paths forward.

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