A History of the Penn State Press
The Pennsylvania State University

A History of the Penn State Press

*Abridged from the 2006 booklet commemorating the Press' fiftieth anniversary.

An Experiment in Publishing

The origins of the Pennsylvania State University Press date back to 1945, when a University committee was appointed “to study the advisability and practicability of establishing a Pennsylvania State College Press.” In 1953, as a first venture into university-press publishing, Penn State’s Department of Public Information issued a book titled Penn State Yankee: The Autobiography of Fred Lewis Pattee. (Pattee, an advocate of the study of American literature and the author of the University’s Alma Mater, had taught at Penn State at the turn of the century.)Louis H. Bell, the Public Information director, edited and designed the book himself. Two years later, the Penn State chapter of the American Association of University Professors recommended that a university press be established.
            The Board of Trustees was persuaded. In 1956, it launched the Pennsylvania State University Press “on an experimental basis.” The Press’s mandate, in the words of the proposal dated March 16, 1956, was “to make the products of scholarship and research available to all, scholar and layman alike, . . . [through] publication of books and periodicals of quality and distinction . . . which would supplement the primary objectives of the University: understanding and scholarship.” Louis Bell served as the first Press director. Unfortunately, he died in 1958, the same year the Press issued its first book, Edward J. Nichols’s Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John F. Reynolds.
            T. Rowland Slingluff, then director of the newly formed Department of Publications, was named acting director of the Press in 1958. He had come to Penn State from Baltimore with degrees in international relations and some editing experience. The University confirmed his appointment as director in 1959, the year the Press published its second title, Henry Johnstone’s Philosophy and Argument. In that year the Press also established its first advisory committee to assist the director in selecting manuscripts for publication.
            The Press’s publishing program gradually gained momentum, and by the time Slingluff resigned in 1972 the Press had a backlist of more than 150 titles. The list spanned a variety of disciplines, but almost from the beginning it manifested particular strength in two fields: art history and literary criticism. In 1960 the Press became a member of the Association of American University Presses and soon began publishing journals. It launched two new journals—Chaucer Review in 1966 and Philosophy and Rhetoric in 1968—and took over publication of JGE: Journal of General Education in 1961 and General Linguistics in 1967.
            The focus of the Press during these early years was clearly on publishing scholarly monographs and journals in the humanities, although the list had a sprinkling of titles in the social sciences and natural sciences, too. The Press engaged in a few other special ventures, especially in music publishing. The Penn State Music Series (1963–71) issued in large paper format the transcribed and annotated scores of classical music that had long been unavailable. In 1965 it was announced that RCA Victor would distribute the Press’s first recording, The Cries of London and Music in Honor of Queen Elizabeth I, and in 1966 the Press’s catalogue advertised four stereo LPs, among them Secular Spanish Music of the Sixteenth Century.

From French Heraldry to Atomic Fission

In March 1973 a new director, Chris Kentera, was appointed and charged with increasing the size and diversity of the Press’s list. Kentera was the first director of the Press to have had considerable experience in book publishing, both in the commercial and academic sectors. As director of the New York University Press he had managed to quadruple its annual title output. Under his leadership—with the able assistance of Editor-in-Chief John Pickering and, later, Senior Humanities Editor Philip Winsor—Penn State Press raised its output to about thirty titles annually. By the time Kentera retired in March 1989, the backlist had grown to nearly six hundred titles, covering a greater range of subjects than ever before. A Press newsletter of this period claimed that the Press published “in any area of recognized scholarship from Chinese technology through French heraldry, pig production, to atomic fission.”
            The Press added to its stable of journals as well. Three new journals were launched: SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies in 1981 (a successor to The Shaw Review, a triannual journal the Press had published since 1967), the Journal of Speculative Philosophy in 1987, and the Journal of Policy History in 1989. Comparative Literature Studies migrated to the Press in 1987.
            Kentera was responsible for setting up a series of regional titles called Keystone Books—a successful series to this day. He also worked out agreements to publish series for the College Art Association of America and the American Academy in Rome.

Building Bridges and Defining Strengths

Sanford Thatcher became Press Director in June 1989. Thatcher had spent his previous twenty-two years in publishing at Princeton University Press, where he had advanced from copyeditor to social science editor to assistant director and finally to editor-in-chief. Penn State President Bryce Jordan challenged him to raise the Press’s profile as part of the University’s ambition to move Penn State into the ranks of the top ten public research universities in the country.
            Thatcher first worked to make the Press a more effective operation by computerizing many of its functions and adding new staff in key positions. Editorially, Thatcher aimed to enhance the Press’s reputation for distinguished publishing both by consolidating its strengths in core areas like art history and literary criticism and by expanding the scope of the list within liberal arts to build more systematically in fields like philosophy, religion, history (mainly U.S. and European), and some of the social sciences (especially political science and sociology). Over time, the Press became well known for its focused publishing in the interdisciplinary fields of Latin American studies, medieval studies, and Russian and East European studies.
            Many new series were inaugurated, some purposely designed to build bridges across disciplines. Among these were Literature and Philosophy, founded in 1991 and edited by Anthony J. Cascardi, and Re-Reading the Canon, launched in 1993 and edited by Nancy Tuana. Several series were editorially based at Penn State: Penn State Series in the History of the Book, edited by James West; Penn State Studies in Lived Religious Experience, edited by Judith Van Herik; Penn State Studies in Romance Literatures, edited originally by Fred De Armas and Alan Knight; Penn State Library of Jewish Literature, edited by Baruch Halpern and Aminadav Dykman; American and European Philosophy, edited by Charles Scott and John Stuhr (both at Penn State when the series started in 1999); and, most recently, Latin American Originals: Colonial and Nineteen-Century Primary Sources, edited by Matthew Restall.
            Some new series resulted from the establishment of formal relationships between the Press and various associations. The Pennsylvania German History and Culture Series, for example, is co-published with the Pennsylvania German Society; the Rural Sociological Society sponsors the Rural Studies Series. Indeed, co-publication has helped the Press significantly at various stages of its development. In the early 1990s, the Press’s excellent working relationship with Polity Press and a few other British commercial academic publishers (such as Harvester Wheatsheaf and Macmillan) allowed a distinguished list in European history, feminist studies, and political philosophy to grow rapidly. Some of the Press’s best-selling titles have been co-publications with Polity, among them New Perspectives on Historical Writing (1992), edited by Peter Burke, and Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory (1991), edited by Mary Lyndon Shanley and Carole Pateman. Other notable collaborations in philosophy and history series include the Press’s co-publication of the Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid with the University of Edinburgh Press, Magic in History with Sutton Publishing, and Medieval Women with Brepols.
            In art history, the Press has published work most recently with Gallimard, Manchester University Press, the Natural History Museum of London, the Tate Modern, and Penn State’s own Palmer Museum of Art. And two recently launched art history series—Refiguring Modernism and Buildings, Landscapes, and Societies—aspire specifically to publish pioneering interdisciplinary scholarship. Art and Humanities Editor Gloria Kury conceived of both series and selected their advisory boards.

Regional Appeal

Peter Potter came to the Press in 1990, and he was instrumental in expanding the range, depth, and quality of the editorial program in the humanities and social sciences, especially in American and European history and in medieval studies. Potter, who became Editor-in-Chief in 1999 and then Associate Director in 2005, also took charge of the Press’s regional publishing program with a mandate to increase its sales revenue and to expand its role as part of the University’s overall outreach efforts.
            One remarkable achievement in the regional publishing program came in 2002, with the publication of Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth, edited by Randall Miller and William Pencak. The first comprehensive history of the state in over thirty years, Pennsylvania was co-published by the Press and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, thanks in large part to generous funding from a unique source: sales of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s railroad heritage license plate. Other cooperative projects focused on Pennsylvania have brought the Press into fruitful working relationships with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia, the Max Kade German-American Research Institute at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Historical Association, and the Pennsylvania German Society.
            The Press has also contributed to the record of Penn State’s own history with such books as Penn State: An Illustrated History (1985), by Michael Bezilla, and histories of The Nittany Lion (1997) by Jackie Esposito and Steven Herb and The Penn State Blue Band (1999) by Tom Range and Sean Smith. Most recently, the Press brought out We Are a Strong, Articulate Voice: A History of Women at Penn State (2006) by Carol Sonenklar and This Is Penn State: An Insider’s Guide to the University Park Campus (2006) by the staff of the Press with contributions by Lee Stout, Gabriel Welsch, and Craig Zabel.

Journals, Redefined

In 1991 Thatcher began to bring the Press’s journal publishing program more into alignment with its book program. First, he created a full-fledged Journals Department with Susan Lewis as Journals Manager. The Press then sought to add journals in fields where the Press was more active in book publishing and looked especially for ones that had institutional support. Three more journals thus came to the Press: Book History, the official annual journal of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP); the Journal of Nietzsche Studies, published by the Press for the Friedrich Nietzsche Society of Great Britain; and The Good Society, a triannual journal sponsored by the Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society.
            Meanwhile, in 2000, the Press entered into a crucial arrangement for the long-term financial viability of the journals operation: participation in Project Muse. Project Muse is the cooperative online enterprise of nonprofit journal publishers that had been launched at Johns Hopkins in 1995 with support from the NEH and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Penn State was the very first press outside Johns Hopkins to sign a letter of intent to become a Muse member. In only a few years, journal publishing has evolved from being primarily print based to being principally Web based, and thanks to Project Muse, the Press—with MaryLou McMurtrie now as Journals Manager—has been able to make that transition painlessly and profitably. Ten of eleven Press journals are now available through Project Muse to its 1,200 institutional subscribers in the United States and many foreign countries.

Decades of Achievement

The Press has always taken special pride in the design and production of its books and journals—no doubt a reflection of its having been a leading publisher in art history almost from the start—and its record of success has been exceptional. First under the guidance of Janet Dietz as Production Manager from 1963 to 1999 and, since then, under her successor, Jennifer Norton, the Press’s Production Department (with such longtime staff as Cherene Holland as Managing Editor and Steve Kress as Chief Designer) has created an international reputation for excellence in editing and design.
            Awards have been plentiful for the content of the Press’s books and journals as well as for their appearance. Especially since 1990, Press titles have been honored with more than eighty prizes from many scholarly associations and other organizations, including the American Academy of Religion, the American Historical Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the College Art Association, and the Modern Language Association.

New Directions

The publishing industry has faced monumental challenges over the past few decades, which some observers have compared in their transformative magnitude to the early Gutenberg revolution. The Press has thus been compelled to adapt to the growth of chain “superstores” and the accompanying consolidation of the wholesale business, together with the decline of many independently owned bookstores, for example; the steady erosion of the library market for scholarly monographs in the face of new pressures on library budgets; and, of course, the advent of the Internet and its massive impact on the way educational materials are accessed, marketed, bought, and sold. All of these changes, and more, have made it necessary for the Press staff to be ready to make appropriate adjustments in methods of doing business. For instance, Sales and Marketing Director Tony Sanfilippo has taken on responsibility for all of the electronic licensing of Press books through netLibrary, Questia, and the like. The Press has also tackled the complicated business of dealing with Google’s various initiatives, which have proven both exciting and frustrating for publishers.
            As digital technology advanced in the late 1990s, the Press and the Libraries at Penn State discussed ways in which to develop their partnership. Two Press books soon offered an opportunity to do just that. Both Times of Sorrow and Hope: Documenting Everyday Life in Pennsylvania During the Great Depression (2003) and TMI 25 Years Later: The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Accident and Its Impact (2004) featured accompanying Web sites managed by the Libraries. Two long-term projects—digitizing books from the Libraries’ Beaver Collection and recasting the Penn State Studies in Romance Literatures series as a broader-gauged series in Romance Studies, both in “open access” electronic form and with a print-on-demand option—suggested the need for a formal structure for collaboration. Hence, in the spring of 2005, the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing (ODSP) was established, and it is forging ahead with innovative projects.
            Organizationally, the Press is well positioned for its next fifty years. We will undoubtedly continue to intensify our relationship with the Libraries and the University’s academic computing division as new digital publishing platforms evolve. We may expect to see more experiments in open-access scholarly publishing as well. The challenge ahead, as it has always been, is to devise business models that will allow the Press to thrive and remain true to its original mandate, making “the products of scholarship and research available to all.”

For a detailed look at the history and mission of the press, click here to download a PDF of our 50th anniversary booklet.

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