Founded in 1893, Northwestern University Press is dedicated to publishing works of enduring scholarly and cultural value, extending the university’s mission to a community of readers throughout the world. Northwestern University was one of the first to found a university press, and of the 2,500 four-year institutions of higher learning in the US, only 141 host a university press.
Those 141 presses come together as members of the American Association of University Presses (AAUP) to collaborate in developing best-practices that support the key role university presses play in the development and dissemination of knowledge.
What is that role? First, most works of serious scholarship would never be published were it not for university presses. A retail publishing company answers only to its owners or shareholders, and a retail publishing company, though its books may sometimes illuminate or teach, is shaped by the search for profit. Many scholarly books have a market of only 300-400 scholars worldwide, and yet the ideas and discoveries in such a book may have the power to shape the path of human development.
The peer review process is at the core. In it, we send every manuscript we receive to scholars in the same field to vet and comment on the work’s value or eminence. After that, the press’s editorial board—12 scholars from a variety of Northwestern schools and departments—evaluate the reviewers’ feedback before voting to approve or reject a project. Only then does the manuscript become a book.
A university press may also publish books of regional interest, uncovering rich local stories which would not otherwise be told by a retail publisher. NU Press has published books about both Northwestern University itself and the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Finally, university presses frequently develop specialties in certain fields, often reflections of their home institution’s strengths. NU Press has notable lists in philosophy; theater and the performing arts; Slavic, German, and Jewish literary criticism; critical ethnic studies, fiction, and poetry.
In many other respects, we function very much like a retail publishing company. We market our books through bookstores all across the US and the globe, and we apply for and win literary prizes, like the Hurston/Wright Award, which NU Press’s Forest Primeval won this year. We also offer numerous valuable internships to Northwestern students looking for real-world experience in publishing.
Each November, we join with our sister presses to promote University Press Week. During this period, we highlight our relationships with our home institutions, celebrate the successes of NU Press books, and introduce ourselves to the student body. To find out more about Northwestern University Press, please visit our website or stop by for a visit at 629 Noyes Street. We would love to meet you!
— By JD Wilson
Northwestern University Press, Director of Marketing and Sales