Tag Archives: University Press Week

RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES: Timely books bring depth to public debates and issues

At the University of Wisconsin Press, we’ve published many books on topics that seem ripped from current news headlines. Whether fiction or nonfiction, they offer broader or deeper perspectives on current events.

Deadly LieThis August, as the country was shocked by photos of heavily armed Ferguson, Missouri, police wearing camo and patrolling in a massively armored truck, former soldiers commented, “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone.” We had just published Lev Raphael’s Assault with a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense touching on many hot-button issues—plagiarism, bullying, suicide, academic freedom, stalking—but most of all on the militarization of police in American towns and cities. Raphael wrote op-eds in the Huffington Post: Why Are We Arming Our Police Departments for War? and Do College Towns Really Need Tanks to Keep Them Safe?

The death of several unarmed black men this summer at the hands of police also underscoredSister the continuing importance of the story of Daniel Bell, murdered by two Milwaukee policemen in 1958. His sister, Sylvia Bell White, tells the story of her whole life, including Daniel’s murder and her quest for the truth to come out, in the book Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice. Sylvia Bell White is a powerful witness to systemic racial injustice and public indifference to the wrongful deaths of African Americans.

This fall, we’ve published The Great Sand Fracas of Ames County, a novel by Jerry Apps. When Apps started plotting the novel several years ago, he was thinking about historic trees and various threats to them. A frac sand mine seemed like a good plot element; there were Apps-Great-Sand-Fracas-cabout ten mines being developed in western Wisconsin. By the end of 2013, sand mining had boomed. There were already more than 120 mines active or in development. Frac sand mining became the center of Apps’s story, as he portrayed the battles over land use in a fictional Wisconsin town. “Through fiction I’ve tried to illustrate, in an entertaining way, how complicated local development issues can be,” Apps wrote in a blog.

As Barack Obama was running for president, historian Bruce Mouser was finishing a book for us on George Edwin Taylor, an African American who ran for president in 1904 as the nominee of the National Liberty Party. In the fall of 2013, as President Obama made a case for airstrikesTorture against Syrian chemical weapons, we were preparing to publish Chris Edelson’s legal history of Emergency Presidential Power. Alfred McCoy’s Torture and Impunity, published shortly after revelations of torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government from the 1950s to the present.

Our list in Russian and Eastern European Studies has frequently intersected with world events, as well. War in the Balkans in the 1990s resulted in Yugoslavia dividing into seven countries by 2008, creating avid interest among diplomats, armies, and aid organizations in the language textbooks books we’d been publishing for Macedonian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, and Albanian. In 2012, as the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot was arrested for the vaguely defined crime of Microsoft Word - LaPierreCoverDesign.docx“hooliganism,” we were publishing Hooligans in Khrushchev’s Russia: Defining, Policing, and Producing Deviance during the Thaw by Brian LaPierre.  As Russian troops recently invaded Ukraine to reclaim the Crimean peninsula, we were publishing Russian–Ottoman Borderlands, edited by Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky, a historical overview of the frequent territorial disputes in the Balkans, Black Sea region, and Caucasus.

With a strong list of gay- and lesbian-interest books, we’ve published several that presaged or contributed to social conversations around gay family rights: Just Married: Gay Marriage and the Expansion of Human Rights by Canadians Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell;  Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by American Joel Derfner; and The Paternity Test, Michael Lowenthal’s novel about gay parenthood.Lawfully

The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq by Bronson Lemer was published in the midst of the final “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy debate. Joy Ladin’s moving memoir Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders prompted one reviewer to comment, “It is a fierce story of regular old human life: hideous choices, endless repercussions, occasional glory, frequent humiliation, abiding difficulty. It could have happened to us.” Her story continues to make news.

Remaking RwandaAnd when we published Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, the book achieved a level of sales unexpected for an edited volume of scholarly essays. The cause of its success? A public denunciation of the book by the Rwandan government.

UNIVERSITY PRESS WEEK BLOG TOUR: Take a fascinating tour of other blogs from university presses.

Antecedents to Modern Rwanda

Reclaiming the “unknowable” history of Africa

University Press Week 2013

It’s University Press Week! We’ve just launched our blog, and we’re excited to be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.

For today’s theme of The Global Reach of University PressesSheila Leary, director of the University of Wisconsin Press, interviews Jan Vansina.

Oral Tradition as History Jan Vansina, one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa who literally wrote the book on using Oral Tradition as History, is about to publish his eighth book with the University of Wisconsin Press. He recently had occasion to look back at how, over nearly fifty years, his seven prior books published by UWP have influenced the study of Africa’s history, both within Africa and around the world.

“My own case shows that the kind of specialized scholarly books published by university presses typically lead to further research by others and do so for a whole generation or longer. In a field that is new, such as African history was when I began, university presses publish specialized works of scholarship that commercial publishers take no interest in. And I have found that just placing research findings in archives is not enough: publication is absolutely essential to the advancement of research. Indeed, I would argue that university presses are as essential for research in the humanities and social sciences around the globe as are laboratories for research scientists.

Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the 1950s and 1960s, a time not so long ago when there was still a widely held view that cultures without written texts had no history, or that their history was unknowable. Up to that point, “African” historiography focused entirely on the history of European colonizers in Africa, not on the history of Africans.

As a young employee of a Belgian research agency sent to the Congo in 1952, Vansina discovered that he could analyze the oral tradition stories he heard from Kuba informants by using the same methods he had learned for extracting historical information from European medieval dirges. This was a historiographical breakthrough that gave the study of pre-colonial African history both the scholarly justification and the self-confidence it had been lacking.

Vansina recalls the impact of his first book with UW Press in 1966, Kingdoms of the Savanna.

“It was a preliminary historical overview of an area and period in Africa that was little known in academic circles at that point. It was quickly translated into French and published in Kinshasa, and it won the Herskovits Prize for best book from the African Studies Association.” Although historians at the time were accustomed to studying kingdoms, the book used a very innovative mix of oral and written sources to provide a history of pre-colonial kingdoms in central Africa.

“Over the next twenty-five years or so,” Vansina remembers, “several scholars were inspired by the book to pursue their own research in the past of the various kingdoms I wrote about, so that by the year 2000 individual monographs had been written about nearly all the major kingdoms of the southern savannas (at least five in RD Congo, three in Zambia, and three in Angola).

The impact of Kingdoms outside academia was rather colorful, Vansina recalls. “In Central Africa many in the Congo read it, and it became coveted underground reading for those in the Angolan insurrection against their Portuguese overlords. Its popular impact was especially strong in the lower Democratic Republic of Congo (or RD Congo), where local demand has been strong enough to produce a translation in Kikongo around 1990 and another one in Lingala. In the 1970s there was even a local church calling itself ‘The Church of the Kingdoms of the Savanna.’ ”

In 1978, Vansina published a scholarly monograph, Children of Woot, on the history of a single kingdom in RD Congo. He comments, “The one completely new feature for a history book was the inclusion of its long lexical appendix, as essential to the argument. A monograph like this is not expected to have a host of readers when it is published but it is expected to attract small numbers of researchers for many years thereafter. Thus even today this book and especially its data have not been superseded by anything else.”

Oral Tradition as History, a methodological work published in 1985, is Vansina’s book that is most widely known and used in other scholarly disciplines and area studies beyond African history. “It is a manual about how to handle a certain kind of oral history worldwide, not just in Africa. Some twenty-five years earlier as a young man, what I had written about oral tradition had made a splash and led to extensive debates. This new book was a complete reworking that took into account valid observations made by critics, but still showed the extent to which oral histories of this sort could be relied upon. It has had an active life. For example, just this year it was translated into Indonesian Malay.”

Vansina continued to innovate with his book Paths in the Rainforests (1990), a historical overview built primarily on linguistic and archaeological data reaching more than two thousand years into the past. It attempted a history of the peoples in the Central African rainforests, a large area that had been written off as “without history.”

“But I wrote it as history, introducing new concepts, and included a very large appendix showing the results of comparative linguistic data. No one had ever attempted anything similar, certainly not on that scale, and this book was therefore a bit of a gamble, but it convinced most social anthropologists and archaeologists. I am gratified that from that time onward it has served as an incentive for much further research by others. This year an archaeologist wrote me to say that his discoveries conformed to the predictions the book had made. The most important results of Paths in the Rainforests, though, have been in the field of history, where others have now used similar techniques in their own work, including very deep historical research on the Great Lakes region of East Africa.”

As the field of African history matured, Vansina was one of the first to look back at it in a combination historiography and memoir, 1994’s Living with Africa. That same year, the horrific violence and mass killings in Rwanda returned Vansina’s attention to research he had done in Rwanda from 1957 to 1961. The rich and extensive documentation he had collected was available in an archive there, but no one had made use of it for publications.

Antecedents to Modern Rwanda“I knew from that research that Rwanda’s past, and historical memories of that past, were quite relevant to a fuller understanding of the genocide and people’s motivations. I also felt that knowledge of Rwanda’s pre-colonial history could contribute to political choices about its future. So, I first wrote a book in French about the main social and political developments of the country, directed as much towards Rwanda’s governing elite as towards historians. But the new elite came mostly from Uganda and used English, not French. So I translated the work into English and UW Press published it as Antecedents to Modern Rwanda in 2004.”

“Though its narrative and its major interpretations have been accepted by most academics, and also led to the publication of two academic debates about its significance, in Rwanda there is official silence about the book. It has not been formally banned in Rwanda, but the history I present runs counter to the official ideology and now also to the official history the government promulgates. But I know that actually the book has been widely read in Rwanda, even discussed, but no one will publicly admit to this. I hope that it will eventually be recognized and lead to further research in Rwanda.”

Most recently, in 2010, Vansina experimented with another new approach to African history. “Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880–1960, was my deliberate attempt to write a book for undergraduates. It presents the history of a colony through the eyes of a colonized people. I used sidebars and illustrations, a format still rather uncommon in works of African history. I resisted reducing the historical complexity of the period to simple formulas. The anecdotal evidence so far has it that while most students like it, many find all those names and the very complexity of the history a bit overwhelming as well. But I hope it will inspire others to experiment further with approaches for undergraduates that will open new perspectives to them.”

Jan Vansina’s legacy also includes an extraordinary impact beyond academia. When the journalist Alex Haley was researching the family history that would become his famous book Roots, a powerful and groundbreaking story of enslaved African Americans, he could find no written documents that directed him to a point of origin in Africa. Eventually, someone suggested that he contact Jan Vansina, who had been doing innovative research on African oral traditions. Vansina suggested that the few words, names, and stories that had been passed down to Haley from an enslaved African ancestor named Kunta Kinte might be from the Mandingo people in Gambia, a culture with a very rich oral tradition recited by trained griots. Eventually Haley’s quest led him to a griot in a remote Gambian village who had memorized the history of a large, extended Kinte family. Two hours into the recitation, the griot mentioned a young man, Kunta, who went away from his village to chop wood and was never seen again. This astonishing connection was the beginning of a great movement of reclamation of African heritage by African Americans.

Jan Vansina.  Photo by Catherine A. Reiland / African Studies Program, UW-Madison. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jan Vansina. Photo by Catherine A. Reiland / African Studies Program, UW-Madison. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Now 84 years old and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Jan Vansina was an early recipient of the “Distinguished Africanist” award by the African Studies Association of the United States and in 2000 was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. His next book, to be published in Spring 2014 by the University of Wisconsin Press, is a memoir of his youth: Through the Day, Through the Night: A Flemish Belgian Boyhood and World War II.

Continue today’s blog tour and Meet these Presses:

Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.

UP Week Blog Tour: The Importance of Regional Publishing

University Press Week 2013

We’re excited to be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For today’s theme of The Importance of Regional Publishing, visit the following University Presses:

Syracuse University Press features regional author, Chuck D’Imperio who will discuss the roots of regional writing in many of the “classics.” From oral testimonies to local guidebooks, these stories contribute to the culture and history of the region.

Fordham University Press Press Director Fredric Nachbaur, writes about establishing the Empires State Editions imprint to better brand and market the regional books, reflect the mission of the university, and co-publish books with local institutions.

UNC Press Editorial Director Mark Simpson-Vos highlights the special value of regional university press publishing at a time when the scale for much of what university presses do emphasizes the global.

University Press of Mississippi Marketing Manager and author of two books, Steve Yates, gives his thoughts on the scale of regional publishing and shares the sage advice of businessmen.

University of Nebraska Press’s Editor-in-Chief Derek Krissoff defines the meaning of place in University Press publishing.

University of Alabama Press will have a post for us, and University Press of Kentucky Regional editor, Ashley Runyon, writes on her unique editorial perspective as a born-and-bred Kentuckian as well as on preserving Kentucky’s cultural heritage. She’ll also talk about some of the fun things that make KY (and KY books) unique.

Louisiana State University Press will discuss the challenge of capturing an authentic representation of Louisiana’s culture, especially when it is an outsider looking in, as many authors (scholars or not) are. They’ll discuss how it takes more than just a well-written, thoroughly researched book to succeed in depicting the nuances of Louisiana’s food, music, and art.

Rounding out the day, Oregon State University Press will give an overview of regional publishing with specifics from the Oregon State University Press list.

Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.

UP Week Blog Tour: Wednesday

University Press Week 2013

We’re excited to be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For today’s theme of Spotlight on Subject Area(s) Your Press is Known For, visit the following University Presses:

Wilfrid Laurier University Press starts things off with a post by Cheryl Lousley, editor of the Environmental Humanities series, about the engagement of environmental issues through the humanities disciplines, such as literature, film, and media studies.

University of Georgia Press series co-editor Nik Heynen will discuss the Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation series and how it relates to UGA Press.

Texas A&M University Press will have a post, and MIT Press has a post from Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director, who writes about the possibilities of the web MIT Press authors are using for scholarship, finding newly mediated ways to teach, conduct research, present data, and engage with various publics.

University of Pennsylvania Press acquisitions editors discuss the foundations and future of some of their press’s key subject areas.

And at University of Toronto Press they discuss the Medieval and Renaissance Studies lists at University of Toronto Press.

Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.

UP Week Blog Tour: The Future of Scholarly Communication

University Press Week 2013

We’re excited to be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.

For Tuesday’s theme of Future of Scholarly Communication, please visit the following University Presses:

Harvard University Press talks with Jeffrey Schnapp, faculty director of metaLAB (at) Harvard and editor of the new metaLABprojects book series, on the emerging currents of experimental scholarship for which the series provides a platform.

Stanford University Press’s Director Alan Harvey discusses the challenges presented by new technologies in publishing, and how the industry model is adapting to new reading-consumption habits.

University of Virginia Press interviews historian Holly Shulman, editor of The Dolley Madison Digital Edition and the forthcoming People of the Founding Era, looks at the need for university presses to adapt to new technologies, while acknowledging the difficulties of doing so.

University of Texas Press’s post is from Robert Devens, Assistant Editor-in-Chief for the University of Texas Press, on the future of scholarly communication.

Duke University Press has a post from Priscilla Wald, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Duke University, on the slow future of scholarly communication.

University of Minnesota Press Editor Dani Kasprzak discusses a new UMP initiative.

And finally, Alex Holzman of Temple University Press explores the partnerships university presses and libraries can forge as the means of communicating scholarship evolves.

Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.

It’s University Press Week!

University Press Week 2013

We’re excited to be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.

We’re a bit late, but for Monday’s theme of Meet the Press, visit the following University Presses:

University Press of Colorado starts the tour off with a post featuring Laura Furney, managing editor, who has been at the press for 20 years, and is playing an integral role in two recent developments at UPC.

University of Missouri Press profiles David Rosenbaum, their new director who began Nov. 1, talking about his plans for the UM Press’s future and David’s transition back to a university press.

The University of Hawai‘i Press features the peripatetic academic publishing career of UHP’s soon-to-retire journals manager Joel Bradshaw. 

McGill-Queen’s University Press’s Jonathan Crago and Kyla Madden, key members of the Editorial Department, discuss their experiences in scholarly publishing and their vision for MQUP.

Penn State Press speaks with their “Invisible” manuscript editor, John Morris.

University Press of Florida features acquisitions editor, Sian Hunter, who is working to develop and grow innovative new subject areas.

Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.