History of the Press

The University of Illinois Press was formally established in 1918, although prior to that time several monographs bore the imprint University Studies. The first of these appeared in 1900; written by Daniel Kilham Dodge, it was entitled Abraham Lincoln: The Evolution of His Literary Style.

The Press's initial publications in 1918 were a history of the first half-century of the University (founded in 1867) and another study of Lincoln. The first director of the Press was Harrison E. Cunningham, who also served as secretary of the University's Board of Trustees during his thirty-year tenure. Most of the books published under his direction were monographs by faculty members and recent doctoral students, issued as University Studies in social science, language and literature, biological science, and medical science. The functions of the Press also included the operation of the University's Printing Division and Mailing Center, both of which remained under the Press's jurisdiction until the early 1970s.

A major step in the development of the Press occurred with the 1949 appointment of Wilbur Schramm as director. A prominent scholar in mass communications, Schramm founded the Institute for Communications Research and served as dean of the College of Communications. (Schramm was succeeded in 1952 by Miodrag Muntyan, who had been an editor during Schramm's directorship.) Schramm developed a strong list in communications, highlighted by The Mathematical Theory of Communication, by Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver, and Four Theories of the Press, by Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Schramm. Both volumes have gone back to press more than twenty times, attesting to their status as enduring backlist classics. The Mars Project, in which the scientist Wernher von Braun laid out the potential for space travel, was published in 1953, several years before Sputnik.

During the 1950s and 1960s, under Muntyan's directorship and with Donald Jackson as editor, many important publications continued to come from faculty on the U of I campus, particularly from the outstanding departments of psychology and anthropology. These include The Measurement of Meaning, by Charles E. Osgood, George J. Suci, and Percy H. Tannenbaum; Theory of Culture Change, by Julian Steward; and Life in a Mexican Village, by Oscar Lewis. Another enduring work first published during this era is Urban Land Use Planning (1st ed., 1957), which was hailed as "incomparable" when its fifth edition appeared in 2006.

Don Jackson also developed a strong list in Western history, to which he himself contributed significantly. He edited and wrote the introduction to the perennial bestseller Black Hawk: An Autobiography (1955) and edited multi-volume documentary works, notably The Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (2nd ed., 1978; still in print) and The Papers of John Charles Fremont, before leaving Illinois for Virginia, where he became the founding editor for The Papers of George Washington project. Science in the British Colonies of America (1970), by Raymond Phineas Stearns, is the Press's only volume to win a National Book Award.

In the 1960s the Press was a partner in two exceptional undertakings. The first, UICSM High School Mathematics (1959)by Max Beberman, was a pilot project for what became known as "the New Math" when it was taken over by a commercial publisher in 1964. The Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities (1968) was developed by Samuel A. Kirk, James J. McCarthy, and Winifred D. Kirk. A multi-element kit of materials, it was widely used by speech therapists and others to identify and differentiate disabilities and to organize remedial programs.

In 1979 Richard L. Wentworth was promoted to director; he had previously directed the Louisiana State University Press and had served as associate director and editor-in-chief at Illinois since 1970. During his tenure the Press became a leading publisher in American social history, with strong series in African American history, women's history, immigration history, sports history, and particularly labor and working-class history. The most successful book in the series Blacks in the New World is Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (1982), edited by John Hope Franklin and series editor August Meier. Charles Joyner's Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (1984) has sold more than 40,000 copies—an astonishing quantity for a scholarly monograph.

Three Illinois books have received the Bancroft Award from Columbia University, considered by many to be the most prestigious award for a book in American history: Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (1982), by Nick Salvatore; Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (1989), by Neil R. McMillen; and Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994), by John Dittmer. Salvatore's study of Debs also received the Dunning Prize of the American Historical Association for the best first book over a two-year period.

To date, the Press's most important book on a topic in American history probably has been The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60, by John D. Unruh, Jr. This magisterial 1979 study won seven awards, including the major awards of the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The publication of Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (1965), by Robert Bruce Flanders, was initially viewed as a study in Illinois history; in retrospect, it helped pave the way for the Press's development of a notable series of books in Mormon history, with Liz Dulany acting as the long-time acquiring editor.

The series Music in American Life, which now contains well over a hundred titles, was primarily developed by Judith McCulloh and has garnered more than a dozen awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Focusing on figures from Jimmie Rodgers to Duke Ellington to Tito Puente, and on genres from classical to klezmer to country, the books shed light on myriad facets of American music. Offering an updated perspective on world musics is the 2005 text edition of The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts by the noted scholar Bruno Nettl.

The Press's long-standing interests in anthropology, folklore, African American studies, and women's studies were united in 1977 with the publication of Robert Hemenway's biography of Zora Neale Hurston. Because Hurston was not widely known in those days, the Press acquired paperback rights to her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in order to provide readers with access to a literary work, along with the new biography. During the ensuing decade more than 356,000 copies of Their Eyes were sold—more than 75,000 in the final year—before a commercial publisher reclaimed the paperback rights. The University of Illinois Press still offers a clothbound gift edition.

From 1975 until the 1990s, the series Illinois Short Fiction typically offered four new collections annually, each by a single author. Twice nominated by Publishers Weekly for the Carey-Thomas Award for creative publishing, the series was long administered at the Press by Ann Lowry, who also served as editor of the anthology Prime Number: 17 Stories from Illinois Short Fiction (1988).

The Press's commitment to poetry has endured for even longer. The first of several volumes by Michael S. Harper, published in 1971, has been followed by more than a hundred fine volumes by a wide array of poets. My Alexandria by Mark Doty, arguably the most successful collection, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize, among other accolades.

A serendipitous University of Illinois connection brought the Press its greatest income-producing book. Thunder Below! The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare (1992), by Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, was completely subsidized by an officer on this submarine who was a graduate of the U of I. The Press has also licensed film rights to this exciting World War II saga.

With the arrival of Willis G. Regier as director in 1999, and Joan Catapano as associate director and editor-in-chief in 2000, the Press has broadened its list while continuing to build upon prior strengths. Recent publications in cultural studies, ethnic studies, and food studies have been joined by a more active program in publications about Chicago. Frank Norris: A Life (2005), the definitive biographyby Joseph L. McElrath and Jesse Crisler, extends the Press's list in American studies. Harking back to the Press's long-standing strengths in communication studies by U of I scholars are Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times (1999) by Robert W. McChesney,as well as How to Think about Information (2007) by Dan Schiller. Currently in progress are multi-volume documentary series focusing on the lives and works of Margaret Sanger and Jane Addams, combining the Press's long-standing devotion to social history and women's studies. A new series, Contemporary Film Directors, has been successful in providing concise yet thorough perspectives on the works of active filmmakers from around the world.

In "the new millennium" the University of Illinois Press has moved energetically into electronic publishing. The History Cooperative, initially developed in partnership with the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the National Academies Press, now includes easily searchable electronic content from more than twenty notable history journals, hosted by the U of I Press under the supervision of electronic publisher Paul Arroyo and his colleagues. Also visible through the History Cooperative site are the 13 volumes of the Booker T. Washington Papers, published at Illinois beginning in the 1970s and still of abiding interest to scholars and students.

The Journals operation at the Press is of long standing—indeed, the Journal of English and Germanic Philology began publication at the University of Illinois several years before the Press's founding in 1918. The venerable American Journal of Psychology, founded in 1887 by the noted psychologist G. Stanley Hall, moved to the U of I Press in the 1960s. Of the more than thirty journals currently published, fourteen are associated with learned or professional societies, including Journal of American Folklore (American Folklore Society), and Ethnomusicology (Society for Ethnomusicology). In addition to offering standard journal-publishing services, the Journals division offers distribution, membership database management, and non-journal publication services. Examples include membership directories, annual meeting program books and proceedings volumes, and newsletters.

In recent years the scholarly community's desire for easier (online) access to journal content has increased dramatically. In response, journals manager Clydette Wantland and her colleagues have pioneered the development of online journal archives, electronic companions to society-sponsored publications, and Open Access journals. Among the OA journals is World History Connected, which is freely available to history teachers (and interested others) at all levels, from schools through universities, across the entire world.

The Press is a long-standing member of the Association of American University Presses; Willis G. Regier served as AAUP president from June 2000 to June 2001, and other staff members have played vital roles on various AAUP committees. Books published by the U of I Press have won numerous design awards from organizations such as the Chicago Book Clinic and have been included in the annual Book, Jacket, and Journal Show sponsored by the AAUP, which recognizes excellence in interior text design as well as in cover/jacket artwork.

Updated Spring 2008 for the nintieth anniversary of the University of Illinois Press