The Beginning of a University Press

UIP_logo_sm“The University of Illinois Press is destined to be one of the greatest Presses in the country.” —President Edmund J. James in a letter to the first University of Illinois Press director, 1920


When the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted to establish the University of Illinois Press on June 1, 1918, there were fewer than twenty university presses in the United States. Publications had been produced on the Champaign-Urbana campus in the previous two decades, including the University Studies series (est. 1900) and the assumption of editorial and printing responsibility for the venerable Journal of English and Germanic Philology in 1906. An institutionally supported university press, however, demonstrated an aspiration for the University of Illinois to join the ranks of the great universities. To some degree, the creation of our press was the brainchild of two men—President Edmund J. James (1904- 1920) and the first director of the Press, Harrison E. Cunningham. Cunningham reflected on their dreams in a 1942 memo:

“President James not only knew what scholarship was, and how to encourage it; he knew that many things go with a scholarly plan of life, and most prominent among them an adequate program of learned publications. So he worked to establish and promote a University Press, not primarily as a service department . . . but the production and distribution of scholarly works in all fields of learning and research represented by the University. President James spent many hours with me, mostly late at night at his home or mine, or traveling on trains, talking about the plans for the Press, and what it meant.” —H.E. Cunningham, July 6, 1942

Unfortunately, James fell ill and left the university permanently in 1920, before he could bring to life the totality of his dream. But H. E. Cunningham stayed on as director for the next 29 years, and made great strides to create the modern press we recognize today. Throughout 2018 we will be celebrating this legacy and looking toward the next decades of University of Illinois Press publications. One of our first celebratory events takes place this Thursday, February 14, at 3:00pm. Join us for a director’s panel featuring current director Laurie Matheson and previous Press directors, Willis Regier and Richard Wentworth, to discuss the Press’s decades-long commitment to supporting scholarship on social justice issues and publishing underrepresented voices and histories.

Join us!

Read more about our history here.

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